It’s telling that Democrats are fighting so hard to be House Minority Leader and state party chair

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Last night, State Representative Darryl Rouson declared victory in his pursuit of the House Minority Leader position, claiming he has 27 pledges from his fellow Democrats to lead their caucus during the 2015-16 term. Rep. Mia Jones told the Florida Times-Union’s Matt Dixon that she doesn’t believe Rouson and is not ready to give up the fight for this relatively powerless position. “I really don’t believe he has 27,” said Jones as she drove from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. “I know for a fact a number of our colleagues are still neutral.”

While this internecine fight wages on, Democrats across the state are picking sides in the markedly competitive race between Alan Clendenin of Tampa and Allison Tant of Tallahassee to be the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party. By the latest count, Clendein is narrowly ahead of Tant in terms of committed support, but it’s likely this race won’t be decided until the party-wide vote next weekend.

Minority Leader in the Florida House … Chair of the Florida Democratic Party … with those titles and ninety-nine cents, one can download a song from iTunes. Other than that, there isn’t much power associated with being a prominent Democrat in a state government wholly owned by the Republican Party.

Or is there? Or, more to the point, will there be?

Being Minority Leader in the Florida House may not be that big of a deal right now (hence, Rep. Perry Thurston is the current holder of this title), but in two years, who’s to say what kind of influence the Minority Leader may wield. Perhaps the Democratic Party will keep it’s sh*t together for another election cycle and continue to pick up seats in the House. What if the divide between House Democrats and Republicans is no longer thirty-two seats, but, say, twenty? If the Democrats are able to pick up five or six seats in 2014 — not an impossible task — the divide between them and the GOP won’t be so stark. With fifty or so members in the House, then the Minority Leader’s voice suddenly rings a little louder, correct?

Take it a step further, what if there is a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion, a distinct likelihood based on the survey out this week from Public Policy Polling. With an ally in the executive branch, the Minority Leader then becomes the chief water carrier for the first Democratic governor in three decades. Being Minority Leader wouldn’t be such a bad gig under those circumstances.

And, if Darryl Rouson is Minority Leader in 2015 and his buddy Charlie Crist is sworn as governor that year, now there would be a Minority Leader with real juice. 

Same goes for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. Right now, being Chair of the FDP is like being head coach of the Washington Generals. You’re not even part of the discussion in Tallahassee, at least not the serious ones. But, if you’ve got a friend in the Governor’s Mansion and an active opposition party in the House and a stack of resumes to stuff into open jobs in state government, suddenly being leader of Florida’s Democrats is a job worth holding. Even more so once Hillary Clinton strikes up the band in early 2015. 

Right now, it may seem like Darryl Rouson and Mia Jones and Alan Clendenin and Allison Tant are fighting for crumbs. And that may be true — right now. But, in a few months time, they may be fighting for a bigger slice of the pie than has been enjoyed by a Democrat since the GOP took over state government.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.