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Rouson's fate at incoming House minority leader to be decided tonight

Whether or not Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, hangs on to his House Minority Leader job for 2014-2016 hinges on how he fares during a Monday night meeting. It starts at 5:30 p.m., but unlike other House Democratic Caucus meetings, this one will be closed to the public and held at the Florida Education Association, at 213 South Adams Street.

There will be a lot to discuss. Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant fired two staffers when it was discovered in early September that they had helped create a fundraising committee that only Rouson could control.

Rouson closed the committee and returned the $147,000 the committee had raised, but the damage was done and House Democrats, at the behest of their current leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, scheduled a meeting tonight to discuss whether Rouson should remain the leader in 2014, a race he narrowly won with a 23-21 vote in February.

Thurston has told Democratic members to keep mum about the internal strife in hopes that Democrats will resolve their differences behind closed doors. That’s the one goal that Democrats can agree on heading into the meeting.

‘If (Rouson) stays or goes, what I’m concerned with is ‘Will we recover?’” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs. “This fighting amongst ourselves is exactly what Republicans want to see. One way or another, we have to move on.”

House Democrats have been ordered to remain in Tallahassee through Thursday, which suggests that more meetings after tonight will be held. According to bylaws, for instance, Democrats can’t take action unless they publicly advertise the meeting. So if they have a vote of no confidence tonight, in effect removing Rouson from his position, they would need another vote replacing him.

Who are the candidates. Names that have been discussed are Rep. Janet Cruz, of Tampa, Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, who Rouson defeated in February, Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, and Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee.

All four declined much comment. Cruz said she’s not in contention for the job. Jones wouldn’t comment. Pafford said it’s premature to discuss a replacement until Democrats decide Rouson’s status, and Williams said it’s too soon to tell. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Williams is considering a run next year for the Tallahassee city commission, which would leave his House District open next year.

“(Rouson) will provide a lot of answers to a lot of questions,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can get a lot of answers and we can move on. We’ll move forward regardless of who are leader is.”

“It’s really premature,” Pafford said. “But if his seat does become open, anyone who would be asked in the caucus to step up and provide leadership should be in a position to want to help. We’re 44 members and that’s it. We’re not a big team. I would expect anyone to be interested in helping out the caucus.”

Rouson could not be reached for comment.