I’ve been going to DEC meetings around the state for almost two decades. In that time I have seen some good DECs, some decent ones and mostly ineffective ones. While the impotence of the Florida Democratic Party has been largely blamed for the continued poor electoral performances of the party at the state level, the poor organizations maintained by local DECs have contributed to the sagging fortunes of the once dominant political party in the state of Florida. Local DEC’s need to be focused on how develop a plan for voter contact via canvassing and mail, raising money and local candidate recruitment. From what I observe across the state this is not happening currently. Strategic and long range planning appear to be in short order among DECs and associated Democratic clubs.
A decade ago, when I served as the Field Director of the DEC Chairs Association many I-4 corridor DECs were concerned about electoral results and organizing a year out but in the rest of state the DECs and Democratic clubs represented glorified debating societies where members could vent about one issue or another. Since beginning to make the rounds again a year ago, I have found that the era of MSNBC, Twitter and Facebook have changed these DECs into more social clubs than anything while the “debating” takes place on social media.
A good model for a DEC or Democratic club would be to work actively on municipal elections as well as becoming active in some type of community service activity that allows the members to both interact with other community leaders and increases the visibility and awareness of the DEC as more than just a social club. The failure of the Democratic Party to build a decent bench from which to recruit candidates (instead of taking all comers) is due in large measure to the unwillingness of the party proper to get involved in local races and the nuts and bolts of campaign planning in non-election years. While some county by-laws require monthly meetings, they seem to be a waste of time and effort unless they are legitimate working sessions. Party committees particularly those that deal with candidate recruitment, fundraising and precinct development have more of a function in an off-year than the actual DECs themselves. In larger counties, Democratic clubs much like DECs have largely become social gatherings that serve little electoral function in the off-year other than perhaps to give introduction to potential candidates and allowing them to speak, however this serves in many cases simply a diversion to justify why many in leadership aren’t properly organizing on the grassroots level.
Moreover as social clubs, Democratic organizations become an easy place for candidates to go and say what they feel the crowd wants to hear even if it is not backed up in anyway by actions. This even leads many active Democrats around the state to question progressive initiatives and critiques of elected officials while embracing party-switching former Republican Governors and shunning announced and potential candidates that share their purported values.
All of the general rules I am outlining above do have exceptions. Some DECs and Democratic clubs are fantastically proactive in off-years but by and large they are ineffective socially driven organizations without direction or a plan of action. DEC’s need to be actively recruiting candidates for local, county and state office. In some of the larger counties this job has been left to political consultants who in turn recruit candidates who don’t reflect the values of the party or whom shun the party altogether. But when the local party doesn’t get involved in the initial recruitment or identification of targets, candidates have very little need to exhibit loyalty. The functions of DECs and Democratic clubs have to change and become more dynamic for any long-term progress to be made in changing the political culture of the state.