It took over seven months of meetings and planning, but late last week the report from the Florida Democratic Party’s LEAD Task Force was released. The report is itself a combination of obvious conclusions and less obvious ones that are based on faulty assumptions. Quite frankly, the report and the entire work of the task force might be described as a colossal waste of time and energy given that we are already now 1/4 of the way through the 2016 election cycle and the conclusions were so obvious that it feels like Florida’s Democrats are once again playing catch up.
Considering the task force was made up almost entirely of establishment figures, tied to the status quo which has delivered constant electoral defeats for almost two decades, perhaps we should not be surprised by the underwhelming nature of the report. But for me personally, I had much higher hopes for this process and for recommendations coming from the task force.
So what exactly does the LEAD report say?
The recommendations for DEC’s were actually very logical and we will devote another piece to that. But as for the statewide recommendations let’s break it down.
The report correctly states that the party had little presence in the exurban or rural counties of North and Central Florida that represent 45% of the statewide vote. But as I have stated time and again, the bulk of these votes are in places like Hernando, Marion, Lake, Pasco, St Johns and Flagler counties and that the party has consistently made zero effort in these places. But the implication from the report is once again that North Florida, especially the counties between the Suwannee and Apalachicola Rivers represent some sort of nirvana for the Democrats statewide chances. The constant citing of Gwen Graham and discussion of the downturn in North Florida turnout fits the comfort zone of many in the party but isn’t a realistic piece of analysis.
Florida Democrats need to refine the messaging to the middle class according to the report. I or any reader of this blog could have made that same conclusion based on election results and public polling. But it took a “blue ribbon” task force 7 months to release a report that said that. The report recommends that the state party “regularly distribute talking points to DEC’s.” The fact this is not happening already is pretty shameful. Didn’t the task force created after the 2010 election recommend something similar? The task force also recommends more candidate messaging training. This is logical but also its quite disappointing that this wasn’t being done before.
The report recommends more regional outreach staff and revisions to the party bylaws but does not make specific recommendations on either. Again these are logical conclusions, but the task force again here has simply laid out the obvious. Steve Schale, one of the smartest Democratic pols in the state who oddly was not asked to sit on the task force smartly recommended last week that the FDP leave Tallahassee and relocate to Orlando. For years, I have suggested the FDP move to Tampa which is the center of the state’s largest media market. Whether it is Tampa or Orlando, the party needs to seriously entertain moving – but that wasn’t discussed in this report.
The task force has recommended increasing the vote by mail effort. Again a logical conclusion and let us hope the party employs the best data possible to make this effort truly fruitful in 2014, because this is a data driven activity and the party’s track record in using data for targeting is poor at best.
The candidate recruitment recommendations are so logical yet we waited SEVEN MONTHS for a task force report and thus the fruits of ideas like Candidate Recruitment Councils will not be felt until the 2018 election at the earliest. While Democrats sat around trying figure out how to better recruit candidates, the GOP hit every corner of the state actually recruiting them. The idea of creating a “Municipal Victory” fund to build a bench makes sense, but the FDP has a history of simply playing in municipal races in large cities. As the GOP’s success proves playing in small and medium sized cities is how you build your bench.
While many of the conclusions were obvious, this task force and the report it produced appears to have been a waste of valuable time and effort. Florida’s Democrats coming off 14 miserable months needed more of a boost going into 2016 than this report provides. The report also lacks the type of creativity and innovation that the FDP will need if they are going to turn around years and years of losing. Part of changing the culture around Florida Democrats is giving those who work so hard for the party at the grassroots level across the state some hope that things will change. This report fails to do that.