State Politics

In wee hours of the morning, House Democrats decide to share caucus leadership

Florida’s historic Capitol, with its classic dome restored to the way it looked in 1902, will serve as the backdrop for the swearing in ceremony on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.
Florida’s historic Capitol, with its classic dome restored to the way it looked in 1902, will serve as the backdrop for the swearing in ceremony on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. Tallahassee Area CVB

Florida House Democrats have chosen their leaders for the next two election cycles through 2024, settling the chain of succession for much of the foreseeable future as party members acknowledge they must win more seats to hold meaningful power in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Caucus members elevated Reps. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, to lead them starting in 2020, after they pitched an unusual agreement to split policy and campaign responsibilities between the two lawmakers after Leader Kionne McGhee’s term ends in a year and a half. The caucus also voted for Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, to take over the leadership in 2022.

DuBose and Jenne had been expected to face off for the vote when the caucus convened late Wednesday night after a grueling 12.5-hour House session, in a two-hour meeting that stretched into Thursday’s early hours.

But before members could fill out their paper ballots, both DuBose and Jenne announced that they had agreed to instead share leadership duties to encourage the caucus to be united. Under the arrangement, which Jenne later said had never been done in House Democrats’ history, Jenne will handle policy issues and the duties of leading the legislative caucus, while DuBose will handle House Victory, the campaign arm of the party, and lead Democrats’ 2020 election efforts.

DuBose said he hoped to avoid an election that “pits us against one another,” nodding to past tensions in the caucus, and said the division plays to his and Jenne’s respective strengths. The announcement prompted a loud standing ovation from members, many of whom were shocked by the news.

Jenne added that though they will divide duties, there will be “no line between the two of us” in leading together, and that they would share important decision-making. DuBose and Jenne both promised that they would at a future meeting establish — and explain to the caucus — more details about how their shared leadership will be structured.

Democrats also voted in the meeting to select their leader for the 2022-24 cycle, via a three-way race among Reps. Kamia Brown, Diamond and Al Jacquet. All three spoke at length about the caucus’ need to win more seats in the House, where Democrats are in a more pronounced minority compared to their colleagues in the Senate.

Diamond won the race in the first round of voting, after he described his childhood path to politics through the example of his grandfather, a former House member from Miami-Dade and Monroe who went on to serve in Congress, and said he hoped to embody the same “humility, honesty and hard work.” He told members that one of his focuses was on the looming redistricting fight that will happen after the 2020 census.

But all three candidates also acknowledged a more immediate problem among House Democrats: Ongoing tensions have plagued the at-times fractured caucus. Brown, Diamond and Jacquet pledged to accept the leadership of whichever lawmaker won, and stressed the need to work as one body regardless of the outcome.

Fueling that tension was the decision to hold leadership elections further in advance in the first place. McGhee, the current chamber leader, had advanced the changes but scaled back the move to hold up a third leadership election for 2024-26 in advance after some members, including Diamond, said that the freshman class should have more time to choose their leader.

Democrats initially closed Wednesday night’s meeting to press, saying no legislative business was being discussed. It was opened to media after reporters noted that contrary to the state’s Sunshine Law, members could be heard from outside the room discussing the Legislature’s budget and their positions on various bills — though Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said the door had been closed unintentionally because of “a miscommunication in the process.”

At an evening rally at Florida Memorial University’s Miami Gardens campus, Andrew Gillum rolled out an ambitious initiative to register one million new voters ahead of the presidential election.

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