The reaction to my article published Thursday morning about State Senator Darren Soto was visceral in some quarters while favorable in others. Let me explain why Soto is a target of mine and why I find some of defenses of him disingenuous.
Democrats in Florida are badly in need of developing a values based party that represents something beyond simple electoral and political “moderation”. Right now we don’t have a clear set of values that drive us as a party collectively forward.
The defenses of Darren Soto by many across the state are either based on a denial of his voting record or on some other principle as to how the party should look. But the reality is most of the people who took offense to my characterization of Soto as a bad Democrat do so because they have distinctly personal and political considerations at stake which have almost ZERO to do with ideology.
It’s not an accident that the Sunshine State News, the website of record for conservatives that are political insiders in this state said:
“Soto is about as good as conservatives can hope for from his liberal Democratic district.
This observation from a publication that makes its name by promoting pro-business initiatives and bashing the Democratic Party isn’t an accident. Soto’s record even while sitting in a safe Democratic seat is shocking – arguably the worst or second worst record from a progressive perspective among any Democrat in the legislature who has served continuously since 2008.
While it is true Soto voted for the onerous HB 71 “personhood” bill days after winning a Special Election in 2007 and also cast anti reproductive-rights votes in 2008 and he voted for Parent Trigger in 2012 (one of only two Democrats in either chamber to do so), and that he got an “A” rating from the NRA in 2010 and 2012, and numerous other bad votes let’s focus on his more recent record in the Florida Senate this very calendar year.
Before walking through this it is important to remember President Obama got close to 65% of the vote in Soto’s current Senate district in 2012 and that Congressional District 9 where Soto is running currently is an area where the President got about 62% of the vote in 2012.
Let’s review what some of the conservative special interest groups that lobby the Legislature thought of Soto’s 2015 performance.
-Soto scored 100% on Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education Foundation which advocates for the privatization of public education;– Soto scored 100% on the Florida Chamber scorecard; This was higher than many conservative Republicans.– Soto scored 96% on the Associated Industries of Florida scorecard; This was higher than many conservative Republicans.
Keep in mind Soto was casting these votes with right-wing interest groups just as he was planning on launching a campaign for Congress in a liberal seat. With one eye one must surmise toward who could help him raise the most campaign cash in a safe Democratic district, Soto cast his lot for the past several months with conservative Republicans. Or perhaps Soto is just a conservative who will serve the interests of the US Chamber of Commerce and other business interests were her to be elected to Congress? Either way, progressives throughout Florida should be alarmed.
It is worth noting that , former State Rep. Ricardo Rangel when serving in the House in 2013 and 2014 consistently voted differently than Soto on numerous issues. Rangel, who is Hispanic is also seeking the Congressional District 9 seat was one of the most liberal, and outspoken members of the caucus even challenging conventional orthodoxy on some issues where Democrats had simply decided not to fight. Rangel lost a primary in 2014 quite possibly because he clashed with Soto all too often. But he stood on principle in the legislature even when it cost him a seat and that needs to be pointed out in the midst of this debate.
If Democratic activists come forward and say “we need a conservative, transactional Democrat like Soto in office,” I would probably respect it more than the claims that he is somehow a progressive. His record speaks for itself, and as a progressive I feel pointing out the reality of his record is not in any way a “low blow” or personal attack but simply holding those who sit in and seek public office advocating a set of principles accountable for abandoning said principles.
Soto’s game has been like that of any transactional politician. Find allies in other offices, schmooze special interest lobbyists while pretending to be a good progressive in front of local audiences that will have a bearing on future runs for office. For us at TFS, this is exactly the type of politics we abhor and are committed to opposing it while trying to reform our party.