Florida House Democrats elected Rep. Mark Pafford as their caucus leader Monday. The vote came on the eve of the Legislature’s organizational session and after Daytona Rep. Dwayne Taylor decided against contesting Pafford for the position.
“I think we naturally come together when we need to come together,” Pafford said, describing Taylor’s short-lived challenge as part of the process.
Last week, Taylor had faulted Pafford for the Democrats losing six seats in the Nov. 4 election; giving Republicans a super majority in the House. His bid was criticized by state party chair Allison Tant who said the leadership battle was creating confusion at a time when Democrats needed to unite to build a functional opposition.
By the time lawmakers arrived in Tallahassee Taylor had dropped his challenge and Democrats said they were unified and compared the caucus to a big family. .
“Like in any family your are going to have aunts and uncles and cousins who all look at issues differently. But when we go to work on policy and work on anything we do it as a family,” said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. “Mark Pafford talked about unity and nurturing as a family. We know as a caucus we’re stronger together than we are apart.”
Pafford’s was the only name nominated for the leadership position.
“Mark Pafford is a man who stands for what we believe as Democrats,” said Rep. Victor Manuel Torres, D-Orlando, when nominating Pafford as Democratic Leader.
Miami Gardens Rep. Barbara Watson noted that House Democrats come from different regions, have different issues and goals, “But we are united behind Mark Pafford as our leader,” Watson said when seconding Pafford’s nomination.
Pafford will lead 37 other Democrats in the 120-member Florida House. Two seats, one held by a Democrat and one by a Republican are still to be decided.
“When we can work together we will,” said Pafford.
Pafford’s acceptance speech indicated that the Democratic caucus will continue to fight for Medicaid expansion, a high quality public education system and the environment. He sounded optimistic about environmental issues given Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli’s intention to address water issues.
Pafford added a caveat to his pledge of bi-partisan cooperation.
Pafford told his members that he attended the Republican caucus meeting earlier where speakers recalled that the GOP was in the minority at the Capitol for 122 years.
“And they fought tooth and nail, that’s what they said, they fought tooth and nail,” Pafford recounted. “We can work across the aisle and do great things with great ideas to help people but if we’re not seeing that type of priority coming from the majority then we need to fight tooth and nail for those people.”