We talk a lot on this blog about building a bench, so for the weekend of convention it seems fitting that we try to focus the discussion candidate recruitment. The future success of the Florida Democratic Party depends on drastic changes in the way that they draft, mentor, and train candidates, so it seems logical that a path forward has to begin with this discussion.
Currently, running for office is seen as an inside affair run by party elite. Many times in both local and state races, there is an anointed candidate that gets additional support from the party. While the goals of this process are sometimes well-intentioned by veterans of the process, it also decreases morale among activists. This both creates tension among different constituency groups and also yields mixed results. Overall, this does not create more winning campaigns and does not increase the bench. The results are a clear reflection of the muddled process by both the state party and local efforts.
Overall, the process needs to be more transparent, with more readily-available information and support. Increased information will actually keep unqualified or unequipped candidates out of the race while encouraging them to future runs. Creating a pool of well-qualified candidates ready to run is essential. Grooming needs to start years before potential candidates may run for office. Mentoring and policy education are essential. Many of these changes are low-cost and could greatly increase the pool of candidates.
The problem is NOT a lack of qualified people to run. The problem is that qualified individuals lack the knowledge about the process of running, lack access to campaign resources (such as readily available consultants and campaign managers), and are not provided adequate encouragement on the county or state level. There needs to be a connection between people who are capable of running and party resources. Currently, there is not a direct path forward.
Additionally, there has to be an increase of people who can run campaigns for candidate recruitment to work. There has to be a bench not only of potential candidates, but of trained professionals and volunteers to run those candidates. Unless that happens, even if qualified candidates are convinced to run, they do not have the skills and resources to be successful. While candidates should not depend on the FDP to run their campaign, they also need access to democratic consultants, campaign staff, and information on how to run an effective campaign. Most candidates, even well-qualified candidates with money and community support, lack the knowledge of how to put an effective team together and as a result, we see ineffective campaigns with great candidates. This has to change.
There needs to be a focus on information, resources, and accessible staff. Even volunteers should have basic training in order to run field, finance, and media, and these trainings could be provided online at a low-cost. There needs to be lists of outside resources available to candidates; lists of friendly PACS, endorsement groups, and community organizations that are politically active needs to be compiled in every county. Above all, there needs to be access to pollsters, consultants, and other campaign resources beyond the party favorites in order to encourage free market competition.
This needs to be a priority for the party — and the effort will require adequate resources to be successful. This includes permanent dedicated party staff and resources in additional coordinated trainings and incentive programs for campaign managers. While this will overlay and complement other party commitments, it is essential that this project be separate and defined to show commitment. Investing in our campaign infrastructure is a long-term cost saving strategy. Creating quality programs and trainings will create more effective politicians, which will increase fundraising, build our base and ensure more victories.
Overall, two sets of changes need to happen: changes in recruitment process for the party and also a change in the way information is distributed to interested potential candidates. There has to be changes on both the state and county level. Overall, the process of running for office needs to change from an insider-driven information gridlock to a more open process. Once candidates are interested, there must be a grooming process and active mentoring. There are numerous ways that this can be encouraged.
Over the next few days, we are going to discuss problems, strategies, and tactics to build that bench, in both the long-term and short-term. This must be an effort on both the local and state level. We hope you join this conversation.