September 11, 2013

As check arrives from Rouson, Democrats schedule his day of reckoning

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.

 

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September 09, 2013

Rouson's fate as incoming House Democratic Leader may be decided soon

Whether Rep. Darryl Rouson withstands the controversy swirling around him and remains the incoming Democratic House Leader could depend on the week of Sept. 23.

House Democrats leaders confirmed Monday they are considering holding a caucus meeting of all 44 Democrats that week when lawmakers come up to Tallahassee for committee meetings. At this meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, members would be able to vote Rouson out as incoming minority leader.

“Rouson will have an opportunity to explain his actions,” said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who is a member of the House minority leadership team. “Members are concerned about the legalities of what went on. This meeting is being set up for Rouson to explain himself.”

Last week, it was learned that Rouson had formed a fundraising committee that only he could control without telling other Democratic leaders. When Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant discovered the committee, she fired the two staffers involved.

At issue for Democratic rules chairman Rep. Jim Waldman of Coconut Creek, however, is not that Rouson formed an independent fundraising committee without telling other leaders. It’s that donors contributed checks to the Florida Democratic Party and they were deposited instead to Rouson’s committee, the Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party Committee, which only he controls.

“From what I  understand, the checks were made payable to ‘House Victory 2014’,” Waldman said, referring to the Florida Democratic Party’s fundraising arm for House races. “And instead they were deposited in another account.”

 

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September 06, 2013

Rouson feud with Democrats draws blood

A feud between Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and incoming House Minority Leader Darryl Rouson spilled out into the open Friday with the confirmation that Tant has fired two high ranking members of the party’s political staff.

Jeff Ryan, who served as the finance director for the Florida House Democrats, and Chris Mitchell, who served as the political director for the Florida House Democrats, were fired Thursday, said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp.

The shakeup came after Tant discovered this week that Rouson, who is set to become minority leader in 2014, had created a special fundraising committee last month that only he could control. In their positions overseeing the financing and strategy of House races, Ryan and Mitchell worked with Rouson in creating the committee without informing Tant.

“This is an overreaction by the party and retaliatory in nature,” said Mitchell, who at 29 had served for the past seven months with the party after a two-year stint as the chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. “At the end of the day, I hope Leader Rouson and Leader (Perry) Thurston can get together and come to an agreement.”

If anything, the rift between Rouson, of St. Petersburg, and other party leaders like Tant and Thurston, has only become more apparent the past two days. But there was plenty of evidence before that it was a bitter one. Tant defeated Hillsborough County Democratic state committeeman Alan Clendenin, 587-507, in late January after a nasty two-month campaign. Rouson and Mitchell openly supported Clendenin.

The following month, Rouson narrowly won his bid to become House minority leader, besting Mia Jones, of Jacksonville, 23-21, after they had been deadlocked 22-22. Rouson, who was once a Republican, has fended off criticism, much of it from House Democratic leadership, ever since.

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September 05, 2013

Democrats miffed as maverick Rouson goes it alone

UPDATE: (6 p.m.): Minority Leader Perry Thurston called after the initial post and announced that House Democratic leaders, including Rouson, agreed to disband the committee this afternoon. Those in agreement were himself, Rouson, Jones, James Waldman of Coconut Creek, Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, Janet Cruz of Tampa, and Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach, Thurston said.  "They all agreed to shut it down," Thurston said. "Fundraising for House Victory will go through the Florida Democratic Party and through no other entity." Asked if Rouson agreed to this, Thurston said "I want him to tell you." Rouson wouldn't return phone calls. The committee was still listed as active, however. "We're thinking it's going to be shut down as we speak," Thurston said minutes after 5:30 p.m. "We love our donors. We want to make sure they're not getting any mixed signals about who they need to contribute money to." Thurston said he wasn't worried about relations between party leaders and Rouson. "Things will get smoothed over," he said. 

UPDATE (9:45 p.m.): Rouson called back, but wouldn't confirm that he will shut down the committee. Asked if he agreed with Thurston's recollection that he agreed to shut down the leadership fund, Rouson would only say "I respect leadership and I am considering what was suggested." He defended his decision to open a leadership fund, which he had once opposed, as being pragmatic. "My role is singular and focused on raising money, protecting returning members and increasing our numbers by getting new members elected," Rouson said. "I think I'm doing my job." He questioned how Tant handled the matter. "I never wanted to play this out in the press," he said. "Having said that, there was a way (the party) could have talked about this and communicated without a letter going to 44 members. If the letter is addressed to (Thurston), why did she send it to all the members?" 

Just how dysfunctional is it within the Florida Democratic Party?

Consider what incoming House Minority Leader, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, just did.

Unbeknownst to other party leaders, he filed papers at the Florida Department of State last month opening up the “Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party Committee” that made himself the sole designated person in control of the fund, which will raise money for House Democratic candidates.

Since Rouson’s set to take over the Minority Leader duties from Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, in 2014, that sounds all fine and good. After all, the Minority Leader is indeed responsible for recruiting candidates and raising money for the 2014 and 2016 races.

The only problem is that Rouson created what’s called an “Affiliated Party Committee”, which is also known as a “leadership fund.” For many years in Tallahassee, APCs were a discredited and illegal way to raise money because of long-ago “pay-for-play” abuses by Democrats. They were prone to such abuse because they were controlled directly by legislative leaders and spent solely at the discretion of those leaders, a structure that caused many to label them “slush funds.”

 

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August 25, 2013

From possible juggernaut to punchline of joke, Florida Democrats struggle

@MarcACaputo

With a 500,000 edge in registered voters and a victory by President Barack Obama’s well-organized campaign in the state, the Florida Democratic Party had all the makings of a possible political juggernaut at the start of the year.

Last week, however, it looked like a joke.

The party’s Florida Chief Financial Officer candidate, Allie Braswell, withdrew Monday just days after announcing his bid. Braswell quit after Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union reported he had a few bankruptcies in his past — a damaging bit of history for someone running to manage the finances of the fourth most-populous state in the nation.

“The bright spotlight of a statewide campaign has cast the ups and downs of my life into harsh relief, and I now know that this campaign is not the way I was meant to serve my community,” Braswell said in a written statement.

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August 16, 2013

More FL Democrat struggles: CFO candidate has past of bankruptcies

@MarcACaputo

Political unknown Allie Braswell was already facing an uphill struggle in taking on state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who has a solid political team, a Midas touch for fundraising and good name ID (he got more votes in 2010 than anyone else on the Florida ballot: Marco Rubio, Adam Putnam, Pam Bondi or Rick Scott).

Here's another hurdle for Braswell: The Florida Times Union reports he filed for bankruptcy as many as three times.

It's not a disqualification, Democrats will tell you as they quickly point to the record Medicare fraud fine paid by the hospital company that Scott ran years ago.

But Scott overcame those challenges with gobs of his own personal money and a sharp group of message masters. It doesn't look like Braswell has either of those at his disposal. And it's tough to run for a finance-related job when your finances were a mess at one point.

Braswell's candidacy is another sign of the Florida Democratic Party's structural problems. It struggles to field big-name candidates of its own. Despite outnumbering Republicans by more than 514,209 registered active voters, Democrats control no statewide seats based in the state Capitol and only have one statewide elected official, Sen. Bill Nelson. They're also heavily in the minority in the Florida House and Senate.

The FDP has no bench.

Right now its best hope, according to polls, used to be a Republican: Gov. Charlie Crist, who might run for his old job as a Democrat. In that one respect, Crist has a similarity with Braswell, who also used to be a Republican.

Here's the Times Union on Braswell:

His most recent petition, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Orlando in October 2008, shows he had $324,325 in assets and $509,155 in liabilities. The case was dismissed by Judge Arthur B. Briskman nearly 13 months after it was filed because Brawell defaulted on payments associated with a payment plan.

At the time of dismissal, he was delinquent on plan payments to the tune of $6,000. “Debtor failed to become current in payments and failed to file a response to the Trustee’s motion to dismiss … this case should be dismissed,” the judge wrote in his final order.

Because it was dismissed, Braswell had to reassume the debt. He would not say how much debt he is carrying today, information that will have to be made public on financial disclosure forms filed by all candidates.

“I used bankruptcy as way to responsibly pay my debt,” he said in an interview Friday.

August 15, 2013

Clelland and Zimmermann explain why they broke from Dems on SYG

It’s already been decided -- there will be no special session on stand your ground. Still, votes by lawmakers keep trickling in.

Florida’s Secretary of State office received 12 more votes on Thursday. The new tally is 90 lawmakers, 88 of them Republicans, voting against convening a special session that would address changing or repealing the law. Only 42 lawmakers, all Democrats, voted for it. The 27 lawmakers who still have yet to cast a vote have until Monday to do so.

About the only fun now is figuring which lawmakers will skip the vote and whether any more Democrats join Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, and Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, in voting against a special session.

So, why exactly did Clelland and Zimmerman stray from the party line?

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July 24, 2013

Residency of all legislators under review

From the News Service of Florida

Legislative leadership wants to know where House and Senate members are when they say they're at home.

With Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, raising questions about a number of Democratic lawmakers living outside the districts they represent, the top attorneys for the House and Senate have been directed to recommend standards for residency.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will be asked to get a list of where all 160 legislators are registered to vote.

"Neither the House nor the Senate has historically developed a clear set of principles to determine the residency of our members," House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in letter Wednesday to Latvala. "The recommended guidelines should draw on any past rulings of the House and Senate on this question, as well as decisions from other bodies in related legal contexts."

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July 22, 2013

FL Dems political director, Christian Ulvert, ties knot in DC with partner Carlos Andrade

@MarcACaputo

Ulvert

Christian Ulvert, the Florida Democratic Party's new political director, married his partner Carlos Andrade in Washington, DC last week in a ceremony that they couldn't have in their home state.

"Getting married in DC was a natural choice for us because Carlos lived in DC for a year and my passion for politics made it a perfect choice," Ulvert said. "It also symbolizes how far we've come in a short period in moving forward with marriage equality."

But it has only gone so far in Florida, where voters overwhelmingly approved of a state-constitutional same-sex marriage ban in 2008. The ban remains on the books. Dislodging it will be tough because, though public sentiment appears to have shifted in favor of same-sex unions, the constitution can only be changed with 60 percent approval by voters.

Ulvert is keenly aware of the political challenges. He was tapped to be the Democrats' political director this April after he helped the party win nine seats in the Florida House last year. He has worked on statewide campaigns with Democrats and a Miami-Dade slot-machine referendum effort with Republicans.

Ulvert, 31, was born and raised in Miami and Andrade, 33, is native of Venezuela.

Together for three years, their relationship took a more-serious turn after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Joined by a few family members and friends, they were married July 19 at the Liaison Hotel, a block from the US Capitol.

"After the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, we decided to get married because it was the first time that we would be recognized as a married couple," Ulvert said. "Though living in Florida means our home state still lags behind in affording equal rights to every Floridian, knowing that the full weight of the federal government stood behind our marriage is why we decided to get married."

July 18, 2013

Republicans now own 'Empty Chair Charlie' website

For weeks, Florida Republicans have gleefully tweaked former Gov. Charlie Crist and his record with a daily "This Day in CRIST-ory" feature that points out the flip-flops and policy shifts in the Republican-turned-Democrat's record.

The GOP took its strategy a step further Thursday, claiming ownership of the dormant site www.emptychaircharlie.com, which the Florida Democratic Party created in 2008 as a vehicle to criticize Crist for what Democrats then saw as his inattention to his responsibilities as governor. 

In a release, RPOF said: "The site's sole purpose will be to archive and post previous Florida Democratic Party press releases and other materials attacking Crist's tenure as governor and his open campaign to be John McCain's vice president."

In launching the site in 2008, then-Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman sent an email to party activists, saying the site would be "dedicated to holding Crist accountable for his blatant absence during the state's most dire economic times in 16 years." 

The "empty chair" strategy was actually created by Crist's team in the 2006 governor's race, when Crist effectively criticized his Democratic opponent, Jim Davis, for missing votes while in Congress.