Concerns about the new FDP LEAD Task Force and why Chairwoman Tant must remain Chair

The clamoring for change from the masses of rank-in-file Democrats was heard loud and clear by Chairwoman Allison Tant. While many activists throughout the state are publicly dissatisfied with her reaction to the 2014 electoral debacle, I remain fully convinced Chairwoman Tant should remain in the job and have no doubts that she will continue as Chair until the 2016 election. She understands we took a licking last Tuesday and is committed to making changes to how the party operates. How much these changes she wants to make actually impact the next cycle remains highly debatable, however.

Making changes is easier said than done. Chairwoman Tant isn’t responsible for the vast majority of the problems the party faces. She inherited each and every problem that confronted Democrats this cycle. Can she be faulted for some of the issues? Certainly – my sense is that she was unprepared for the enormity of the task and was quite frankly not given the tools to be successful. But in time she proved to be a better chair than certainly I expected, though the party itself remains weak and largely ineffectual. Again, the later part of that statement is not a reflection on Tant at all – she’s done the best she could in a quite frankly untenable situation. The party has been broken for almost two decades. It fell apart in Lawton Chiles second term and has not fully recovered since. What a single chair could do to solve these problems in a short two-year cycle is difficult to know, which is another reason why Tant who makes an effort to listen (unlike some of her predecessors) needs to stay in the job.

Once upon a time Republicans could not get reelected in this state. I am old enough to recall this era of one-term Republicans. But today, it is Democrats who cannot even get elected, let alone reelected. Florida Democrats have lost 17 of the last 18 races for statewide cabinet office. This is the single worst record of any major political party east of the Mississippi River this millennium. Florida’s Democrats have won less than 6% of statewide cabinet races since the year 2000, a shameful record by any stretch of the imagination. This is a record that predates Chairwoman Tant.

On Thursday, the FDP announced the formation of the “LEAD Task Force” and internet/social media chatter began almost immediately and was largely negative. In the week since the election I can state from talking to the Chairwoman from time to time she has been heartsick about the defeats Democrats suffered last Tuesday and looking for remedies. I have spoken to her at length about candidate recruitment and the need to do better for 2016- and trust me she gets it and understand why people are so angry about this issue in particular.

In theory, this LEAD task force is a good idea, but in actual practice it might simply flop. The optics of this move are important but the actual impact could be minimal.

The task force is filled with party establishment figures – the same individuals with a few exceptions that have been the architects of the Democrats previous electoral debacles. These are the same folks that have consistently made mistakes in the past in trying to lead the Democrats effort. I don’t want to get into specific individuals on the task force but a large percentage of those named are tied to either the Executive Director of the party Scott Arceneaux (including former FDP Chairman Rod Smith who might be single worst individual choice on this committee) or the party’s controversial Political Director Christian Ulvert. Both staffers have become easy targets for TFS readers and activists around the state.

The decision to not include some talented young people including prominent numbers crunchers and community organizers on this task force is regrettable as is the omission of several people who have actually had mild success recruiting candidates in the past. Instead we have the usual array of party insiders, those who have yet to figure out the reality of off-year elections OR recruiting strong legislative candidates to take advantage of any sort of Presidential wave that sweeps through the state. This has been a problem since the 1998 cycle and with the exception of 2006 and 2008, candidate recruitment in general has been pitiful.

Another clear omission is the selection of former elected officials or those who have recently lost elections. The party has lots of ex-electeds to choose from in the Tampa Bay, Central Florida and southeast Florida areas. Yet it seems the expertise of some of these individuals was simply ignored. The absence of young activist types on the task force is also an obvious flaw as is the desire to wait until Leadership Blue to have quantifiable results.

But forming a task force, window dressing as it might be is an admission by the FDP that not all is right. This admission has come because Allison Tant is more in tune with what party rank-in-file members including readers of this website are thinking then her predecessors. In fact, I would venture to say she is the most in-tune chair the party has had since Simon Ferro. Let me give a personal example.

During the recently completed George Sheldon Campaign, I was serving Deputy Campaign Manager (and the final month of the campaign as the defacto Campaign Manager) Allison Tant was always on top of things and communicating with me daily even when other party staff and campaign personnel were out to lunch so to speak. She was always bending over backwards to be helpful, because after all that is what party chairs should do. If I had a request of the party, a problem or an internal campaign situation I needed dealt with, I could call or text her at any time and have her on top of it in short order. This is a completely different approach to what I experienced under past chairs.

The previous chairs I dealt with during campaigns, Bob Poe, Scott Maddox and Karen Thurman were difficult to get a hold of and far less engaged and helpful when it came to down-ballot races than Chairwoman Tant proved to be. Those chairs were either “too busy” or simply too arrogant and disengaged to be helpful. For those newer to this party who might think somehow Chairwoman Tant’s track record is worse than her predecessors, it isn’t – every single cycle since 1994 has been filled with missed opportunities and mistakes from the FDP level downward. That is a reality. Based on my perspectives which are developed from my own experiences, not second-hand information or politically agenda driven communications that you get from some party activists, Chairwoman Tant is much better than each of her four immediate predecessors.

If some of our readers think swapping chairs solves anything at this stage, they are sorely mistaken. In fact, changing chairs will simply build in more excuses for failure.

What is the alternative to Allison Tant? Quite frankly nothing viable exists. We don’t need members of Congress or other officials who only show up around the time of elections blowing the party up yet again and starting from scratch. What we do need is a different plan and a changed attitude with some fresh blood. Chairwoman Tant has been more flexible in the job than her critics give her credit for and has made some very savvy staff hirings. Regardless of the circumstances around her election nearly two years ago, her thinking has evolved though at times she is not as independent as I sense she would like to be.

While the issues of  Arceneaux and Ulvert continue to bug many of the party’s most faithful activists and workers, perhaps rightly so, positive changes are nonetheless happening. This “LEAD” task force is probably nothing more than window dressing, but other positive changes and changes in attitude are taking hold even if it is not being widely noticed currently outside a small circle of party insiders.

The party is in a very bad place. The same place it has been in for years, but going forward positive changes can only result in better performances. That is if the party apparatus matters much at all, which quite frankly it might not in many cases. That is a discussion for another day, however.

For now, despite the qualms many of our readers have regarding the party, it is important for everyone to embrace the changes coming but continue speaking out when things the like LEAD task force fall short of expectations. In this period it is also important Democrats unite behind Chairwoman Tant. She’s not trying her best but she is growing on the job and doesn’t profess to have all the answers unlike some of her predecessors. Her flexibility and willingness to listen are great traits for a party leader. This will serve Chairwoman Tant and Florida’s Democrats well in the coming months and years.


  1. Kartik, you are so right. Thank you for taking the time to write that on your travels abroad. It is spot on. This very frustrated Democrat needed to hear it and be reminded of the past in order to move on to the future.

    In my opinion, the single greatest omission from the LEAD Task Force is you.


    1. Thank you Lori! I really appreciate it!


  2. Worried Democrat · ·

    Kartik, you are right, but also so wrong – You have placed hope in this task force, while at the same time, telling us why it will not be different. I have been a DEC member for many years, and see nothing changing. We give lip service after defeats and then continue to do the same thing over and over again. Under Karen Thurman, we had the Campaign for Accountability, (never did figure out exactly what that meant), and we were instructed to basically ignore the super voters and concentrate on the new ones. Those of us in the field knew this was a mistake, and it was….this time round, we were instructed to change everyone into Vote by Mailers, this tactic just changed the way people voted and did nothing to increase voter turnout. The party chose a flawed candidate and that was the big mistake, and NO ONE is taking responsibility for that, I have heard leadership instead blaming Nan Rich for the Crist loss. Maybe Tant inherited a difficult task, but unless real changes are made, nothing will be different!!!


  3. democrats on the ground · ·

    The LEAD committee is a disappointment.


  4. democrats on the ground · ·

    Washed up faces wrong names. No community based people.


  5. J M Hamilton · ·

    We can not continue to do the same old things expecting different results. Remember: The body will go where the head takes it and right now we are in the gutter.


  6. Tampa Bay Demo · ·

    Great article Kartik. I think Allison needs to go but you’ve laid out a string case for her here. As for the committee I agree. A waste of time. All Ulvert and Nelson boys.


  7. Dems in Action · ·

    It seems, Kartik, that you are drinking the kool aide. The task force is a waste of time when other changes should be in the works. Allison listens but she doesn’t hear. Many people have tried to give her some real help but because she is so tied to the establishment, their voices have not counted.
    The first thing that should happen is to get the party headquarters out of Tallahassee. They get too wrapped up with lobbyists. The next is to bring in people like Democracy for America for training for the DEC and State Committee people. The game is won or lost in the counties. GOTV wins elections so more effort needs to be made to find out how to improve the numbers. I didn’t see that listed as a goal of the LEAD taskforce. And spending all the time on figuring out what the numbers mean is nuts. Any DEC chair can tell you what the numbers mean. Allison was not up for the job 2 years ago and has not learned enough to question her staff and consultants. When she fixes that she might have a chance.
    Oh, and FDP and the party faithfuls should remember that Florida extends west of Tallahassee. They should not be thrown under the bus.


  8. Jay Michael Burton · ·

    I enjoy your writing and posts and
    find you on target almost always,
    however you have just described the
    basic flaw, same problem and same
    players, as a frequent campaign manager I can tell you locally we had
    candidates switch to the Republican
    Party in local non-partisan races before
    they announced, they said I can’t win as a Democract , perhaps some day
    we will have a conference and invite those that actually run local campaigns
    and can think outside of the bubble that
    our state party just can’t do. Let’s try new tires not retreads, and Kartik you should chair that meeting.


  9. I’ve stated for days now, that those selected for this committee made no strategic sense. It’s the same old guard of failed ideas. We need young and upcoming political planners, and a group of tech savvy campaign organizers. The old guard, has lost the support of those who can inflict change, because they are pushed to the back of the room and not allowed to lead us into the next generation. Worse, the current elected officials are only concerned about getting elected again, not focusing on building an electable bench.


  10. […] I have my own negative critiques of the recently-formed LEAD Committee in particular the inclusion of former FDP Chairman, Rod Smith whose tenure was a complete […]


  11. […] a proposed solution of the FDP, to lean heavily on the LEAD Committee is probably faulty. The committee is stuffed with many of the usual suspects and lacks the outside […]


  12. […] Editors Note: Beginning this Tuesday we will feature a poll weekly on a pertinent topic. This week’s Tuesday poll is related to the much discussed LEAD Task Force.  […]


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