While traveling overseas I have been reading with some amusement the analysis of a few people regarding the House Democrats situation and the internal controversies at the Florida Democratic Party. The problem is many of these issues have been manufactured as an effort continues to undermine the move forward being attempted currently by Democratic leaders. However, Mark Pafford has been chosen as House Minority Leader and Allison Tant is staying two more years as FDP Chairwoman. These are irrefutable facts and despite the trouble caused by a group of legislators and activists being egged on by political consultants and Republican-aligned special interests, the party leadership will safely remain in progressive hands. I for one am terribly relieved by this.
This is not to say moderates do not have a role in the party or a seat at the table. Of course they do, and several of the young up-and-coming stars in the Democratic Party, including some legislators, cut a moderate profile. These individuals who we will profile in the near future could be keys to a statewide revival for Democrats. Some moderates like Senator Darren Soto and Representative Katie Edwards are young and savvy enough to be important players in the party for years to come. But ultimately whether Tallahassee insiders like it or not, the Democratic Party is a progressive one and failure uphold liberal views on important policy matters will lead to even greater electoral disaster.
While 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 failure, and my colleague Katy Burnett has brilliantly outlined the failed strategy in House elections over the past three cycles, now is the time to stop the hand-wringing and work together for a positive future for the party. Critiques are important, particularly the ones Katy has made about failed strategy and the role of Political Director Christian Ulvert. But it also must be stated that many of the criticisms of the party are coming from corners that would like to see the FDP weak or fail completely. These forces include paid political consultants, elected officials looking to create power vacuums they can fill in local areas, and Republican-oriented special interests.
Rep. Dwayne Taylor’s ill-conceived and ill-fated run for leader ended in a call for unity – odd considering unity had been long ago achieved in the House Caucus but undermined by a handful of malcontents and their outside influences which included Republican legislators, corporate lobbyists, for-profit school “choice” backers, the insurance industry and needy political consultants. Yet Taylor’s biggest benefactor Rep. Darryl Rouson got one last shot in telling the Tampa Bay Times –
“Our actions will determine whether we are an irrelevant debating team,” Rouson said. “Or a collaborative, substantive political force with a policy agenda embraced by the majority of Floridians.”
As a progressive and someone who believes in multi-party democracies which Florida has ceased to be for some time, Rouson’s comments describe precisely why the Democratic Party has lost its way in Florida AND why so many progressives are thankful today that he was ousted as Minority Leader-designee. Rouson and his allies are more interested in status within the legislative community and acceptance by Tallahassee-based lobbyists than in growing the Democratic Party. This latest statement by Rouson simply proves that is the case yet again.
Despite claiming to have a majority of votes in the caucus just a week and a half ago, Taylor’s candidacy ended with a whimper. His withdrawal spelled failure for those Republican-aligned Democrats who sought to create a caucus atmosphere that would rubber-stamp the Rick Scott agenda and deal a petty and spiteful blow to Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant, whose strong advocacy for Pafford has irked the dissident pro-appeasement faction.
Individual legislators often have their own self interest in mind when cutting deals with the Republican majority. Yet the Sunshine State News’ Nancy Smith, who often writes poignant and interesting pieces, completely missed the mark in Monday’s broadside directed at FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant
Let’s first establish something which is why the main premise of this Sunshine State News piece was so off the mark. The idea that the party chairwoman works FOR Democratic legislators is absurd. If anything the relationship should be the opposite. Legislators defying their party chair and the Democratic agenda in favor of accommodation with the GOP majority has become the norm since the early 2000s.
The relationship between party and legislative caucus is in fact meant to be a symbiotic relationship and those Democrats not running in safe seats (which unfortunately is a small percentage of the caucus thanks to the kind of partisan gerrymandering and polarization of the electorate this nation has been subjected to for over two decades) depend on the party for their survival. As Katy Burnett mentioned in her Monday piece the party has dropped the ball in countless House races the past several cycles and left incumbents in an endangered position. But that reinforces the need for state legislators to work WITH the party chair and not against her.
Many state legislators overstate their own importance in the context of political reality. State House members are virtually unknowns in their districts especially those who simply get elected thanks to winning low-turnout primaries in southeast Florida. State Senators are scarcely better known. In this world, the chairperson of the Democratic Party in the 3rd most populated state in the union matters considerably more than most individual legislators. I do not believe the party chair is in any way an administrative position meant to serve legislators.
It is also very true that many legislators, perhaps including Rouson himself, value making deals with the Republican majority over creating a distinctive Democratic brand, something the party Chairwoman has to fundamentally oppose. State legislators who win personality-based, low-turnout primaries don’t have to value the importance of the Democratic brand.
In a six square-block area around the capitol the Democratic legislators might matter more than the Party Chairwoman, when being wined and dined by corporate lobbyists, but in the rest of the state it is the Chair of the party that matters more.
I would agree with Nancy Smith’s feeling that the use of the term “bedwetters” made by Tant about the Rouson faction was ill-advised, though I get the Chairwoman’s point and tend to agree with her (but of course, I would have chosen a different term). However, Tant is not the first party chair in this state to use colorful language. Yesterday, the House honored Tom Slade the former RPOF Chairman and House Member who passed on last month. Slade was perhaps the most effective party chairman in the history of this state. Those Democratic legislators and activists somehow offended by Tant’s words ought to simply toughen up or leave the stage completely – this is politics, after all.
With so many Democratic legislators lacking institutional memory or knowledge of events that happened prior to 2008 or 2010, it becomes easier for Republican-backed lobbyists and special interests to misrepresent reality and manufacture crisis in the Democratic Party based on “how things should be,” or “how things used to be.” Some Democratic members of the legislature, driven by selfishness and self-preservation, are too self-absorbed to question what they are being told. As someone who has been around the process in one way or another since the Democrats last had the majority, I find the lack of intellectual curiosity and commitment to progressive principles among many Democrats in the legislature to be incredibly irritating and borderline offensive.
Tant’s anger at an attempt by Republican-aligned interests to seize control of the GOP Caucus was wholly justified. How one assumes a party chair should stay out of House Caucus matters when the fundamental direction of the party was potentially being undermined by hostile forces to progressive policies is beyond me. I for one am elated that my party chair stood strong to defend Democratic values from an attempt by corporations, insurance companies, for-profit schools and party malcontents to hijack the House Caucus. Perhaps Tant could have been more subtle in her advocacy, but then again if she had been, a risk was being run that the hostile forces take over and Rick Scott would gain some degree of tacit control over the Democratic Caucus.
Later on Monday, our friend Peter Schorsch penned this article about the Chairwoman. In terms of accuracy, Schorsch should remember the Democrats actually had 44 seats when Tant took over, not 45 (Amanda Murphy won a Special Election last fall). Some of Schorsch’s comments about Democratic performance are very valid though I must take exception with his characterization of asking what a party chair is doing engaging on Facebook. My guess is that most rank-in-file Democrats would agree with me that we want a party chairperson who is accessible on social media and in tune with what is being said by activists. I have already on many occasions discussed my feelings that Tant is far more accessible than her predecessors based on my own personal experience of interaction with her, and this is just another example.
A faction of Democrats will always see things their own way. Hopefully they can get over their self-pity party and work towards the common good and victory in 2016 beginning today.