October 24, 2013

Deerfield Beach businessman entering race for CFO says he's qualified for the job

William D. Rankin, a 53-year-old Deerfield Beach businessman, U.S. Army veteran and “normal, middle-of-the-road kind of guy,” says he is prepared to take on Republican Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and his well-funded re-election effort.

The Democrat said, “I have the qualifications to be the CFO.” Those qualifications include his position as the former director of asset management for the Ohio State Treasury, responsible for the accountability of more than $120 billion public trust and public retirement funds.

Rankin was also a U.S. Army special agent for 11 years, specializing in investigations of white-collar crime and government contract fraud. Injured in the service, he was honorably discharged.

A Cincinnati native, the divorced father of two adult children has been living in Florida since 1999 when he became director of Florida’s 2000 Census operation. He previously served as an outreach director for the U.S. Congressional 2000 Census Oversight Board, and worked with the state’s Haitian and Cuban communities.

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October 01, 2013

State Rep. Darryl Rouson hit with $155,000 tax lien

State Rep. Darryl Rouson and his wife failed to pay more than $155,000 in federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010, according to a lien filed by the Internal Revenue Service.

In one of those years, Rouson, a St. Petersburg attorney, made $565,000 working for the powerhouse law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

The IRS lien is the latest setback for Rouson, who recently came under fire from fellow House Democrats for creating a party-related fundraising committee only he could control. His colleagues ousted him as incoming Democratic leader on Sept. 23, the day before the IRS filed its lien in Pinellas County circuit court.

“I don’t take this lightly,’’ Rouson said Tuesday. “I am working with my CPA and my tax attorney, and I’m very optimistic this will all get resolved.

“It’s been a tough summer,’’ he added. 

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September 30, 2013

Ed Rendell to keynote Florida Democrats' state conference


Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor with a gritty voice and blue-collar demeanor, is scheduled to headline the Florida Democratic Party's state conference at the end of the month.

Here's Rendell's announcement Democrats are receiving in their email:

I want you -- the grassroots who are fighting every day to defeat Rick Scott -- to be the first to know: I am honored to be the keynote speaker at your 2013 State Conference on October 26, 2013.

It’s an honor to be a part of this Conference, the largest gathering of grassroots Democrats this election season.

As the governor of Pennsylvania for eight years, I was proud to be a Democrat who would work with anyone to move my state forward. We invested in the infrastructure that communities and businesses need to thrive. We invested in public schools and colleges, because education is the surest path to the middle class for millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, Republicans like Rick Scott don’t agree. They think the way to grow our economy is by giving wealthy special interests more tax breaks. They want to give the big corporations ever-larger handouts. Working people suffer, but Rick Scott doesn’t notice a thing.

Let’s do this together. We can defeat Tea Party Republicans like Rick Scott and elect a Democrat who will stand by the middle class, and everyone working to get into the middle class. We need a Florida Governor who will fight for Florida’s middle class.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at the State Conference in Orlando. Let’s do this together.


Edward G. Rendell
45th Governor of Pennsylvania

September 25, 2013

Dems pick Pafford to lead Florida House caucus

After months of inner turmoil over who would lead them during the 2014 elections, Florida House Democrats on Wednesday chose Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach as their next minority leader.

By a 29-12 vote, with one person abstaining, Pafford, 47, beat Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee for a job that earlier in the week had belonged to Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg.

"The first thing is getting everybody comfortable, understanding that we've hit the reset button and we are one," Pafford said to reporters after the vote, acknowledging the disarray that awaits him. "I have some work to do immediately."

Pafford heads a 44-member House Democratic caucus heavily outnumbered by 75 Republicans. Along with the removal of Rouson by a 24-17 vote Monday night, the staff director overseeing fundraising for 2014 House races was fired earlier in the month, leaving oversight of a critical special election in a New Port Richey district in question.

Rouson lost the confidence of a majority of the caucus after he opened a campaign account that only he could control without informing party leaders.

Much of the frustration with Rouson spilled out into the open via emails from members leaked to reporters and during Monday's closed-door meeting during which he was removed.

While not a proven fundraiser like Williams, who has raised twice as much money since both joined the Legislature in 2008, and more to the left of most Democrats, Pafford was viewed as someone who could bring the caucus together.

"Mark Pafford is a unifier," said Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa. "He can make us the strong, dedicated Democrats that we are."

A graduate of Florida International University with a bachelor's degree in public administration, Pafford is a bit of a policy wonk.

But he's also steeped in party politics. He was Bill Nelson's driver during his campaign for governor in 1989, and in 1996 and 1997 served as the legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel when she served in the Florida House.

The media attention and ribbing from Republicans about their feuding left Democratic members eager to put on a happy face for the cameras during Wednesday's heavily scripted meeting.

Williams was the first to stand and applaud when the vote was announced, and the two men hugged each other. After thanking his wife and children, Pafford thanked Rouson, who nodded in support.

"We've had a rough week," said Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation, a Rouson supporter. "It's unfortunate that we had to be here. But like The Godfather says, whatever this war is, it ends now."



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.

Continue reading "Rouson feud with Democrats draws blood" »

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


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


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.