Rules Reform – Differing perspectives in a divided party

Democrats-new-logo-01Since we began discussing rules reform on this site several weeks ago vastly differing perspectives on this subject have been presented to us from the different people within the party. We have also been told by those outside the party structure that this discussion borders on a red herring that is completely meant to divert attention from the greater challenges a party that has lost 17 of the last 18 races for Governor or Cabinet faces. But quite honestly, the arcane party rules while maybe not as important in the big picture as some would claim is a problem that the FDP must fix if the structure of the party is to become more efficient. However, doing this wrong could lead to even greater problems and continue a malaise for the party that has lasted well over a decade.

At issue for many who seek reform is the consolidation of influence and power in a small number of state committee members from large urban counties. In theory, these committeewomen and committeemen are responsive to the grassroots of their local parties and represent the will of those rank-in-file party members who are elected to county DEC’s. But in practice they become independent power bases, trading favors and building coalitions to attempt ultimate control over the mechanisms of the party.

Various alternatives have been offered on this site to the current weighted vote which has consolidated power in a few individuals hands. But the potential remedies seem imperfect – either going to a one county, one vote model which will almost certainly put more power into Tallahassee and North Florida or selection of committee people by State House district. I like the later solution the best as it would give significant upgrades in representation to medium sized counties where Republicans currently win big and Democrats MUST perform better. Places where Democrats have to start performing better and seriously attempting to reduce GOP electoral margins such as Marion, Pasco, Lee, Lake, Brevard, Seminole, Collier and Sarasota Counties would have additional representation under this model. But it has been pointed out that this model would completely take away representation from many small counties and would shift the majority of power to places in the state where Republicans and not Democrats win elections. Again, I believe that might be a smart thing and incentive for stronger organization in suburban and exurban counties, but the pushback against this idea has united both North Floridians and those from large urban counties.

However, no model is perfect and while the idea of large amounts of influence being held by State Committeepeople from the six most populated counties in the state appears anti-Democratic, the potential solutions all have drawbacks as well. Other concerns revolve around placing more power in areas of the state that are not reliably Democratic or allowing party staff to have more pull when it comes to party matters.

One thing that is consistent – outside of the Tallahassee-based party leadership virtually nobody wants to see elected officials have a greater impact in the selection of the chair or the regular workings of the party. A feeling has permeated the ranks that Senator Bill Nelson and other elected officials have exercised a disproportionate amount of influence over the party’s inner workings, and selection of leading staff. Any sort of rules reform if not meant to empower grassroots activists ought to be discarded. Elected officials have proven for the most part to be unreliable and inconsistent supporters of the party effort. Currently, elected officials have a seat at the table and a lot of pull within the party – no need exists  in the opinion of most to give them even more pull until we actually elect a Democratic Governor. In fact, many would like to see the elected officials influence diminished if possible.

The Democratic Party has through the years done a poor job of outreach to many progressive activists and organizations throughout the state. Speaking to various reps from these organizations, many simply feel the party will never get its act together and are determined to not let internal party infighting or political gamesmanship get in the way of attempts to promote a liberal agenda in the state. Thus they move forward promoting a positive progressive agenda irrespective of what the party does or does not do.

Some within the party feel this whole rules reform discussion represents a “red herring,” meant to somehow push the blame for continued electoral defeats onto the party structure and not where it belongs with poor campaign management, poor staff hirings, poor targeting, poor vendor selection and most importantly poor candidate recruitment.

However, I would argue the rules of the party make little sense and need to be reformed. But what form these changes should take remain to be determined. Any changes that are made need to be done in a way that the party isn’t further fractured. It cannot be stressed enough that the FDP sits in a very precarious position, having lost 19 of the last 20 statewide races where Bill Nelson wasn’t the Democratic candidate and with fewer and fewer people showing faith in the party’s effectiveness and structure.

On the subject of party changes, House Democratic Leader-designee Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) sent out an RFP this week regarding House Victory vendors. This is a major step forward as in past cycles vendor contracts were often simply “awarded” to firms that were seen as loyal or run by insider-types. The track record of failure accumulated by these firms is not even worth discussing. While it is fair to claim vendors alone don’t lose races, enough competitive seats in the last decade have seen Democrats feature cookie cutter communications while the GOP gets creative and wins to question the worthiness of the traditional vendors. It will be very interesting to see who House Victory selects to do these jobs.

What rules reform MUST achieve is taking power out of the hands of a few individuals from large urban counties without further dividing the party, or centralizing power in Tallahassee. Any idea of putting more power in the hands of elected officials is a complete non-starter. So the current party leadership has an unenviable task, but deserve some leeway and flexibility to make the right changes. This is a difficult challenge and no easy solution exists, but not taking this opportunity to make needed reforms will lead to more trouble down the road.


  1. Fla Dem · ·

    The weighted vote is the most anti-Democratic thing ever. One county, one vote the easiest and most democratic way to solve things. This way everyone on the state committee counts equal.


  2. Tampa Bay Demo · ·

    Kartik you’ve been played by the party staff and Tant on this. Rules reform is a red herring designed to further centralize power in Tallahassee and in the hands of a failed Executive Director. The Executive Director is responsive to one person – Senator Nelson.

    Breaking up the bloc voting from urban counties and pushing one county one vote puts power squarely in North Florida and with party staff. Most party staff is well meaning but intoxicated by power and not seasoned enough to understand the world beyond north Florida.

    An effort to undermine the large counties whose votes produce democratic officials and opportunities has long been a goal
    of this staff.

    Why exactly has the party gone 13 years without a state chair from a large metropolitan area. Urban areas in the state become more democratic the FDP becomes more pended on North Florida and on Tallahassee. So the FDP is representing the inverse of the actual electoral trends.

    For the record despite all the complaining by Tallahassee types about Charlie Crist not campaigning in North Florida if he had gotten the same amount of votes out of the second Congressional District as Alex sink did in 2010 he still would’ve lost statewide.

    Kartik, I’m surprised you haven’t run the numbers or pushed back against that comfortable north Florida narrative pushed by Tallahassee insiders.


    1. For the record despite all the complaining by Tallahassee types about Charlie Crist not campaigning in North Florida if he had gotten the same amount of votes out of the second Congressional District as Alex sink did in 2010 he still would’ve lost statewide.

      This is true. But we’ve discussed the comfort level of Tallahassee-based operatives in North Florida and painting a narrative around those counties. Simply not enough votes there to make a huge difference. The rest of your argument not related to this point seem to be designed to protect the weighted vote.

      Again, I don’t have time for either the view we must put all our resources into six counties OR the discussion that we need to focus on North Florida. I will state again, it is the counties up and down I-75 (other than Hillsborough) and I-95 (north of St Lucie) that create Republican majorities in this state. It is also those counties where Dem Pres. candidates have peeled off votes to carry the state…it is there where the party must focus but I hear two counter arguments to this, one coming from Tallahassee the other coming from South and Central Florida that don’t address this. That’s why I think election to the State Committee by House District is the best of a bunch of bad ideas. The vote weights maybe should be skewed towards population and not Dem performance without protecting small counties where the Democrats have little or no chance of really organizing or making a statewide impact. Maybe some provision can be made for those small counties. But the weighted vote at the very least has to go in the sense that one person cannot cast 59 times the vote of another on the same committee.


      1. John Harris · ·

        If anything Broward and Miami are UNDERREPRESENTED by the vote weights. Dade has 59 votes and Broward 58. Liberty 1. Yet Broward and Dade produced more than 500 times the votes for Obama in 2012 than Liberty did. So a 59-1 and 58-1 ratio actually FAVORS the rural counties!


      2. A Florida Democrat · ·

        John Harris,

        You just nailed it. Bingo. I have said the weighted vote actually FAVORS rural counties because they all get a vote just like the electoral vote actually favors small states because they all get a vote. Florida has 40 times the population of Wyoming but only 10 times the electoral votes. Same thing here. Broward/Miami-Dade/Palm Beach have as much as 500 times the Dem voters as panhandle counties yet only have at most 59 times the voting power in the FDP. So true and THANK YOU for stating this and though I love Kartik SHAME ON HIM for not pointing this out and carrying water for Tant and her minions.


    2. dianecbrown · ·

      Let’s see. Charlie’s resources were concentrated in south Florida but he got a lousy voter turn out. If he had put more effort into north Florida, the counties that elected Gwen Graham, he could have gained another 67,000 votes.


  3. get over it · ·

    The FDP is a waste of time. A chair with ZERO history of activism and an ED who has kept his job despite losing election after election. Bright minds like yourself Kartik completely shut out from party business.

    I think it’s time we all concede the party is broken, a total failure that comes up with new excuses every two years and the exclusive province of yes men and women.

    Democrats are better off just running their own independent campaigns and working with outside groups that even bothering with the party structure.


    1. dianecbrown · ·

      “A chair with ZERO history of activism.” Not sure where you are getting your information but I don’t think Allison Tant would have been selected as Obama’s NWF fundraiser if she did not have the credentials. Less than 6 months in the FDP chair, she raised a record amount for the FDP’s annual fundraising event, and topped that last year. As reported in the Sun Sentinel, ” last weekend’s Leadership Blue fundraising dinner in Hollywood attracted a record crowd of more than 1,500 and raised a record $1.1 million.” You cannot raise money like that with no activism experience.


      1. Why do so few of the activists in Leon County think highly of her? She threw cocktail parties for the President. Big deal! Talk to the real activists like Barbara DeVane and her crew. They are the ones who get things done in that area.


  4. Tampa Bay Demo, you say:
    “Why exactly has the party gone 13 years without a state chair from a large metropolitan area. Urban areas in the state become more democratic the FDP becomes more pended on North Florida and on Tallahassee.”

    Aren’t you the one arguing for the status quo (to keep large county control)? The large county/urban areas are the ones with the weighted vote who keep electing chairs from north and central Florida.


    1. A Florida Democrat · ·

      The time has come to elect someone who isn’t from Tallahassee or never served in the legislature. Annette Tadeo would make a decent chair.


      1. dianecbrown · ·

        Annette Tadeo is a very important member of the party, but an organization does not elect a leader baed on where they do or don’t live. They elect the best candidate.


      2. How about setting a precedent of having people in the FDP office who have actually won a race, either as a candidate or consultant.


  5. Democratic Operative · ·


    No doubt the rules make zero sense. They need to be re-written. But understand internally, the party chair and staff are making WAY TOO BIG A DEAL OUT OF THIS. They will use this as an excuse for past failures and changing the rules as the “reform” that will help things in the future but really just puts more power in their hands.

    It is really upsetting that your independent and important voice has been sidetracked on this total rouse and red herring for over a month now. Allison Tant and her loyalists are using this as an excuse to not rebuild the party logically or build the bridges needed.

    This is a total joke. At the meeting in Orlando a few weeks ago, most of the time was spent on this sort of nonsense. The LEAD Committee is simply window dressing and having survived following yet another electoral disaster, the Executive Director and staff are feeling like they are untouchable and can further cement their position.

    The FDP is becoming less and less relevant in the bigger scheme of things. Democratic elected officials have their own power bases to run from, and networks of supporters totally separate from the party. Progressive issue advocacy groups interact very little with the party, having been time and again let down.

    In real terms the FDP has simply become a repository for those with large egos, those who seek the allusion of power and malcontents that want attention. Oh yeah and vendors/consultants looking to make money.

    The relationship between the FDP and true grassroots progressives in this state has never been more distant.

    And yeah, why do all the FDP chairs come from North Florida? Last Central Florida chair was in 2002, last South Florida one in 1999 last Tampa Bay one was in the 1970s.

    Changing the FDP is no longer worth the time, energy or effort. It is simply spinning wheels. Work outside the party to get Democrats elected and move forward from there. Use potential statewide candidates as an opportunity to build infrastructure outside the party.

    Kartik, in summary you are too smart and too experienced with this stuff to fall for this total red herring. I expected better from you and see already based on the balance of this article you realize you were wrong not long ago to want to rubber stamp the wishes of the Executive Director. TFS is maybe the most important media outlet for progressives in this state. Falling in line with the FDP jeopardizes your standing. I hope this posting is a clear attempt to regain your footing as an independent operator, with independent views. It is critical that you remain separate from the party types who you have correctly gone after in the past.

    Keep up the good work and please drop this rules reform issue and get back to the types of postings we expect from you and still see on this site every week when you are not talking about this LAME rules thing.


  6. Millie Herrera · ·

    The weighted vote is the most democratic way to elect party leaders. What you fail to clearly point out is that the large county state committeemen and comitteewomen represent the larger number of Democrats in their counties than the smaller counties, and that is the purpose of having weighted votes.

    Should a comitteewoman from a small county with say 50,000 registered Democrats have the same power on where to spend gotv dollars than one from Miami-Dade county with 500,000 registered Dems?

    Rules changes are not going to get more Democrats elected. REAL effective, early and sustainable grassroots training and organizing, inspiring, well funded Democrat candidates – not Republican-lite converts or but-they-can-raise-a-lot-of-money candidates who fail to motivate our base, is what wins elections.

    We keep losing state elections because we’ve strayed from who we are. We are Democrats. We win elections with Democratic policies and Democratic grassroots. Just ask President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, etc.


  7. The fact remains that the party is becoming more irrelevant than ever. These petty fights do nothing to promote Dem candidates all of whom are determined to do end runs around the party.


  8. WBE, your comment doesn’t make sense. Petty arguments does not make a political party irrelevant. Look at the Congressional big boy Repubs and the Tea Party Repub children. They have been having major disagreements for about 6 years now, one that even lowered the country’s credit rating, and another trying to close the Dpt of Homeland Security.


  9. dianecbrown · ·

    WBE, your cooment does not make sense. Petty fights do not make a political party irrelevant. The Congressional conservative Republicans have been having major fights with Tea Party Republicans for about 6 years. A party certainly is not irrelevant if it can shut down the government and downgrade the nation’s credit rating. They may be stupid, but not irrelevant.


    1. The difference is the Republicans actually WIN elections in Florida unlike the Democrats.
      Our petty infighting is about rules and status. None of this has an electoral impact. What is the stat that is always thrown out here…losers of 15 of the last 16 elections statewide for state office or something like that? I mean that is SO EMBARRASSING and yet now we are claiming it is because of the rules of the party and how chairs get elected? PLEASE!


  10. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    Kartik actually beat the FDP staff and vendors in a statewide primary!

    Sheldon 61 Thurston 39

    So I’d agree with the above he’s more qualified to run the party than some of the clowns employed.

    Don’t know why he has to always suck up to them though.


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