St. Pete’s Darryl Rouson elected House Democratic leader for ’14-’16 term

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Saint Petersburg Representative Darryl Rouson won a suspenseful vote for the House Democratic leader post in the 2014-16 term, defeating Representative Mia Jones on a second round of balloting after the first vote ended in a tie, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Rouson’s 23-21 margin — after a 22-22 deadlock — showed how close the race was and how much it could challenge Democratic unity as the party tries to use its gains in November’s elections to gain more traction against the dominant GOP majority.

“For the next two years, we’re going to work our behinds off to pick up seats, to raise money, and to make us the powerful, relevant minority caucus that we can be,” said a clearly emotion Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, in remarks to the caucus after the second vote.

In Rouson, Democrats selected a smooth orator with a powerful personal tale of having overcome drug use problems about 15 years ago to work his way into the House. They also chose the candidate seen as more likely to work with Republicans. His immediate challenge could be unifying the caucus even as he tries to avoid upstaging the current leadership — including Jones, D-Jacksonville.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he said. “But I’m clear on my job. And my job is not this session or next session; my job is to recruit, fundraise, win seats and expand the power and the power base of the Democrats in the House.”

Rouson said the party had determined it could pick up 16-19 seats in 2014 if there were a “perfect storm” and it was a presidential election year, which it will not be. He suggested 8-10 seats would be enough to bring the party new influence in the House.

Rouson, who has fasted on the day of each of his elections, said he believed there was a message for him in the first vote.

“I believe that the Divine just wanted me to pray a little harder, think a little more about the sober and serious nature of the work that’s at hand,” Rouson said. “I was a little disappointed in the first balloting.”

Jones said after the vote that there were no hard feelings.

“He has been selected by our members to be our leader,” Jones said. “And as I’ve always done with any organization, I believe that our strength is us being able to stand together.”

She didn’t try to figure out what had caused the second vote to go against her, or why she lost after thinking she had the votes to win on the first try.

“People change their minds,” Jones said.

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.