It’s not in the format that the Florida Democratic Party could use, but the $147,000 from Rep. Darryl Rouson’s closed committee arrived at Tallahassee headquarters Wednesday.
“It’s a certified check and it has to be a bank check,” said Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, late Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s a major issue and I believe it’s being handled.”
Last week, Thurston and other party leaders told Rouson to close his Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party Committee, which he opened in August to finance races for House Democrats in his role as incoming Minority Leader.
But it took until Monday for the committee to be closed and until Wednesday for the money collected from donors to arrive at party headquarters, which miffed leaders like Thurston already steamed that Rouson was operating a fundraising committee without telling them.
“We aren’t happy with the delay of what we suggested,” Thurston said.
The committee exposed long-standing tensions between party leaders and Rouson, a former Republican who is viewed by many as a maverick dealmaker. On Wednesday, Thurston scheduled a caucus meeting for all 44 House Democrats for Monday, Sept. 23, at 5 p.m. Unlike other caucus meetings where reporters and other members of the general public can attend, this one will be private.
“No legislative issues will be discussed and it’s strictly caucus issues,” Thurston said. “There are some issues we want to air out and I want members to be comfortable doing that.”
Tired of public bickering between members that delights Republicans, Thurston told House Democrats on Wednesday to refrain from speaking to reporters about Rouson. Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, a Rouson supporter, said he couldn’t comment because of Thurston’s directive.
Minutes before, however, Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, who didn’t support Rouson’s bid for leadership in February, talked about why he wanted Rouson to step down from his leadership post.
“It doesn’t make sense what he did,” Clelland said. “It’s more evidence that he shouldn’t lead our caucus.”
“He probably spoke with you before I spoke with him,” Thurston said, explaining the difference between Rader’s silence and Clelland’s comments.
Clelland’s the second House member to publicly reveal that he wants Rouson to step down. On Saturday, an email asking Rouson to resign written by Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was leaked.
Clelland has written his own emails. On Wednesday, he disclosed two that he sent to Rouson.
On Friday, Clelland wrote this:
I’ve read the handful of measured responses to your email but I will be straightforward, and I do not speak for any other Member. Notwithstanding what is ultimately revealed in response to Members’ questions, you should put aside any personal or professional gain that you might realize through your leadership role, and for the good of the caucus, step down. That so many questions are being raised about this particular issue, together with those raised in the past, warrant new leadership. I won’t rehash the issues I raised at the Jefferson Jackson event, but when combined with the potentially serious issues looming here, it is the right thing to do—that is, if your true goal is to advance the caucus. As long as we continue to be mired in controversy, no matter the outcome, we cannot move forward, and that is what we need to do. Let me be clear—I will continue to work alongside good democrats like Allison Tant and work towards a more unified party and caucus.
And on Tuesday, Clelland wrote this:
Where is the money that was deposited into this account? I’m not asking for more back-and-forth—just a simple answer to a fundamental question.