Will the Florida Democratic Party return to relevance?

Florida’s Democrats have had a brutal 15 months. Beginning with Alex Sink’s Special Election loss in March 2014, continuing through a disastrous Election Day in November 2014 and culminating in defeat last month in Jacksonville’s high-profile Mayor’s Race. Certainly not everything that has gone wrong can be blamed on the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) but as the party’s faithful prepares to gather this weekend in Hollywood for the annual Leadership Blue dinner (formerly Jefferson-Jackson), the enthusiasm that has marked party gatherings in recent years will undoubtedly be absent.

Criticisms of the FDP are found from every corner of the state, and every subset of Democrats throughout Florida. Yet, in fairness many of the critiques don’t take into account the inability of the party to impact quick change or the two-decade long neglect of party infrastructure that has put Democrats in this position. The criticisms also often come from malcontents who seek power themselves and many in southeast Florida who really don’t know how a party structure is supposed to work. Finally, the Citizens United ruling has arguably made political parties less effective and relevant.

Still the FDP is suffering from a malaise and a lack of definitive direction. In order to become relevant again politically, this must change.  The atmosphere around Democratic and progressive politics in the state it can be argued has become extremely bitter and toxic. Below we will get into some of the issues facing the party today.

Uneasy Activists

Progressive activists across the state have been unhappy with the drift of the party. The anointing of perceived moderate Patrick Murphy as the party choice for the US Senate nomination which was pushed by Washington insiders has ended up creating a backlash, perhaps unfairly against the Florida Democratic Party. This has continued a pattern of many years where more and more progressives throughout the state have questioned the party and felt disaffected from the decision making by the FDP.

Hyper-Ambitious South Floridians Highlight Regional Disconnect

South Florida’s Democrats often feel they have all the answers for the failure of the Democrats to win statewide. Unfortunately, they usually don’t. Much of the criticism coming from south Florida, the area which raises the most money for the FDP is often based around electoral results. But south Florida’s Democrats have failed badly in off-year elections to stimulate acceptable turnout levels and political leadership locally has focused heavily on Democratic primaries and personality-based conflicts. These failures have nothing to do with the Florida Democratic Party, and the criticisms many in the region make of the FDP are based on more a need to appear knowledgeable by being critical than anything tangible.

I-4 Corridor Neglect due to South v North Rivalry

In primaries and general elections no region of the state matters more than the I-4 corridor. But between the intense North Florida bias of many Tallahassee-based operatives and FDP staff and the southern Florida bias of prominent Democratic donors and operatives, the Tampa Bay Area and Central Florida are routinely given the short end of the stick. In any long-term plan the party puts together, the I-4 corridor region must be a focal point.

I-75  Corridor and Medium-sized County Neglect

Post 2014 election, it became fashionable for Tallahassee-based political writers to credit Rick Scott’s margins along I-10 as the reason for his victory. This was a justified analysis but perhaps an easy one to make particularly sitting in Tallahassee. However the I-75 corridor as I label it  which runs from Marion to Collier counties provides big GOP numbers. Each county in this corridor has a population of over 100,000 people. It has far more voters than the I-10 corridor and has provided reliable margins for Republicans in every statewide election since 2000 (with the exception of the 2006 US Senate race).

Changing rhetoric and goals depending on audience

The FDP is an unpopular and unsuccessful party that tries to placate all elements within its tent, without really pleasing any. Time and again you will hear FDP officials and operatives change the language of what they say depending on who they are talking to. Yet this approach has not inspired confidence and has done more damage the credibility of some party officials than to build support.

Coalition Building Nonexistent 

The FDP has failed to effectively build coalitions with progressive organizations and issue-advocacy groups. This might be largely due to the fact that without a strong party infrastructure and the failings of local DEC’s the party does not really offer advocacy groups much.

Positive Messaging Lacking – Default Tactic is to Attack Republican Officeholders and Scandal Monger

This is self-explanatory. The Democrats have time and again in this state failed to articulate a positive progressive or populist agenda instead reverting to fear-mongering and fanning scandal against the Republicans. Guess what? It hasn’t worked.

Party Has not Built Trust by Talking About Goals and Plans 

Instead of hearing from party leaders “Here is our long-term vision and how we plan to get there. We need your help and buy-in as we build a better Florida,” we constantly get excuses and a lack of transparency/strong communication between the party and grassroots activists.

The “We Need Moderates” Refrain 

Lazy analysis and the need for some operatives to justify continued employment and consulting fees leads to lazy explanations for electoral defeats. The “we need moderates” is the laziest of all and seems to ignore the reality that the Republicans have won in this state because they have actually stood for something.

 

Despite all these critiques hope is abound that the LEAD report due this weekend gives some refreshing suggestions and a plan/vision for the party’s future.

 

 

 

11 comments

  1. Jonathan · · Reply

    Good piece and you nailed it!

  2. When you have a large number of people complaining from all over the state. It cast serious doubt on it just being “malcontents who seek power themselves”. I think it has been established over the past few months, there has been efforts made by some in party to “Keep Progressives at Arm’s Length”, and an obvious lack of respect for Progressives surfaced during last election. Many variables I would think that need to be addressed. We all will see what the LEAD report has to offer. You made some excellent points.

  3. […] “Will the Florida Democratic party return to relevance” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of The Florida […]

  4. The Observer · · Reply

    In a word, NO. Unless we have a clean sweep of the folks who have been ruining the party for the past 16 years nothing will change. Unless these people have a reason to let go it will not happen. Who is going to volunteer to get off the money train first ? I don’t hear any responses. This LEAD report will just more smoke and mirrors, a lot of promises, and lead to another losing cycle. The FDP should have been able to say to the Washington insiders we will pick our own candidate for Senate. That did not happen. It just shows what little respect Debbie W has for the common voter to make an educated decision. Can’t wait for the day after election day 2016 to hear the next round of excuses. One of the few things the insiders are good at.

  5. Great article and no chance things change. Too many people are comfortable with losing and too much $$$ floating around to consultants.

  6. wvayens · · Reply

    I’m not sure you can make the statement “…south Florida, the area which raises the most money for the FDP…”

    In the 2014 election cycle, according to FDP filings with the Division of Elections, 60% of the party’s money came from the Crist campaign (and obviously went right back into activities for the campaign). The next largest income group, 15% are out of state contributions. Next is Leon County (Tallahassee) at 7% and then Hillsborough County at 5%. You don’t get to a S Florida county until next, Miami-Dade at 3%, followed by Orange County at 3% and then Palm Beach at 3% and Broward at 2% and finally all other Florida counties at 2%.

    The 3 southeast counties, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward only accounted for 8% of FDP contributions (a little less than $4 million in total.)

    Even in a election cycle like 2012 where you didn’t have the Crist infusion to the FDP, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach only accounted for 22% of the FDP income.

  7. Few over the Many · · Reply

    Really good analysis and why some of us are staying away from J-J this year.

  8. Well the long awaited Tasks Force Report is out…

  9. This is a great analysis, and it highlights an inconsistency in the standard paradigm: if the party wants to embrace something it calls “moderate,” you’d think there’s be more interest in the I-4 Corridor b/c that’s a natural area of “moderation” between the North and South of the state. It’s one way “to skin the cat” if you’re truly looking for balance, rather than cherry-picking ideology.

  10. Sharon Isern · · Reply

    I am new to working as a representative of my county. The first election was awesome. We had a candidate in Obama who had a message and could touch peoples emotions and vision. And we elected him for a second term….not because Romney was so bad, but because Obama gave us a hope for change. I have seen the party doing some things that really bothered me, one being that the party chooses the candidate and bills that candidate as “not as bad as Scott.” There was no message from FDP to excite people. I used to say that Scott was so bad that my dog, Oliver, could beat him. Well, I was wrong as was the FDP. Check out Hillary’s recent speech and rally….she presents a message of hope and inspiration and outlines her platform. That is what makes people take time to vote.

  11. Its obvious that Florida is full of retirees, but we older people must understand something very important if we expect to wrest the congressional majority away from the GOP…
    The DNC MUST clean house and oust all the underhanded Wasserman types, AND choose those who will step up to what progressives want; make sure the caucuses are honest, or it will be another fiasco in 2018 and 2020. Those of us who are boomers and older must realize that it is the younger generations, x and millennial, that are now the majority voters in this country. They dissed the whole Democratic party for a number of reasons this last election, particularly because of how Wasserman and her lackeys treated Bernie Sanders. (I know the GOP had a hand in that too, but it was their own DNC party’s dishonesty that shouted the loudest screw you to these voters)
    The DNC leaders fudged around until they got what THEY wanted, but NOT what the majority progressive voters wanted, and they ended up backing the wrong horse. Yes HRC was a whole lot better than DT, but the young folks saw the underhandedness levied at Sanders as a discordant slap in the face when they disregarded the popular vote – and these young people rejected the whole party because of it.
    If we want to make any headway through the morass the GOP has now created, we had better swallow our elder, “We know better…stay with the party no matter what,” attitudes and find some middle ground with these young people. Educate them with honest moves. Make them know their voice is heard and respected by the responses to it, because they now know the power of their vote – even if it was a pissed off vote for DT.
    Sure, Sanders may not have beat Trump either because of all the illegal crap that went on, but if the DNC had stayed fast to respecting their constituency it would be on much more solid ground today. AND the last congressional votes would probably
    tipped the other direction.
    Getting rid of the Super Delegates would be a good start. Keeping them says loud and clear that nobody’s but their vote counts with the DNC. That kind of favoritism will kill the hoped for vote of the next generations.

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