Miami-Dade’s Hot 7 and the Failures of the Democratic Pipeline

On Monday, to great celebration and a shiny fancy press conference, the Miami-Dade DEC announced they had candidates to run against all of seven Miami-Dade Republican state legislators. There was even an adorable little catchphrase to chant: “No More Free Rides!” pointing out that this was the first time in history that Democrats have ever had candidates in every single seat. Everybody cheered.

And this should be celebrated. This is a step in the right direction. Finding people to run is an important part of the battle and this is a valiant effort. This is exactly what the party needs to be doing – getting on the ballot was the first step into winning an election. A shimmering glimmer of hope has sprung forth.

We should all applaud the efforts.

*insert round of applause here*

However, there are a few things that we need to talk about. I do not wish to bash this individual effort because it is very true that Democrats are never going to win if they don’t run. I stand by my statement that this should be cheered. Please understand I wish these fellows all the best, as running for office is a hard job and they have stepped up, which is something that many in their community (and around the state!) are unwilling to do. They are not to blame for the problems that I am going to talk about because I am going to discuss long-standing issues in Florida Democratic politics.

Let’s talk about what this really shows. For starters, none of these candidates – absolutely none of them – have ever held public office. Moreover, none of these have ever been in an election before or been a candidate.  What this really tells the world is that in all of Miami, the Democratic Party couldn’t find anyone with any political experience to run.

Folks, this is a problem. A big one.

Political power depends on a leadership pipeline. What does an effective pipeline do? It means that you have a small army of people running for the lowest offices in order to gain experience in order to move up later. School boards, city commissions, and water boards are excellent starting points. Experience is gained, relationships are developed, and fundraising networks are established. You create skilled candidates for your next level of government. This is ideally where the FDP should be looking to fill these seats – among qualified elected officials who already have a good set of assets to bring to the table.

Unfortunately, there are mostly empty seats on the Democratic bench. As elected officials move through the pipeline, others must be groomed to take their place and this just has not been happening.  For Florida Democrats, this hasn’t been happening on any level and there is a lack of people to run that have experience.

Rod Smith had a good vision when he had the goal of setting up a DEC in every county to support these smaller races. But he failed to change this decades-old tradition of the local parties supporting local candidates and the state party concentrating on state races and while this seems completely logical, it has failed miserably because it does not pay attention to leadership development. The state party has to start throwing money into local races in order to build up a bench. There simply isn’t enough power in the local DECs to develop the pipeline and many of the winnable districts do not even have functional DECs to work with. The whole system breaks down when you do not have enough people entering the pipeline. And that is exactly what has happened to Florida Democrats.  Not having this leadership system also helps explain why fundraising has been difficult.

Yesterday Kartik put up a great chart of district-by-district D vs. R numbers here . What needs to happen is that the FDP need to look at the districts with healthy Democratic growth and start investing in the school board and city commission races as well as any other elected office so that Democrats can start building a bench with people who have experience. The FDP has to look at the whole system and put money into local races so that in two, four, six, eight years down the line there is a healthy group of qualified candidates.

These are not my ideas, so please give me no credit. This is what the Republican party started doing on the state level in the early 1990s after years of Democratic leadership in the state of Florida. Needless to say, it has worked out remarkably well for them, especially considering figures like Senator Marco Rubio who came out of this system of leadership. When you have an effective pipeline, you not only have plenty of people to qualified to take office, they also need less help because they have well established fund-raising networks and campaign skills. For Republican officials moving through this pipeline, it also means that they are finding those magical cushy jobs that appear whenever someone leaves government jobs in Tallahassee when they exit.  These have served as a financial backbone of the people coming up. It is a perfect circle of dominance.

Not having this leadership pipeline has had devastating effects – not only for the low numbers in Tallahassee, but also in the race for governor. The current Florida Democratic Party is not to blame for Charlie Crist. It is true that Democrats merely had no pipeline leading up to the governor’s seat and simply did not have enough candidates to choose from with statewide qualifications. This is a direct result of an inability to get people elected to state constitutional offices in the last decade. This is a real problem. By not attacking constitutional seats, the FDP handed the governor’s mansion over to the Republicans in 2014 and quite possibly in 2018 because there will be no one available who has had statewide exposure and experience. That is exactly why the FDP got stuck with Crist as the only viable candidate.

And it does not look to get any better in the future. To date, there is no Democrat running for State Attorney or Public Defender; even though these are low profile seats, they are still state-wide offices. Adam Putnam is the grand anointed one in Republican politics, so there is little chance that Thad Hamilton is going to knock him off. Nobody has heard anything from William Rankin, who is supposedly the Democrat running for CFO. As much as a hit as Pam Bondi has taken in the last week over her attack on gay marriage, she is still a major powerhouse with National Republican support and funds, yet that is the only seat where we have some real Democratic candidates with a prayer of taking a constitutional office. What is needed is for Democrats to at least take one or two constitutional offices so that there is someone with statewide experience in order to run against Adam Putnam in 2018.

Progressive rhetoric is not the key to winning. So many inexperienced candidates come out with fantastic progressive talking points cribbed from Elizabeth Warren and run for state house or Congress without any experience in politics or policy. They believe that if they say the right things people will support them, but rhetoric does not bring capital or support. These candidates file, run, and then are inevitably surprised when they lose when they are out-funded and out-resourced. Finding warm bodies to get on the ballot is not the key to winning. Building a system of leadership that is sustainable is the only way to change the game.

So applaud these seven who stand up in Miami. And then go find a progressive school board candidate and write them a check for a hundred dollars if you want to really change the game.

8 comments

  1. I think the biggest flaw is that Democrats don’t inspire those in the youth groups to run for higher office. Let’s say a youngster joins the YDs or becomes a member of the DEC because she/he wants to run for office after they graduate from college. What happens is that the local campaigns and DECs burn these youngsters out by having them lick envelopes, put up yard signs at 2 AM (though that can be fun, ask Kartik about the 1998 election eve), and doing door-knocking. By the time the election cycle is over, these youngsters say “screw this” and never return to politics again. Many of these youngsters are extremely talented, and know the issues. I have seen quite a few come and go in my lifetime, which is a real shame!

    I think this is one way to build a pipeline. I even talked about this four years ago on TPH.

    http://thepoliticalhurricane.com/2010/11/10/rebuilding-the-florida-democratic-party-part-iv-reinventing-the-florida-young-democrats-candidate-recruitment-together/

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  2. Charles · ·

    Yes, part of the problem is that there is a broken pipeline. The other part of this problem is this entire post. We have been beating down the door of the State Party forever, that we can’t just appreciate for one second what the local DEC just did and leave it at that?

    If you’re familiar with Miami-Dade politics, you’ll know that these districts are in Hialeah, one of the most Cuban and conservative cities, ever. The large part of these districts are in unincorporated Miami-Dade. Not many municipalities here and no lower office to run for. None of the Republican incumbents held prior office before running for State House.

    Jose Oliva? Nope.
    Carlos Trujillo? Nope.
    Jeanette Nunez? Nope.
    Frank Artiles? Nope.
    Michael Bileca? Nope.
    Jose Felix Diaz? Nope.

    So, not every post has to be filled with an FDP laced tirade. Let’s promote good efforts when we see them and not tie them into the larger problem.

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  3. Robert Lowell · ·

    Let me summarize this blog post. 1) let’s show faux excitement for 7 new candidates, 2) let’s talk about how shitty things are, 3) repeat #2.

    Can we get a profile on the candidates before completely disregarding them? What are their names?

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  4. Ashley B · ·

    FDP needs to get it’s act together. But I agree, who are the candidates? I want to know more about what Miami is doing and why.

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  5. Dem Guy · ·

    So what if you challenge every seat? You need to BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE that will lift all boats. What’s the D to R breakdown on absentee ballots? On voter registration? Is there a coordinated field effort that seeks to share costs across the board on things like qualifying these candidates by petition, VBM requests, and GOTV? If not, you might be sending people who could at some point be good candidates to a certain death, insuring their disillusionment and frustration with the process. Smart party operatives and leaders don’t JUST recruit candidates, they build the foundation to lift all candidates by sharing costs, running up numbers that move the needle, and therefore, create fundraising momentum. We need to stop thinking that recruitment is the be-all and end-all of building the party. That’s like saying you have all the nice light fixtures for a house so that means it’s inhabitable while you haven’t laid the foundation, built the walls, and installed the plumbing. #firstthingsfirst

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  6. This is another great piece of journalism.

    TFS is getting better all the time!

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  7. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    Really well put piece. Give MDDEC credit. Now let the FDP learn from this.

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  8. Demodaysi · ·

    Its not that the Miami-Dade DEC or the Florida Democratic Party can’t find candidates, they don’t ask. If they would send out a notice to the state democrats, I know there are qualified candidates ready to run. I also believe no seat should go unchallenged and I applaud the Miami-Dade DEC chair for this effort. I belong to the Miami-Dade DEC and I can tell you, there was no “call for candidates” to run. We have plenty DEC members in those districts, some with political/campaign experience who could have run, if asked. Miami-Dade DEC is still holding “quarterly meetings” in a crucial election year, where planning and gotv should be ongoing. The Miami-Dade DEC chair seems to think, DEC members should only operate on a need to know bases. This last announcement was made without the members knowledge or input. An announcement at our last “quarterly meeting” in March would have probably gotten some candidates to step forward,

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