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.
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.