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Rouson: "I should have provided more clarity"

Minutes before he was going to find out if he could save his job as incoming House Democratic Leader, Rep. Darryl Rouson said he should have provided party members with more information about the fundraising committee he created last month.

“I should have pulled in a few more members and let them know,” Rouson said Monday afternoon in his office at the Capitol. “I should have provided more clarity.”

Whether that contriteness will help persuade his colleagues to keep him on as Minority Leader in 2014-2016 will be determined in the next few hours as House Democrats huddle for a meeting on Rouson’s leadership. It was called a couple of weeks ago by current House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation after Rouson agreed to shut down his committee and transfer $147,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

By the end of the meeting, a vote on whether to remove him from his position is expected.

On Sept. 5, Allison Tant, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, fired two House staffers who had helped Rouson set up the fundraising committee. Tant and other Democratic leaders hadn’t been told about it, leading some to suspect Rouson of a power grab.

But Rouson said Monday that he created the committee, a leadership fund that Rouson and other Democrats had opposed when they were created by lawmakers  in 2011, partly because he was unsure about Tant’s leadership.

“The Democrats had a poor fundraising quarter, they had just rolled out a CFO candidate that they didn’t vet,” Rouson said. “Why would you put your money in a failing bank?”

At times emotional, Rouson said he was taken aback by the subsequent storm of criticism leveled at him by other members protesting the creation of the committee. He said while other House members took shots at him, he held his fire.

Rouson’s said his vision for House Democrats, which he said had moved considerably to the right in recent years, was to widen its appeal to pro-business groups. He said the committee was just one tool he had to use to expand the party’s chances of picking up House races.

“If we’re going to be effective and compete, this committee is going to be a tool that we’ll need to use,” Rouson said.

A trial lawyer, Rouson has experience in making his case. He said he wanted to take advantage of interacting with the caucus members in person.

“I wanted a chance to not face my caucus in cyberspace,” he said, referring to at least two e-mails from members, Rep. David Richardson and Rep. Mike Clelland, asking for his resignation from House Minority Leader, that were leaked publicly.

“They’ve attacked my integrity and  honor,” Rouson said.

Rouson made clear he wasn’t going to back down and relent. Although he narrowly won his post by a 23-21 margin in February, he said he was going to make a passionate defense for him to remain as Democratic Leader.

“I have a fighting chance to provide my take,” Rouson said.

An expert at reading juries, Rouson was stumped when asked what he would do if he felt like he lost the support of his colleagues.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.