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, D-St. Petersburg, 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, whose district includes parts of Manatee County, 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.”
Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, sent a letter to members this weekend highlighting unspecified concerns with bank records related to Rouson’s committee.
“I have been provided copies of checks,” Richardson said. “I appreciate that Rep. Rouson reached out to me yesterday to discuss these matters directly and allowed me to ask questions. After which, I can tell you there is no misunderstanding...This is a very serious matter.”
Although a freshman lawmaker who kept a relatively low profile during his inaugural session, Richardson’s letter sent ripples through the House Democratic caucus chiefly because of his day job as a forensic auditor.
“After confirming the facts yesterday, I ended our phone call by asked (sic) Rep. Rouson to resign his position as Leader-Designee,” Richardson wrote.
On Monday, Richardson said he would not comment on what he said was a private internal caucus matter.
Whether or not the issue is as serious as Richardson says it is is also unclear. Richardson supported Rouson’s opponent for leader. It was a close and bitter contest, which Rouson won by the narrowest of margins, 23-21.
Since then, Rouson’s had his leadership challenged repeatedly by those who supported Jones, which includes Waldman.
If Rouson has lost party’s confidence to be House Minority Leader, it could be made apparent during the week of Sept. 23.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, couldn’t be reached.
Waldman and two other members of the House Democratic team, Cruz and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, confirmed that a meeting is being considered, during which Rouson will explain to members the details of the committee.
“Members would allow Darryl an opportunity to air what he thinks he needs to air,” Pafford said.
If a meeting is called, it’s unclear what type of meeting it would be.
Waldman said he can’t remember the last time the Democratic caucus held a private meeting. If any private meeting is held, no action can be taken. If the meeting is public, however, then Rouson could be voted out with a majority vote, Waldman said.
“A motion would be made to declare the (position) ‘vacant’,” Waldman said. If enough votes oust Rouson, rules require subsequent candidates to notify the House Clerk in writing that they want to run for it. That would probably necessitate another meeting in which the caucus were to vote on a replacement, Waldman said.
“You want people to have an opportunity to run for it if they are interested,” he said. “Whether we vote on it the next day, next month or before session, I don’t know. We do know the press and Republicans are eating this up, so we'd like to resolve this.”