A rebellion against leadership by some Florida House Democrats burst into the open Friday, three days after the party lost six seats in the midterm elections and gave Republicans a supermajority in the chamber.
Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, confirmed that he would challenge incoming House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, at a caucus meeting scheduled for Nov. 17, one day before of the Legislature’s organizational session. Pafford was slated to be formally elected to the position during that meeting.
Taylor said he and others tried to raise concerns with Pafford before the end of the spring legislative session but saw little change in the caucus’ approach to the elections. The Democratic wipeout on Tuesday leaves the party with little to no leverage in dealing with Republicans, whose 81-38 advantage gives them a free hand to run the House without fear of interference.
“Moving forward, we don’t have the time to take a chance on what else (Pafford) might not be able to do,” Taylor said.
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Democrats are expected to win a Jacksonville House seat in a special election early next year, but that will not stop Republicans from having a two-thirds majority.
As incoming party leader, Pafford was responsible for Democrats’ campaign efforts in the 2014 elections. He won the position after an earlier palace coup, in which Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, was ousted following a fundraising dispute with Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.
Taylor said Friday he has the support necessary to win the position.
“I have enough votes,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t.”
Pafford, who has been speaking to caucus members in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat, disputed that Taylor has lined up the needed support. He noted that Taylor and others reportedly tried to topple Pafford at the end of the last legislative session, but nothing ever came to a caucus vote.
For now, Pafford said, he’s been focused on trying to unify House Democrats amid the fallout from this week’s losses.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t move on without this type of distraction,” Pafford said.
Efforts to hold onto at least 41 seats in the House — which would allow Democrats to gum up the works, if nothing else — were complicated by a difficult national political environment. The Republican Party gained seven seats in the U.S. Senate, added to its majority in the U.S. House and won several unexpected governorships Tuesday.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott won re-election, and every member of the all-GOP state Cabinet won new terms.
“There was never any guarantee that we would come back with all of our members,” Pafford said.
Pafford also pointed out that the party’s efforts to defend 10 seats seen as vulnerable were hampered by a fundraising advantage for Republicans. But Taylor said that explanation doesn’t fly.
“They always have more money than us,” he said. “You’re supposed to have a strategic plan to deal with that situation.”