Many Democrats in Florida like to believe they are on the right side of the issues. Public polling and basic compassion confirms that in fact the Democrats are right on the issues and that a majority of Floridians are ready to support Democrats that act like electorate would expect them to. With this in mind, it is no small wonder that President Obama carried the state twice, receiving a majority of ballots cast in the state BOTH times, becoming the first Democrat in the post-war era to achieve such a feat.
The Democrats though have not been able to replicate top-of-the-ticket success down the ballot. A convenient narrative among many around Florida has been to simply blame the state party for the shocking results. After all, Florida’s Democrats have lost 19 of the last 20 statewide races where Bill Nelson has not been the party’s nominee.
No doubt that the Florida Democratic Party has failed over the years. The same can be said for large progressive-leaning groups including labor unions and issue-advocacy groups. A long-term systematic collapse of the party’s infrastructure which began in the mid- 1990’s has culminated in a wild west like setup for the party in Florida. Those desiring access, the appearance of influence and easy access to cash have gravitated to the Democratic side of partisan matters.
While many in the urban areas of the state critique and criticize Allison Tant’s job performance as the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party, many of those who make the critiques don’t even realize what the function of a political party is or should be. They are in fact people seeking some degree of relevance in the fragmented world of Florida progressive politics.
What has been extremely telling is that among those who seek to be “political insiders” and make cash off the process the rush to back Patrick Murphy for US Senate has resembled a racing mob of individuals. Included among these are multiple people who have in the past made allegations that other Democrats were not truly progressives because of who they backed in Democratic primaries. Murphy may still prove to be an outstanding candidate. But at this point in time, with two other credible Democrats who currently hold public office pondering entry to the race, the aggressive backing of Murphy by some is probably more about image and perceived influence than anything else.
Around the state progressive groups whose leadership has been corrupted by the need to maintain power and access, routinely throw in now with the anointed “electable” candidate without any critical thought or analysis. When these candidates inevitably lose general elections the organizations lose credibility statewide, but almost never sweep out the political leadership.
The problem is in the losing/ “every man/woman for themselves” culture of Florida Democratic politics image is everything. Those who started out as activists just like many of our readers don’t think twice about efforts to browbeat and intimidate writers like myself when it serves their purposes. In recent months, I have gotten far more calls/texts/emails from people trying to cover their backside after articles appear in TFS than ever before. The toxic nature of Democratic politics, where losing has become routine and prevarication an art form. Alliances shift and “friendships” within the party are temporary and usually based on access and influence.
Southeast Florida has more of these characters than any other region of the state. These folks while craving access, divide up the party sometimes for personal gain while making some valid but many invalid or uninformed critiques of Democratic performance across the state. Generally these individuals crave attention, and the affirmation of those around the political scene that they are “players” of some sort. No place is this phenomena more apparent than in Democratic stronghold Broward County, where the local party is a mess thanks to competing factions and the influence of political consultants, and where accountability regarding electoral performance is minimal.
In Broward County many of the consultants/”activists”/know-it-alls constantly claim to have answers to fix the state’s Democratic Party problems. But few if any have any knowledge of the state outside southeast Florida. But yet they fail to even produce for Democrats in their own county. Broward has turned out a lower percentage of voters than the state average in five consecutive midterm elections. Not so coincidentally, Republicans have captured the Governorship in each of those five cycles and have swept the statewide cabinet offices in three of the four most recent cycles. At a certain point you have to concede that Broward County will NEVER replicate the remarkable 1994 Chiles reelection turnout in an off-year election. Twenty years on excuses continue to flow from Broward Democrats while they criminally under-perform at the same time. While they underwhelm at the ballot box these Democratic operatives continue to be overly obsessive about personal vendettas involving other Democrats in the county. Political Consultants tend to control many elected officials and this creates a dynamic of infighting at levels of government including in some municipalities. Democratic primaries are used to settle scores and the energy and enthusiasm tested political pros and activists should be reserving for the Republicans are often directed at other Democrats.
While this is happening, Broward’s official Democratic Party structure serve as mere bystanders to the ongoing strife within the county. Professional political consultants and lobbyists control the county like a chess match even serving in the highest reaches of the Broward Democratic Party itself.
Given Broward’s penchant for career politicians, controlling political consultants and know-it-all political activists, you would think intellectual curiosity about the rest of the state would be high. But instead Broward does nothing but let down the rest of the state’s Democratic Party apparatus and then becomes the epicenter of criticisms of the state party after every single election loss. The state party has plenty wrong with it and has consistently failed the biggest electoral tests its faced. But much of this failure comes down to Broward and yet it seems the county is never willing to hold itself accountable, instead simply taking shots at other parts of the state.
Then you have younger activists across the state who seeing the diffusion of power in the party have carved out their own political niche, both financial and in terms of activism. The financial incentive for these activists often is not to be team players but to create cults of personality around and some degree of personal relevance.
In many cases activists are unaware of these sorts of machinations. Unbeknownst to them, they serve as enablers of people they see as true believers or savvy politically, not knowing the financial and narcissistic incentive of many political operatives. Then after each election loss, the spin gets more intense and personal, creating a viscous, never-ending cycle.
We can do better as progressives in Florida. We must do better if we are to stem the tide of continued Democratic loses throughout the state of Florida.