Less than 24 hours after losing with an incumbent in one of the most visible positions in the state, Florida’s Democratic Party leadership is again taking it on the chin from armchair pundits across the state. While many FDP backers have taken to Twitter and Facebook to downplay the party’s failures and throw stones at those making the critiques of the party, the individuals who support the Florida Democratic Party must understand why these criticisms take place. It’s recent and fading history, stupid.
The Florida Democratic Party has made several attempts in recent years to appear to be changing it’s structure, focus and tenor after consistent electoral defeats. This is after all a party that has lost 17 of the last 18 races for Governor & Cabinet, the last 2 open US Senate seat elections and now handed the GOP the second largest city in the nation that they will govern with a Republican Mayor. *
While I believe FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant’s attempts to reform the party are more genuine and might yield better results than that of her three predecessors all which were using the party to promote runs for higher office or lobbying interests, most activists around the state remain highly skeptical. We’ve seen this movie before many will claim and we know how it ends up.
Each film begins with a Democratic defeat at the polls, followed by weeks of “introspection,” which leads to the appointment of “blue ribbon” committees and talk that the party must nominate more “electable candidates” with whispers beginning that the party is too liberal to win outside southeast Florida. Then comes the committee report which makes obvious recommendations and protects most sacred cows in the party. Then comes another election cycle where the Democrats lose despite a growing consensus in the state behind progressive causes and issues.
The bottom line is Democrats across the state will not trust most “reforms” from the FDP until electoral success follows. Time and again activists as well as those involved in party committees and local DECs have seen the party fail them. While it may not be fair to judge the current leadership on the failures of the past, most leading Democrats across the state want to see empirical proof of changes and the elements being put in place for success before giving the FDP the benefit of the doubt in any critical election, like last night’s defeat in Jacksonville.
Following the 2002 election cycle, when I worked closely with the party, we unveiled several reforms of local DECs, changing vendors/consultants associated with losing and made messaging changes. But the losing continued. When Scott Maddox left the FDP to pursue an aborted race for Governor, new Chairwoman Karen Thurman returned the usual suspects in terms of vendors and consultants to the fold but benefited from a strong setup at both House & Senate Victory along with a good national climate.
The inability of Democrats to take advantage of positive developments, protect incumbents in the legislature or Mayors in 50-50 type cities after one election continue to haunt the party. The views of activists and those who work hard to elect Democrats across the state will not change until results turn around. Does the party itself deserve to be cut some slack? It depends on your perspective, but most activists across the state will not give the FDP the benefit of the doubt.
After electoral defeats, the party likes to blame the candidate and those managing the campaigns. But this old excuse has once again in the case of Alvin Brown’s defeat rung hollow with those it was intended to placate. Florida Democrats enter the summer of 2015 with just 1/3 of the members of the State Legislature, no Cabinet members and with Republican Mayors in the state’s two largest municipalities. Jacksonville and Miami will enter 2016 as two of the largest cities in the country with GOP Mayors.
This is the pattern after all with Florida Democrats. One decent cycle wiped out by one terrible one, and the summer of 2015 feels just like the summer of 2011 which felt like the summer of 2005 which felt like the summer of 1999. The party will never receive the benefit of the doubt from the masses of activists who work throughout the state until this pattern changes.
* Indianapolis is currently the 2nd largest city in the nation with a Republican Mayor. However Jacksonville will pass Indianapolis in population by the time Lenny Curry’s term expires.