Despite concerns among key Democrats that his anti-business voting record could be a fundraising obstacle, Democrats in the Florida House late Wednesday elected West Palm Beach Democrat Mark Pafford as their leader-in-waiting.
And the Republican Party of Florida lost no time stressing the trouble the elevation of one of the most liberal members of the Legislature could mean for Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor widely expected to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott next year.
“With Mark Pafford anointed as the incoming leader for the House Democrats, this means that the House Democratic Caucus is lurching further to the left and tacitly rejecting Charlie Crist as their standard bearer,” RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry said in a statement on the party’s blog Wednesday.
Since former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who lost in 2010, announced last week that she is not interested in another run, the only announced Democratic candidate is former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston.
“By electing one of the most liberal legislators as their leader, it’s not a matter of if, but when, Democratic legislators line up behind their former colleague and fellow liberal Nan Rich,” Curry’s statement said.
Pafford’s election as incoming minority leader to succeed Fort Lauderdal’s Perry Thurston after the 2014 elections caps a two-day period that saw Democrats toss aside one speaker-designate, St. Petersburg’s Darryl Rouson, and watch the woman who nearly beat him for the job in February, Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, bow out of the running.
Jones endorsed Pafford on Tuesday. Thurston endorsed him Wednesday afternoon.
Pafford defeated Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, 29-12 with one abstention.
The result never seemed in doubt, as the two representatives who nominated Williams sounded as much like they were giving concession speeches in advance as promoting a candidate.
Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, for instance, seemed to be acknowledging defeat as he addressed Williams during his nomination.
“Whatever happens … I know for a fact you’ll move this party forward,” he said.
Seconding the nomination, Rep. Katie Edwards blamed the media and Republicans for highlighting Democrats’ divisions.
“It’s unfortunate we had to do this,” she said.
During a brief news conference after the results were announced, Pafford said his top job is putting the division behind his party.
“The first priority is unifying this caucus,” he said. “We’ve hit the reset button.”