In a move that was music to the ears of countless Florida Democratic Party grassroots activists and progressives statewide, West Palm Beach Rep. Mark Pafford was elected yesterday as new Minority Leader in the House of Representatives.
Pafford won the 2-man contest against Rep. Alan Williams by a 29-12 vote and will serve as leader of what is currently a 44-member Democratic minority (vs. 75 Republicans) until 2016.
This comes just days after Rep. Daryl Rouson was voted out of the top spot by Democratic colleagues upset after he recently, without consulting them, opened an independent new House fundraising committee that only he could control.
Rouson's unilateral move rankled many, earned him the wrath of Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant, and sealed his fate.
Mindful of all the static and discord that this fuss had caused in recent weeks, Rouson's successor told reporters "The first thing is getting everybody comfortable, understanding that we've hit the reset button and we are one."
A native South Floridian and FIU graduate, 47-yr-old Mark Pafford is widely seen as an energetic and effective legislator. He has served in the House since 2008 and has succeeded in passing a number of bills with bipartisan support.
Laws combating crime, corporate tax abuse, child pornography and sexual abuse of minors, along with bills helping senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless are all among his successes.
The fact that this success has come despite being one of the more politically progressive state representatives in a Florida House dominated by conservative Republicans only makes it that much more impressive.
Such effectiveness is an indicator of his reputation as a smart, tireless and extremely affable man, a passionate and principled public servant who consistently seeks a civil level of discourse and debate with House members on the both sides of the aisle, and on both sides of difficult issues.
With that style comes the capacity for bridge-building, consensus-reaching and compromise-forging - exactly what so many Floridians (Americans) long for in this age of political gamesmanship, partisan bickering and government gridlock.
Unfortunately, even though they've helped pass Pafford-sponsored legislation, House Republicans have also stamped him as being "too liberal". This, because the proudly progressive Democrat puts the needs of working poor, middle class and elderly citizens over and above the wishes of the state's wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations.
He has always made clear he's "pro-business", but because his priorities don't include giving giant companies and the FL Chamber of Commerce everything they want, he is called anti-business by some GOP and business leaders.
In conservative quarters around the state, there's already a 2014 Republican House election strategy emerging that labels Pafford's election as a sign House Democrats are moving "to the left".
It will be up to Pafford, the Florida Democratic Party and grassroots Democratic activists statewide to quickly, consistently and repeatedly brand that as the distortion and distraction it is meant to be. And then, to reach out and establish shared interest with the working poor, middle class and elderly voters statewide that Pafford has always put first - at the center of his attention, not "to the left".