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Five Questions for Mark Pafford

October 13, 2013 - 6:00pm

West Palm Beach Rep. Mark Pafford, who will become House Democratic leader after the 2014 elections, started as an aide to Congressman Lawrence J. Smith and then-state Rep. Lois Frankel. He was elected to the House in his own right in 2008 and has served as minority whip, policy chair and leader of his local delegation.

Pafford is a graduate of Florida International University with a bachelor's degree in public administration. From 1998 to 2007, he was executive director of the Alzheimer's Association in Palm Beach County, and now is a consultant for nonprofits. He was chosen last month to replace Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, as the next caucus leader after a fight that exposed schisms among House Democrats and within the Florida Democratic Party.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Mark Pafford:

Q: Why in the world did you want this job?

PAFFORD: Look, sometimes there's a need to step up, and leadership's required. I think I have an even-enough hand to build the caucus the way it needs to be built. And strengthen it, and strengthen each individual member. And allow the caucus to really be a fine minority caucus, and have a voice and a message.

It's going to take time. It's going to take respect. It's something that you have to earn. People may know who I am, but -- as policy chair this past year, I like to stand on my feet on the floor, and I get to watch an awful lot. But it doesn't mean that I speak to everybody. And so you develop opinions about people in your own caucus. And sometimes the closest you get to somebody is going around the end of the chamber desks, you know, where (Rep. Mike) Clelland (D-Lake Mary) sits, and saying hi -- and that's not a close relationship.

What I've been able to do in just a couple of weeks is really develop an understanding of who each individual person is, each individual story. And you find that you've got some wonderful people, first, who happen to be joining you in a wonderful back two-and-a-half rows or whatever it is, who can really contribute in fantastic areas that they're truly experts in. And if you can support that, then I think you add a level of not only credibility among your own caucus, but you help them achieve some credibility at home. You know, the voters -- it's not going to be me that decides if somebody's doing a good job. It's going to be the voters at home.

So allow each member to do their best. Support them and make them strong. And then where there are opportunities to use those members -- and (Clelland is) one example. He knows fire and he knows law. I don't know that -- I've had one fire, called the fire department. But that's what we are: We're a citizens' Legislature. And we need to have those varied type of thoughts to make us stronger. We're the big tent, so we need to actually make that our strength.

Q: As minority leader, what will be your strategy for healing the rift in the caucus?

PAFFORD: You know, I'm a normal caucus member first. I didn't imagine myself as a leader, necessarily. I saw myself as a leader not necessarily boxed in a frame in the caucus room. I wanted to lead, basically, by being an example of somebody who studied the bills.

(What a concept.) What a concept, yeah. You know, I live life, and I try to incorporate what that means in Florida into how I vote. I mean, generally I should be representing the people that I live with. And I think I do that and every member does that. And with that level of basic understanding, of all 44 -- frankly, all 119 members -- they all should be doing that. And I think, generally, most of the 119 members really do.

And to criticize somebody because they don't think the way you do is wrong. The process is about legislating. It's about talking. And if we all had the same opinion, I don't know how good the products would be. I've seen so many times over the last five years in committee -- less on the floor -- where somebody who's read the bill or somebody who's had a personal experience can change the direction of a piece of policy and make it better.

Q: Why, given the political makeup of Florida's electorate, have the Democrats been so far in the minority for so long?

PAFFORD: I think people come to Florida and they don't necessarily always understand the history of Florida. You know, Democrats, I think it was 140 years, something incredible, where we had that type of control. And I'm sure that whoever was answering this and talking into the microphone then would have probably had a similar, you know, message.

And that is: With redistricting, with a lot of those things that when you are the majority in the House, the Senate and the governor's mansion -- I think we're going into 16 years. Well, your goal is to protect your philosophical goals and your directions and what's important to you. And when you can control how districts are drawn -- even if those districts display at the end of that process a different number than what's actually occurring in the state, where Democrats actually have higher registration numbers -- you know, you have to tip your hat, because you can maintain that type of control.

I think as long as our message is strong, as long as our demographics in Florida keep changing -- and they are shifting -- you're going to find more people who, when they get to the ballot box, are going to be sensitive to those in the Legislature who really have their backs, who understand that, you know, it's great to have a job. It's great to have a very, very vibrant economy. But it's also good to have a state that can plan more than next year. To have a budget that is stable. And that's going to take a lot of planning, a lot of expertise.

You know, we've got Rep. David Richardson, from Miami -- a forensic accountant -- we've got some incredibly talented fiscal people. I've not asked him about this, but I have to imagine nobody wants to plan a year out. You want to plan five, 10 years out. We owe it to an entire generation of new Floridians. What are we going to leave, is the question.

Q: You're known as outspoken. How does that affect your relationship with House Republican leaders -- especially Speaker Will Weatherford and Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli?

PAFFORD: You know, it's interesting. I've read that about myself. (Laughs.) And frankly, you go into the members' lounge, and have -- I eat salad these days -- and there's a wonderful rapport.

I don't see that I have a problem with any Republican. I look at everybody as a friend, everybody from (Rep.) Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) to our speaker-to-be, Rep. Crisafulli. I saw him in the street last night, in fact. You know, he's kind of been put into this role, also. There was not necessarily an expectation. And as much as our backgrounds may be different, I do think we bring some of the same personal characteristics to the process.

I think if anything, they can accuse me of being honest and having an opinion that may not be the opinion of, you know, largely things that are going to pass anyway. And I would be less concerned with a minority with a message if I were them. I think you can use the opportunity to really engage and do some just incredible things in the state. And now's the opportunity. I think it's a wonderful place to be. I think our minority caucus will flourish. I think there's wonderful things to come as we continue to unite.

But I think the Republicans -- again, with shifting demographics and a lot of elements that they've historically really counted on are changing -- the time over the next 10 years may be wonderful for Florida. We may be able to get together and do some wonderful things. That's how I'm looking at it. I'm an optimist, I guess

Q: Do you think the raging conflict over the federal health care law will benefit Democrats or Republicans?

PAFFORD: At some point you've got to step out from behind this political nonsense: the rhetoric, the garbage. At the end of the day, if we're sent up here to do something wholesome, in good faith -- and there's so many things you could do, but this is health care.

You've got so many people out there who are dying early, parents departing their families early. There are children out there losing their health as children. You've got older people who are living, in a lot of cases, without dignity because this type of health-care service would help them.

At some point we need to look beyond that. It would be wonderful if all the members got re-elected because we all decided to get together and do something for the people of this state. We don't think like that, but I think the voters that are paying attention to us, they want honesty and they want consistency. And they want us working for them.

And this is a wonderful example of how we can work together in this state. And again, this is a monumental issue. Truly, we're going to look back on this 50 years from now and say, "Wow. Who was against this?" Like we do with Social Security and Medicare.

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