Elizabeth Warren famously talks about Larry Summers giving her advice early in her career in the Senate, telling her she could be an insider or an outsider. “Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People—powerful people—listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule. They don’t criticize other insiders.”
The recently released LEAD Task Force report is a curious and disappointing document. It sets high expectations from the first page, when State Party Chair Allison Tant says, “[W]e have to take a hard look at our past electoral performance to determine exactly why we fell short and how we can best rectify these issues going forward.”
Download the full document here –> http://b.3cdn.net/fldems/2f88b66b7c9a546f5e_ilm6bnbhe.pdf
But neither the promised “hard look” at 2014 data, nor concrete suggestions for going forward ever take shape. For example, despite overt noises from leadership about the importance of contributions from the “grass roots” through club and caucus meetings, I don’t see any of the content of those meetings, many of which I attended, reflected anywhere in the report.
Instead what I see is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, stapled to a cover with the party logo on it.
Is there some good stuff in there? Sure. I liked the promises to keep abreast of digital strategies, beef up outreach, and provide messaging out to counties in a timely and coherent fashion. The report calls for increasing staff and providing new resources for operations. Good.
But without a meaningful review of what went wrong, we can’t form the argument for how we’ll adapt our strategy going forward. The report can’t be the basis for an action plan because it’s simply too opaque — too insidery — to be useful.
Nestled within six pages of covers, introduction and conclusion, we get contradictory reasons for poor performance in North and Central Florida. In the Field and Turnout section we learn the problem was scant Democratic presence. But then in the Messaging section it’s the message that’s identified as the problem in those areas. Which is it? And why the intense focus on North and exurban Central Florida?
With neither clear data nor specific examples to explain what problems LEAD wants to address, the vague prescriptive suggestions are left completely open to interpretation. Sure, we can “improve messaging,” but what does that mean? What did the old, bad messaging look like? What was the response rate, and by how much would we like to see that improved? How was the old messaging deployed? How should the new messaging be handled more effectively? These are some of the questions I’d expected to see addressed in a report of this nature.
Take the strange, illogical ramblings on page nine under the heading of “Field and Turnout Operations,” where the recommendation is to “Renew Focus on North and Central Florida Voters,” extolling the virtues of Patrick Murphy’s campaign against Allen West as a model for running campaigns in North and exurban Central Florida.
Patrick Murphy was neither a North or Central Florida candidate. His district includes Palm Beach — it’s by no means representative of North or Central Florida. There are no Field or Turnout lessons that can be transplanted from the shores of Palm Beach to the savanna of Paynes Prairie. And yet, for reasons unexplained, he’s held up as an example of North and Central Florida Field and Turnout.
Conflating North and non-urban Central Florida with coastal South Florida to reach the conclusion that Patrick Murphy makes sense as a national candidate suggests that the LEAD report insiders are dangerously self-deluded.
Trying to excavate some meaning from the report’s opaque text, one can’t help doubting even the bits that seemed to make sense — digital strategy, messaging, outreach — and wonder what the hidden agendas are in those areas. Will even these things be crafted as tools of control, as the queer illogic surrounding Murphy seems to be?
I went to three LEAD Task Force fact-finding events prior to the release of this report, and I learned much more about what our where our party is headed from those than I did from reading this report. At the community meetings LEAD Co-Chair Val Demings framed things like this: “Some inside the party have bought into a message that Democrats are anti-business, anti-economic growth, and anti-religious…Winning is the most important thing, and we have to change to win.”
But this entire characterization is a straw man based in the same Conserva-Dem rhetoric we’ve heard for years. The last few cycles here in Florida, especially in the midterms, we had top-ticket campaigns that ran on Chamber of Commerce messaging the public rejected. In 2014 we ran a lifelong Republican that Democrats had to “hold their nose” to vote for. So, we relied on ballot initiatives to bring out the base, medical marijuana and Florida Forever, because these issues reflect our values as Democrats. Still it wasn’t enough.
If we want to win going forward, let’s give these reports a rest and just use some common sense.
We need to invest in our bench and develop candidates who can be counted on to fight for Democratic values. Let’s stop wasting time and money on neoliberal, Conserva-Dem candidates who turn off voters by standing for nothing. They can’t win. We’ve done it the “insider” way and lost too many times.
THIS is what we have to change in order to win.
An earlier version referenced the old District 18 boundaries. The new District 18 boundaries actually make my argument stronger by drawing a tighter line around higher-turnout, high-income coastal areas of West Palm and Palm Beach, and excluding the urban areas of Miami.
In terms of “Field and Turnout,” rural and urban/coastal areas are not equal. Urban/coastal areas are more densely populated making field operations more efficient and cost-effective. Poverty rates are also a major factor associated with rural populations and low voter turnout. In North-Central Florida, for example, Gainesville has a poverty rate of 26.8%, while Palm Beach has a poverty rate of 14.5%.