Everybody is talking about it; all over the state, headlines over the weekend reported on the end of filing on Friday and nobody has anything good to say about Florida’s Democrats. Is this the worst of the worst for candidate recruitment? Certainly a contender. While recruitment was going to be rough on a year that has been looking eerily similar to 2010, the number of competitive races with viable candidates seems low even by any standard. Constitutional offices fared the worst. Only Attorney General Pam Bondi faces a real threat in either George Sheldon or Perry Thurston, yet whoever prevails in the primary will face a nasty battle, as Bondi is well-funded. No one seems to know anything at all about William Rankin, who is supposedly running for CFO with $13,000 in the bank, only doing slightly better than Thad Hamilton, who is trying to run against Adam Putnam with less money than even that. It appears that all hopes lie in Crist, who will have a hard fight in November anyway you slice it. As I stated in my musing this morning, the failure to recruit candidates for these offices almost surely means that one one will be no one to stop Adam Putnam in 2018 and then the Florida GOP will safely control all three branches in 2020 and again supervise the redistricting process for the next decade. This was an important year and there will be long term consequences for the candidate recruitment failures for years to come. It is impossible for a party to rebuild when it takes such a short-term approach to matters.
Many of the articles lay this firmly at the feet of Allison Tant and there just seems to be a lack of evidence that anyone else can really help soften that accusation. As the leader of the party, the failure to recruit candidates during this cycle is going to cost the FDP for years, especially for the constitutional offices. Unless the Democrats manage to hold the Senate, protect the vulnerable incumbents, and elect Crist, it will be impossible to protect Tant from the same backlash that Karen Thurman faced after the disastrous 2010 election. There will simply be no defense for her if she does not hold the D seats and presents some evidence of a long-term plan and the party is going to have a hard time justifying keeping her around.
Her ability to do this is questionable. She got involved in politics under the tremendously successful Obama for America, which managed to turn Florida blue in both 2008 and 2012. However, an operation like OFA existed for one purpose – get one man elected, not build an infrastructure of support and leadership and run a slate of candidates for office around the state. There is no competition in a presidential election – only one man to fall in behind and a single mission. State politics are more complicated, especially in a state as vast and different as Florida and, as many pointed out at the time, she was not a member of the party leadership before her run as chair. She was not experienced with the different factions around the state and has done little to bring them together. While OFA could get by on an ‘Us v. Them” mentality, it is clear that Tant has brought this mentality with her to the FDP leadership and it is not the same fight. The leader of a state party has to focus on cooperation and coordination, not merely a competition between two parties.
A leader is a tricky job and no could could possibly say that Tant was walking into ideal circumstances. The Florida Democratic Party had suffered from malaise for years and of course, it would have been a small miracle to turn things around in the 18 months time. However, her aggressive tactics have done absolutely nothing to bring the party together, as evident in the vicious divisions seen around the Democratic party today. The job of the leader is to bring people together and instead, she has fiercely divided the party into factions with the Rouson battle, her treatment of Nan Rich, and her focus on negativity rather than team building.
Political parties are not a sports team. You do not sit there and cheer as the team loses – that is not an effective way to operate. There are real problems with the way she is operating and those need to be addressed if the party is going to survive the November elections.
Let us measure Tant against her own words at the beginning of 2013 as she laid out her “Five Pillars of Success”:
(Refresh yourself on the things that Chairwoman Tant said she would do here: http://allisontantrichard.com)
A few glaring things she has fallen short on from her own goals that she laid out in her “Five Pillars of Success”:
~ Empower local democratic parties is her first pillar and unfortunately, this just isn’t happening. She wanted to “add regional staff to help with fundraising, field and political activities”: that hasn’t happened. Ultimately, candidate recruitment comes from local parties and from the bottom up and the slate of candidates is evidence that this is not happening. Field staff would help this, but again, it seems like it is an empty promise. While the party should be working in the field more, staff also needs to come from the communities they are supposed to help organize.
~ “An important component of the Florida Democratic Party’s leadership structure is having a Board of Trustees to help shape and guide our fundraising operations.” This was a great idea – what happened there?
~ “I will continue to bring together our grassroots leaders and activists and encourage greater involvement throughout the legislative sessions and election cycles. Through leadership trainings and workshops, we can better grow our grassroots and keep them involved in key battles that take place in our state’s capital and across county and city halls.” Bringing the grassroots into the fold has been made complicated over Nan Rich’s run for the governor seat and as I mentioned early, there is no real plan to bring the party back together after August. The way that Nan has been treated has made the situation worse instead of better.
~ “The best tool to effectively keep our grassroots leaders and activists engaged is to have open and ongoing communication” Many county leaders around the state complain that Tant refuses to meet with them, refuses to take phone calls, or is simply too busy to worry with matters that do not involve big donors or high profile races. This adds to the tension within the party.
~ “It is important that we continue to focus our efforts in aggressive candidate outreach so we have candidates from within their communities step up and run for elected office.” I know I have already said it multiple times, but the lack of any candidate recruitment makes everyone worry – donors, activists, and the people on the ground that are the backbone of the party. Without candidates, many districts don’t have a fight to get involved in – engagement starts on the ground.
~ “I would like to immediately establish a Governor’s Fund where funds are raised to support the Democratic Nominee in the General Election.” I do not know if this ever materialized, but if there is indeed any money there, it should all immediately be put into the Senate races – let John Morgan pick up the Governor’s race tab.
Overall, it is very clear that Chairwoman Tant has not accomplished the goals that she set out for herself. Accountability starts from within and while it was always going to be an uphill battle, failure to discuss these problems will only lead to more strife and conflict.
Today is Monday, June 23, or as we need to start thinking about it, it is the first day of candidate recruitment for 2016. Let’s get started!