Clendenin on latest Democratic sideshow :"It's very possible" that Darryl Rouson could be ousted as House Minority Leader

  • Alan Clendenin

It hasn't exactly been a banner year for Florida Democrats in 2013.

Nearly a year after they added seats in the Legislature and got Barack Obama re-elected, the party still doesn't have any major declared candidates for any of the Cabinet positions, with the exception of former Senate Minority Leader Nan rich running for governor.

And now they've got a hot new mess on their hands regarding incoming House Minority Leader Darryl Rouson, who is now engaged in a heated dispute with Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant, after Tant discovered that Rouson was handling an affiliated party committee to raise money for 2014 House Democratic candidates - but did so without Tant's knowledge. Once she learned about it, she didn't take Rouson aside and express her displeasure. Instead she canned former Hillsborough DEC chair Chris Mitchell and Jeff Ryan, who both were working with Rouson on the committee.

At the monthly meeting of Hillsborough County Democrats Monday night, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Party, Alan Clendenin, addressed the issue with local Democrats in a fairly objective way.

Clendenin gave a straight play by play of the recent events, explaining that the GOP-led Legislature recreated the rules in 2011 that brought back committees like the one Rouson created, which are better known as leadership funds.

Those funds were denounced by Democrats however, who referred to them as "slush funds." Former Tampa Bay Times columnist Howard Troxler in particular wrote several columns trashing the concept, writing that it made the Legislature "the utter whore of Babylon," and made the laws of Democracy in Florida "officially for Sale."

Most GOP Tampa Bay elected officials supported it, with the exception of Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano. Most local Democrats - like Rick Kriseman, Janet Cruz, Betty Reed and Darryl Rouson -voted against it.

Rouson was able to raise over $147,000 with his leadership fund until Tant told him to call it off. He has sent that money to the Florida Democratic Party.

Rouson's fate as incoming House Minority Leader could also be affected. The current Minority Leader, Perry Thurston, has called for Rouson to join the entire Democratic House caucus in for a meeting next Monday.

Clendenin advised local Democrats that not everything they have read about this story is necessarily the full truth. He said there was a lot of "baggage" left between Rouson and fellow Democrat Mia Jones for their contest to be the next Democratic House leader earlier this year. "I urge you when you watch this played, always realize that there's all kinds of other agendas, personal agendas (being played out. Things are not always what they appear to be."

Clendenin said he wasn't sure how it would all play out, but speculated that it could lead to a new vote for House Minority Leader "and Darryl Rouson could lose his position as incoming Minority Leader. It's very, very possible. But it's also possible they can back away from that."

The Democratic Vice Chair, whose own battle for the state party chairmanship in January was also quite intense, said "this stuff doesn't need to be played out in public. This is housekeeping in the party," and he complimented Rouson for not going public in defending himself.

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