Have Most DEC’s Merely Become Social Clubs or Glorified Debating Societies?

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.


  1. This is quite appropriate and timely! OFA showed us ‘the way’ – you’ve got to identify who to contact, create a message that works, and then get out and contact those voters. There’s only three primary ways to do that – door to door, mail, and phone. There are several reasons to contact voters – identification / surveys, persuasion, GOTV, getting volunteers, donations, etc. This is the ‘work’ of a political party if it wants to represent a political jurisdiction; you can’t win elections if you are not engaging and interacting with your voters. No one wins elections by sitting at home!

    In my county (Highlands), our DEC has decided, for more than a year now, to not do ANY voter contacts of any kind. We left $14,000 in the bank for the general election, and let the last election slide, where the elected official won with 158 votes.

    Folks, we are not going to turn the Governor’s mansion blue by wishing and hoping!


  2. This should be an easy concern to fix. I wish I could be optimistic about the future of the clubs and DECs, but, sadly, I’m not. As you very clearly point out, the message is right in our face: THERE IS NO MESSAGE. Some clubs still produce good programs, and others are horrible. Just putting a bunch of speakers in front of a group, scrounging around to find relevant speakers, is not really effective. Clubs should be, as you say, working on local issues monthly, and always in the background working on state and national elections. And I would LOVE if they would actually focus on debates among candidates all the time! If clubs leave all the work to the DEC we miss a great opportunity to get people engaged. And people wont care if they’re not engaged. Leadership in the DECs have not been all that welcoming to new faces. There are a number of people who would volunteer to work on party issues. Everyone gives lip service, very, very few follow through with action. The work of the party should be treated no differently as a product of a company. The products are to 1) produce good, electable, candidates for office, 2) be engaged in local, state, federal, issues and, 3) build a state-wide party that is strong, holds fast to ideology, and doesn’t slime away from tough issues, even internal ones. I, and others, would work hard for that.


    1. Bruce Borkosky · ·

      Good comment, Andy. I like your idea about having year round debates on local topics. I’m thinking about how we might create such debates with elected officials and/or candidates


  3. Brilliant piece. Chairwoman Tant should make this discussion the first order of business on Saturday.


  4. Most DECs are filled with people who like the sound of their own voices…that’s a big part of the problem. They like to boss people around but never want to do any work and worse yet LOVE to debate.


  5. While this is in reality nothing new the stakes now are higher than ever and the chaos created by DECs only serve to hurt the greater good. The FDP is a joke also and no way will they make the proper reforms to make DECs more relevant or effective.


  6. […] Scott Randolph. Many of the changes to the DEC Randolph has advocated are in line with my article published last week about how DEC’s can return to local relevance. So while Pazy and his younger allies may claim […]


  7. Doug Head · ·

    I wonder how many DECs have a list of potential candidates that they put to the membership? Or how many have a list of leaders of local interest groups from which they might find candidates? Or how many know what other groups their own members are involved in? And how many DEC’s have Precinct leaders who really work their own Precincts? Very few in all these cases.


    1. I don’t know, Doug, but I don’t think most of the membership would vote for the WHITE candidate living at your house and bank rolled by you (aka living rent-free and earning money off of your organization) when they find out he uses the N-word regularly. I thought you were the one who said we should find more diverse candidates. When did angry, young, and white become good for diversity?


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