Coming off a difficult election where House Democrats were routed, losing six seats (four of which were carried at the top of the ticket by Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist) several positive developments can be reported from the caucus as Legislative Session approaches.
Much of the divisiveness that characterized the previous two years of caucus matters seem to be firmly in the rear-view mirror today. The caucus dissidents who caused trouble immediately after the November election are almost entirely onside now, while other surprising stories are emerging.
This year’s Democratic class of newcomers is much smaller than two years ago and smaller than 2006 or 2008. It’s a class that is made up entirely of new members from safe seats much like the freshman class of 2004 and 2010. But the class is strong thanks to Rep. Evan Jenne’s return to the House and Rep. Amanda Murphy’s experience from last session and two grueling campaigns in 13 months. The class is ambitious yet playing very much as a team with the caucus leadership under Rep. Mark Pafford and Rep, Janet Cruz.
Rep. Cruz is unlikely to face opposition for Minority Leader Designee. As part of her campaign for leader, she has promised an open RFP process with a reassessment of House Victory vendors. This is a long overdue change, as long-term vendors, some of which have been making mistakes in House campaigns for well over a decade (when I worked with the party) have simply been rewarded for ineptitude, bad polling, and other errors with even fatter contracts.
House Victory itself is in able and competent hands after Leader Pafford made several important staff changes last year. While 2014 did not go as hoped, the new staffers have a long-term vision for what needs to be done to make Democrats competitive again in legislative elections and are undertaking a monumental assessment of previous campaigns to fully understand what has gone wrong in the past.
Just three short months ago, Charlie Crist carried 16 House districts where the GOP candidate for State Representative was victorious. By comparison to Congress this is a very revealing number because Barack Obama won just 24 US House districts currently held by Republicans (The US House has 435 members whereas the Florida House has only 120). This gaudy number has more to do (based on my own analysis) with Libertarian voters crossing over to the GOP in legislative races more than any other factor including Democratic undervotes.
Rep. Katie Edwards has emerged as an important voice in the caucus. One of the few true potential statewide stars the Democrats currently have, Edwards is perhaps the only member of the caucus who has both a rural and urban background. She is working closely with the leadership not only on policy matters but also on the political side where her unique skill set can serve Democrats well.
The caucus’ communications strategy had become clearer under Paul Flemming who spent a decade with the Tallahassee Democrat. Flemming has helped develop a clear vision that the entire Democratic caucus can coalesce around.
Legislative sessions will be tough for the caucus and the campaign in 2016 perhaps even more difficult especially given outside forces. However, the House Democrats are doing a credible job of putting the divisions of the past behind them and building an infrastructure that should serve House members and candidates well in 2016 and beyond.