Florida House Democrats Oust Their Leader

Florida House Democrats Oust Their Leader

Seeking leaders who know how to fail

Darryl Rouson has been falling from grace within Democratic ranks for some weeks now. Stories about rifts reached their climax with Representative Rouson’s decision to create his own fundraising committee, totally under his control, a move that seems to have cemented opposition within the party.

So, last night, the House members deposed their leader. They are now casting about for a new captain for the ship.

At one level, this has to be viewed as more embarrassment for the Democratic Party in Florida. Based on the data, the Democratic Party’s general irrelevance in state policymaking is stunning. Given a persistent lead in voter registration (diminished, but still real) and a state demographic mix that is somewhat more female (reflecting a substantial degree of racial and ethnic diversity) and is dominated by households making less than the national average, Florida Democrats should be able to find both talking points and electoral points, as two Obama campaigns have demonstrated.

Despite these facts, the one big victory Florida Democrats have been able to celebrate at the state level has been the party’s success (in 2012) in breaking the Republican’s veto-proof majority in the legislature . . . by winning slightly more than a third of the seats.

It’s something . . . but not much to crow about.

Then there’s the prospect of another round of state-wide elections in which no Democrat will emerge who is capable of defeating a Republican member of the cabinet . . . unless you count the “convert” Charlie Crist, who polls say could take the Governor’s Mansion back for . . . well, Charlie Crist.

At another level, however, it may be a good sign that the Democratic Party in Florida, or at least in the House, is willing to cut its losses, take the political jabs from their rivals and even risk a weaker showing in 2014 in order to build something for the long slog back to power. Because there probably aren’t any quick fixes for the Democrats. It took decades of missteps (and of sharp strategic and tactical maneuvers by Republicans) for the Party to position itself so that it could become such a small voice in Tallahassee. It will take considerable effort, and quite possibly decades, to come back smarter and stronger.

One important dimension of leadership is knowing how and when to lose. A leader who never has lost is a leader I, for one, don’t trust. While there certainly are skills necessary for leaders on the crest of the wave, there are different skills necessary for dealing with the wipe out. Given the odds on an organization, a city, a state, or a nation being knocked off its “ride” from time to time, I want a leader who knows how to come up sputtering, reorient, find the board, and get us going again.

So I wish the House Democrats well . . . House Republicans, too. At the state level, we need a vibrant, meaningfully competitive two-party system to keep each party accountable and to increase the degree of representativeness in the decisions of our state government. That can only help our citizens and our cities in the heavy surf we face.

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