State of the State: Fluff, Awkwardness, and Mark Pafford’s Rhetorical Questions

OrangesRick Scott tried to prepare us for the rambling speech by opening with a joke about his speaking skills. Unfortunately, it did not help or make it any less painful. The state of the state was flat, boring, and the openly-cued clapping was cringe-worthy.  Rick Scott tried to put forward an idea of “Florida exceptionalism” that was mostly just naming off accomplishments, yet then went into a tirade about how “the government does not spend your money as well as you do” in various scenarios. It was an awkward line to balance – Governor Scott tried to push government ideas and programs while at the same time, accusing the government of mishandling taxpayer money, which considering how long the state has been in Republican hands,

What was most important was what was missing from the speech – the prison woes, the middle class, any mention of healthcare.  It was so generic, I can almost guarantee that next years speech will be similar.  Nothing controversial, nothing surprising, merely a pep talk from a weak and unpopular governor.  Nothing inspiring or surprising.

And then came the Democratic response.

While the Minority Leaders of their respective chambers, Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Mark Pafford tried to come out and hammer him, their delivery was poor.   Governor Scott gave a bland, generic mix of accomplishments and hopes for tax cuts, yet a proper united response was hard to discern.   Having them sit in an isolated area without any audience made for an awkward setting and it did not seem like their speeches were rehearsed beforehand in that space.   Their intonation did not match the rhetoric.   Overall, the Democratic response was flat and unemotional – Senator Arthenia Joyner simply read a speech that had little to do with most of Florida.  Her speech demonstrated many problems with Democratic messaging:

Here was her target: “Any Floridian stuck in a low wage job in a state flush with low wage jobs, gets it. Any homeowner struggling to hold onto their homes when banks get to ignore the rules, gets it. Any student facing crushing debt to get an education, gets it. Anyone stuck in an expensive emergency room because a governor is at war with the president’s health care law, gets it.  Anyone paying high property insurance premiums for minimum insurance coverage, gets it.  And anyone trying to start a small business but can’t get any help because Tallahassee is too busy helping big corporations – gets it.”

While she was clearly trying to drive in a particular point, it was way to narrow for the audience.  Democrats have a messaging problem and these two responses are perfect examples why.   At some point, Democrats should realize that not all Democrats are poor lower-class people.  While there should be mention of them and economic issues need to be discussed aggressively, the Florida Democratic party has to broaden their message to include more issues.  This line of messaging did not work in 2014, 2012, or 2010.   This demographic of hard-up out of luck Floridian is probably not listening to a Senate speech in the middle of the day – they are probably working.  It is a huge misunderstanding of audience. Environmental issues, protection of women’s reproductive rights, issues of social justice, government reform, accountability of officeholders and economic fairness all should have an audience in the Democratic agenda – but today Senator Joyner only address that last point.

Republicans have an easier task – they message to upper-middle-class white guys, and they do okay.   Democrats have a larger coalition to appease, which makes messaging harder.  However, this line has proven to be repeatedly ineffective with voters because it is simply too narrow.  It is time to try something new.

Mark Pafford at least stayed to Florida issues, but his disinterested tone and lack of excitement were disheartening. There was no passion in his speech, or even much emotion beyond his questioning tone.  He needed to show anger instead of an awkward rhetorical questioning dialogue with himself about policy issues, which came across as confused.

View his response here. 

While they attacked Governor Scott and Senator Joyner gave examples of individuals hurt by his policies, they were rushed and hard to understand.  A speech like this needs emotion and the context was simply wrong.  I would have liked to see Representative Pafford get up and get angry and directly say “Governor Scott allowed fracking to occur in Florida, putting our environment and our citizens at risk.”   The Democratic message needed a bigger frame – the speech would have been stronger had they made all Floridians the subject and Governor Scott (and the Cabinet members) the perpetrators.   It would have been an excellent time to mention Baileygate and the lack of transparency in Governor Scott’s cabinet because that has implications for all Floridians.

In the end, the Democratic response desperate needed to rally the troops and be a call to arms.  Instead, it was a just a polite declaration of “Well, it is rough to be lower class in Florida.”   This is not enough to inspire faith in a lackluster party whose continued electoral defeats have made life easy for the arrogant and entitled class of Republicans running the state.


  1. FWIW, I thought Joyner’s speech in particular contained the economic populism and real talk that should be at least one major plank of the Dems’ messaging going forward. Agreed on many points though, particularly set and setting.


    1. There is a way to talk about economic populism that is inclusive. While I completely agree that it should be a major plank in Dem messaging going forward, the delivery and the manner in which Senator Joyner delivered it focused solely on a lower class/minimum wage crowd. If Democrats are going to branch out, they are going to have to widen the message. While Pafford touched on a few more aspects that attempted to draw more people in, his speech was really just poorly written.


      1. This is exactly what we’re going to be learning about this weekend in Orlando at the DPCF Conference. How to message progressive economic ideas from Pensacola to Key West.


  2. Well said Katy…Dems have a messaging problem and a delivery problem.


  3. Hank Porter · ·

    Let’s check our spelling before casting stones.


  4. I agree the messaging is way off. But that’s nothing new. Another session, another hopeless fight. Joyner and Pafford cannot be blamed- it’s post election disaster that is the problem.


  5. Jonathan · ·

    Pafford was okay. Joyner, yeah she had a terrible speech. Who wrote these? The boys in the FDP press shop or were they too busy tweeting to even notice?


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