Rules reform is a necessary component of making the Florida Democratic Party more viable as a functioning institution. FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant is correct when she and those around her push for changes in the rules and the breakup of the fiefdoms that have dominated the internal workings of the State Committee through the years. This is because it has been years since the State Committee has effectively done its job.
However, a proposed solution that has leaked via multiple channels to us that could be recommended by the LEAD Task Force among other party committees is simply not an acceptable remedy. This solution, a “one county, one vote” system would be a colossal mistake. Proponents of this idea have attempted link the current county weighted vote system to the poor electoral performance of Democrats. Floating this idea is at best cynical and at worst simply dishonest. No reasonable correlation can be made between county weighted votes and the poor performance of Democrats in smaller counties.
We will get back to the proposed “one county, one vote” theory in minute, but first off it should be stated that proposed ideas such as electing committee people by State House District, or keeping vote weights but requiring counties with over 15 weighted voted to elect multiple state committeemen and women should be strongly considered. The push back on this is that a larger body where power is further diluted benefits the elites and consultants whose stewardship have led Florida Democrats to a point of near oblivion in state politics. But we will consider those proposals another time.
One county, one vote is being pushed by proponents in a cleverly orchestrated whisper campaign as an egalitarian measure. However, it’s difficult once you look at reality to view this as anything but a power grab by Tallahassee insiders. The argument that fiefdoms dominated by white men on the State Committee is a problem is valid – but a solution that slants voting power and decision making authority even further into the hands of Tallahassee-oriented types should be avoided at all costs.
The fundamental problem with one county – one vote is that it shifts the power within the State Committee and hence the Democratic Party away from areas that have a large number of voters and toward North Florida which can be easily controlled and manipulated from Tallahassee. President Obama won just 12 counties statewide in 2012 (losing 55 counties) yet carried the state and won Florida’s 29 electoral votes. This proposal would also dilute the influence of the types of places Democrats need to start performing better – populated counties like Volusia, Marion, Lake, Polk and Brevard where the Republicans are building their margins in statewide elections.
Many based in Tallahassee both among Democratic-party insiders and journalists have floated an idea that Republicans win statewide elections because of the small counties along I-10. The reality is that the Republicans win statewide elections because of performance in medium sized counties along I-75. Democrats must engage more in these counties which part of the reason the idea of allocating State Committee members by State House districts is so appealing to me – however we will save that conversation for another day.
While the Florida Democratic Party of 2015 is not the FDP of 1965, a certain element of pork chop lore goes with any proposal to centralize power in Tallahassee or rural North Florida counties. For those not familiar with the Pork Chop Gang, prior to 1967, State House members were elected by county and State Senate districts were malapportioned to favor North Florida. Governor Leroy Collins, attempted to push through reapportionment in the late 1950’s but was shot down.
From the early 1950’s until the 1967 court-mandated reapportionment, political power in the legislature rested squarely in North Florida, even though 45% of the population of the state lived in either the Miami or Tampa Metropolitan areas in 1960. The Tampa and Miami areas had 45% of the population but only 8% of the legislative seats at the time. The leadership of the legislature was hostile to urban interests, The St Pete Times, The Miami Herald and any sort of civil rights legislation. Even after reapportionment, the most powerful legislator in the 1970’s and early 1980’s was Senator Dempsey Barron (D-Panama City), who despite being pro-Civil Rights was a hard line conservative on just about every other issue. Barron clashed with Governors Reubin Askew and Bob Graham regularly and kept political power outside the urban areas as best he could.
Consider for a moment that Liberty County which is west of Tallahassee and borders the Apalachicola River cast just 942 ballots for President Obama in his 2012 reelection. Broward County, in southeast Florida cast 507,430 votes for the President in 2012. Yet under this proposed FDP formula the two counties would be considered equal on the State Committee. Even the current weighted vote where Broward’s committee people have 58 votes compared to Liberty’s one could be seen as favorable to the smaller county based on electoral performance and population. Lafayette in the Big Bend region recorded just 687 votes for President Obama while Dade County recorded 540,776 votes for the President. Yet both Lafayette and Dade in theory would have the same weight under this idea.
Areas with large numbers of Hispanics will have less representation in any one county, one vote scheme. Hispanics in this state are centralized in large urban counties and in second-tier counties like Polk and Volusia. African-American populations are high in the Panhandle and many DEC leaders from smaller counties are African-American. However, it can be argued the dilution of voting power in urban counties would also hurt African-American interests within the party. That subject is debatable, however.
One person/one vote is a principle that has governed electoral politics since the Warren Court decisions of the 1960’s. The Democratic Party being the progressive force for change in the state would be in fact turning its back on anything resembling one person/one vote with this idea. This proposal would centralize power in and around Tallahassee making it easier for party insiders, vendors and consultants to control the decision making process. This reinforces the North Florida comfort zone for many involved in the party and minimizes not only the impact of large urban counties but the places party operatives drive through and past on the Interstate in order to get to the big cities. These “drive-through counties” are the very places where Florida Democrats MUST do better electorally to have any chance to flip the state.
A theory has been floated that DEC leaders in smaller counties might work less hard during election cycles because they don’t have a stake in state committee decisions. Quite frankly if this is the case, we don’t need those sorts of people involved in politics. The motivation for anyone who works at an activist level in the Democratic Party should be to promote progressive or center-left ideals and candidates. Having influence within the state party should not a be a motivating factor for someone to get involved at a local level. Besides, every county in this state has lots of localized elections where DEC’s can make a difference and all too often do not.
As we’ve stated above, Chairwoman Allison Tant is correct in pushing to break up entrenched fiefdoms in the party. She deserves support in those efforts. But quite frankly keeping the current system would be preferable to a “one county, one vote” scheme that resembles a naked power grab by those in North Florida and Tallahassee, and would effectively relegate urban and medium sized counties influence within the party. The 1960’s FDP wants this proposal back, because since then the party has made every effort to mirror the sentiments and population distribution across the state. If this idea were adopted it would prove in time to be a major step backward.