Florida’s Dem leaders just aren’t that into us

Florida State Democratic Convention

In two weeks, the Republican Party of Florida will hold their state convention, and 12 of their 15 Presidential candidates will be attending. This weekend, the unfortunately under-loved Democratic State Convention came and went, and you were lucky if you got a selfie with Alan Grayson.

That’s not intended to throw shade on The Notorious AMG. I’m just saying if you’re a municipal candidate from a teeny-tiny beach town, this was your weekend to shine. No one was there to steal the limelight.

It’s seriously messed up that the Democratic State Convention would underwhelm in any way. Florida controls 29 electoral votes — the same number as New York. Chicanery here in 2000 resulted in George W. Bush “winning,” which in turn gave us the war in Iraq and the Great Recession. The stakes couldn’t be higher, which is a fact we’re inevitably reminded of when the party wants our votes.

But when it comes to grassroots Democrats actually participating in the process of electoral politics, the message is the party is not that into us.

Take the straw poll. Well, actually they already did. There is no straw poll. Back in 2004 it looked like the straws weren’t going to poll the way they wanted them to, so they just burned them. The straw poll hasn’t been seen since.

Also, no platform — not even a mission statement. For the actual “convention” people filed into a dark hall first thing in the morning to listen to speeches, some of which were very good, like Carlos Smith’s. The speeches contained ideas and ideology, but they’re not a cohesive platform.

For the most part the convention was like a shareholders meeting, minus the comfort you’d get at a corporate event. We weren’t allowed to park on-site. Folks had to drive up to the Wide World of Sports and take a shuttle in, and then walk past an empty parking lot to the convention center. There wasn’t any coffee to be found anywhere in the convention center, not even to purchase. People spent hundreds of dollars a night on their hotel rooms; the lunches were outrageously expensive; dinner was $250. It’s like they didn’t want us there.

Just as a matter of optics, why weren’t the Presidential candidates invited? And don’t tell me they declined. With a chance to come to Florida and court our 29 electoral votes, any serious Presidential candidate would walk here barefoot if they had to. They weren’t invited. It’s unthinkable we held this event without a single appearance — not even a Skype message — from any of the candidates.

I was standing outside of a committee meeting on Saturday when I overheard a bright-eyed college kid wearing a Bernie sticker say to his friend that he thought the Presidential candidates would surprise us. “We paid $250 bucks — I bet they do something…special. Surely, one of them is going to show up.” It broke my heart. This isn’t the way we build the base. I hope his parents or his organization felt they got their money’s worth for that ticket — and I surely hope he didn’t dig into his own pockets for it, because that’s an expensive lesson in being shortchanged.

The fact that the convention was devoid of candidates isn’t to say is was devoid of presidential politics. Au contraire. The FDP packed the agenda with Hillary Clinton surrogates. The keynote speaker for the much anticipated $250 dinner was Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. Lately, she’s best known for breaking with Senate expectations of civility to harangue colleague Bernie Sanders on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

The keynote for the General Assembly was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who campaigns for Clinton less acerbically than McCaskill. Klobuchar has an easy smile and is generally more likable and entertaining than the Senator from Missouri. If I were paying $250 for dinner, I’d much rather see Klobuchar than McCaskill — but still, neither is the real deal. Former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank came out to support a fellow Wall Street pal and Senate hopeful, Patrick Murphy. Frank has not endorsed Clinton yet, but he’s been a loud and cranky opponent of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and is vehemently against re-instating Glass-Steagall. 

Right there, you have three high-profile Clinton surrogates invited to the convention either to address the entire body, or to sell a favorite son. Because the Democratic National Committee is so closely tied to the FDP via Debbie Wasserman Schultz, you have to acknowledge the lack of Sanders’ surrogates wasn’t an oversight. It was baked into the cake.

We didn’t get Presidential candidates at our State Convention for the same reason that Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants only six debates — half of those on weekends when no one will be watching. She seems to believe that if she keeps everything on the lowest possible boil, that all these dirty Sanders hippies will get distracted and move on.

To me, this doesn’t appear to be a party that’s trying to grow. It seems to be a party that’s strategically trying to shrink. They don’t want you to be comfortable with coffee or parking. They don’t want you to feel empowered with a straw poll or a platform. They don’t need your input, they just want your money and your vote. They want the country to be safe again for Wall Street “Democrats” who think a $15 minimum wage, expanding Social Security, and single payer health care are un-pragmatic crazy talk. And the worst part is, they’re engaging in wild magical thinking because this is not how you win elections.

As Markos Moulitsas pointed out earlier this week, these basic, populist demands are mainstream now. Hillary is keeping up in the polls only insofar as she mimics Bernie’s economic positions. Putting her in front of meaningful crowds of Floridians might mean she’d have to own these positions. As it stands, her plan appears to be to run away from them, like her life depends on it, once the primary is over. And putting Bernie in front of a Florida crowd that’s controlled by DWS just isn’t going to happen. She’s “in the bag” for Hillary, as is everyone at FDP. It’s an ugly thought. But there’s an even uglier truth behind the words.

The RPOF thinks they know why the candidates didn’t come for a visit this weekend. Regarding Clinton they said in a statement: “Her absence at this convention is a clear reflection of the lack of momentum and grassroots organization that Florida Democrats have going into 2016.” Truth be told, the RPOF couldn’t do a better job of wrecking morale within the party if they did it themselves. This event went out of its way to stamp out any spark of spirit within the ranks.

Would it have killed them to invite Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to Orlando? No. It would have made great headlines, fired up the base and been great for organizing. But it would have also necessitated that Debbie Wasserman Schultz play it straight up the middle — fair and square. For whatever reason, she doesn’t seem capable of that.

Instead of throwing a big party the base wouldn’t soon forget, the FDP threw an HRC-monogrammed wet blanket on everyone. The low-boil lack-luster affair was as intended. This is a business. The party is banking on the hope that this room temperature casserole of sadness will improve Clinton’s chances of winning.

Despite the fact that the party did everything they could to handicap the weekend for Hillary, the weekend buzz among the rank and file was all about Bernie and his spritely supporters. They had tables at both ends of the hall, tended by entirely different organizations. Bernie swag was everywhere. I’m sure a small fortune was made on Bernie t-shirts. I saw candidates who I know had been supporting HRC sporting Sanders stickers — as if they couldn’t be seen in Clinton swag. Perhaps the minimum wage challenge changed their minds.

The establishment might have been trying to keep the pot on low-boil, but the rank-and-file was hot for Bernie. That’s not good news for anyone expecting to ride Clinton’s coattails. This weekend could have been the start of an amazing campaign season for all Democrats, including Hillary.

Instead, we shuttled back out to our distant parking lots under-caffeinated, underwhelmed, and wondering if our party will ever catch-up to that bright-eyed kid looking for something…special.





Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy in “words + pictures” for clients ranging from healthcare companies to county fairgrounds. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network (tune this Sunday at 7:30 pm or download the podcast anytime), the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, Outreach Chair for the Orange County Democratic Party, and the 2015-2016 Co-Chair of New Leaders Council, Orlando Chapter.

All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine. Political and media analysis through a Progressive lens. Appeals to conformity will be met with lulz.

awesome dogs couchYou can easily find Brook Hines on Facebook and Flickr and hereRead all of Brook’s articles here. 

These are her Italian Greyhounds, Trouble and Daphne. During the 1700s Frederick the Great of Prussia took his Iggy to war with him, and he buried the dog himself when it died at the Sans Souci Palace. It was Frederick’s dying wish that he be buried next to his dog, so on the 205th anniversary of his death, on 17 August 1991, Frederick’s family transferred his remains to Sans Souci, and placed them beside his little Italian Greyhound.


  1. Susan Pignato · ·

    Very disappointed that Florida is being ignored by the Presidential Candidates.


    1. Apparently the presidential candidates were not invited by the Florida Democratic Party:

      “Just as a matter of optics, why weren’t the Presidential candidates invited? And don’t tell me they declined. With a chance to come to Florida and court our 29 electoral votes, any serious Presidential candidate would walk here barefoot if they had to. They weren’t invited. It’s unthinkable we held this event without a single appearance — not even a Skype message — from any of the candidates.”


  2. patrianakos · ·

    I sure hope Hillary isn’t counting on our state party to deliver Florida come November.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Florida handed the 2008 nomination to Obama via the primary decision on May 31, 2008. I watched on C-SPAN and you can, too.
    So what point is there for grassroots people to keep attending state conventions?? I attended state conventions and the FDP will do as it pleases. I will be sending $$$ I would have spent on convention costs directly to Hillary’s campaign. The state party decided they wanted Obama in 2008.

    It was a long day on May 31, 2008 but I learned that party leaders don’t care about grassroots participation. They say they do, but watch the C-SPAn record. O wait, some of it happened off camera.

    Democratic Rules & Bylaws Committee Meeting

    The vote on a remedy for counting votes from the Florida delegation was unanimous in favor of the compromise.



  4. Richard Block · ·

    I was there on Saturday morning, and was disappointed that Bernie and Hillary weren’t there. While it is obvious that DWS supports Hillary, it was nice to see that they had two panels during the general session that are Bernie’s issues. Ending the school to prison pipeline, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.


  5. Ron Baldwin · ·

    No wonder the FDP has not a clue about why they are losing elections and the plurality of registered Democratic voters.


  6. With the way they couldn’t manage to have working water fountains or water always available in the convention rooms I would also say. Disney is not that into us. Although in my search for water I almost stepped into the Bernie room. Next convention someone who hands out cold water instead of candy, they will be beloved by all. Even if falling short of a real relationship.


  7. Reblogged this on Wobbly Warrior's Blog and commented:
    “Truth be told, the RPOF couldn’t do a better job of wrecking morale within the party if they did it themselves. This event went out of its way to stamp out any spark of spirit within the ranks.”


  8. Dems in Action · ·

    We’ve decided that all money we collect will go to local and state candidates not the party. It is past time to clean house. FDP needs to get out of Tallahassee, the new FDP would need to get input from the real Democrats, the grass roots, and actually use it. DWS needs to stay out of the FDP business. We don’t need her to screw things up again.


  9. Fisher Fleming · ·

    “This is a business. The party is banking on the hope that this room temperature casserole of sadness will improve Clinton’s chances of winning.”

    “Instead, we shuttled back out to our distant parking lots under-caffeinated, underwhelmed, and wondering if our party will ever catch-up to that bright-eyed kid looking for something…special.”

    Wow — this is the kind of writing I come to this site to read, even if it’s telling us some sad, hard truths in the process.

    It’s hard to believe the FDP would soft-peddle the FLORIDA convention so badly. There is no state more critical to Democratic aspirations to keep the White House and re-capture seats in Congress.

    Yet they couldn’t even bother to the candidates there? Not to mention no coffee. No one in their right mind would try to have a local HOA meeting without coffee. That alone is risking open revolt.

    Seriously, though, the FDP message sure seems to be, “Give us your votes and your money — we’ll make the decisions.”

    And yet you know when the elections come around, if Dems don’t do as well as we’d all like, we’ll hear about how the bad old progressives “depressed morale and turnout.”

    We’re apparently going to have to pry the Third Way out of our party with a crowbar to regain any semblance of vitality at the party level. Maybe if we throw a bag marked “$$Big Donor Money!$$” in the window of a passing bus, they’ll all jump in and leave us alone?

    You want to know how mainstream progressive economic policies are right now, guys? We have a viable Presidential candidate who advocates European-style socialism, and no one’s laughing him off the stage. We may or may not elect him, but we can’t ignore the way the message is resonating.

    Slow-walking the convention so no one gets too excited, or keeping the debates as low-profile as possible aren’t going to change that — it’ll just get us beaten in 2016.

    I’m with the bright-eyed Sanders sticker kid — let’s dump DWS and the rest of the insider, quasi-Republican donor class and DO SOMETHING … SPECIAL. Without them.

    Great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post!

    I will admit that the FDP conventions are more of a fundraising tool than they are anything else, but it didn’t used to be like that. My first FDP convention was in December of 1991. I had just turned 18 years old and was getting ready to get involved in the presidential primary a few months later. At this convention, Bill Clinton, Bob Kerrey (I think), Tom Harkin and Paul Tsongas were there. I don’t think that Jerry Brown was there. Anyway, I met Bill Clinton, and saw him a few times throughout the convention. Every time I passed him he would say “hey Dave”. I was amazed that he even remembered my name. I also met Hillary Clinton in a nearly empty meeting room where the Orange County Democratic Party was having a Q& A will Hillary. When I arrived in the room, there were only about five people, and Hillary was sitting alone in the corner near the podium…just waiting. I went over and talked to her (there was no security for her) and we talked one-on-one for about ten minutes about Chelsea and algebra. She was actually extremely nice! The convention was extremely personable, and everyone felt like they were a part of it. Even though I was not a delegate and only a volunteer, I had an amazing experience. In the end, I think Tom Harkin was the winner of the straw poll. A month later, I would help with the Harkin campaign in Orange County (unfortunately he dropped out after South Carolina).

    As the years went on, the fun left. I think it has become more of a “press the flesh” and “get to know” event than just a group of Democrats having a good time. It is becoming more business meeting-like. And yes, it is primarily a fundraiser now (as Brook eluded to when talking about the $250 dinners).

    Even with all this, I think that the convention brings up a very important issue. Do candidates need the party any more? The party pretty much hints that it will only help those candidates that have the ability to do effective fundraising. But, if I am an effective fundraiser, why would I need the party? That is also why I am not a big fan of doing platform “stuff” at the convention. As a candidate, my mandate comes from the people. Platforms and manifestos are more important in systems where party discipline is more important, such as here in Canada. Platforms are pretty much useless in American politics nowadays because candidates have their own slate of issues.

    But overall, the FDP conventions are a disappointment…and basically a fundraiser.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The DNC and DWS and all those who ignore Hillary’s lies and scandals are living in an illusionary world where the walking brainless believe they can win the most important election in history by shutting out, ignoring, ostracizing, and simply pretending that half of what, at one point, could have been their parties salvation and the death knell of the GOP simply do not matter one iota.
    They truly believe that all of Bernie’s supporters truly are some kind of demo bots that can be reprogrammed to forget the treasonous actions of the DNC… and that they will all fall dutifully in line if only to keep a republican from winning the White House.
    It is truly a fairy tail that no normal six year old could find plausible enough to be a good piece of workable fiction.
    For if by hook or by crook Hillary becomes the nominee, and after the ashes of the remains of the Wells Fargo Convention center are hauled to the landfill, those who dreamed of a better world with hope in their eyes and a song in their heart will turn into the most vicious and dangerous political entity there is for any political party. The Hell No We Won’t Shows.
    And then a republican will walk into the oval office and laugh his ass off at the narrow escape the DNC and DWS left for them to to grab victory from the jaws of defeat.
    mark my words… if Hillary is the choice for the nominee, then we may as well start working on the tear stained concession speeches right now.#bernieorbust, #feelthebern #vermont #liberal #democrat #berniesanders #senator #democraticsocialism #2016 #bernie #weneedbernie #democraticsocialist #enoughisenough #grassroots #politicalrevolution #bernieismagic #presidentsanders #progressive #grassrootsmovement #voteforbernie #socialdemocracy #bernbabybern #berndownforwhat #notthebillionaires #peopleforbernie


    1. patrianakos · ·

      Mr. Willis: Grow up.
      I remember 2000. A hundred thousand Floridians figured Al Gore was too corporate-freindly to vote for – how’d that work out?
      As for “Hillary’s lies and scandals”, exactly what lies and what scandals? Unless you believe the False Noise Channel?
      Get with the program. Bernie isn’t running against Hillary. He’s running against the money power. First guy I’ve seen do that with a real chance to get elected. Last thing he needs – or we need – is bad blood inside our party next fall. Take a tip from the tea party types. You don’t see them staying home in November when they lose the primary. No; they figure “better a squish than a ‘socialist'”.
      . God knows, I’m as sick of inoffensive centrists who run one point behind Lord Voldemort as you are. But name-calling is no way to get folks on your side. And our guy’s gonna need them all against Marco or Drumpf or whoever.
      Thanks for listening.


  12. Actually, yes, the candidates were invited.


    1. I’m hearing that this was also the case for Leadership Blue, and b/c HRC refused the invite was rescinded.


  13. Matthew Pagett · ·

    Who was at the Florida Dems convention this past weekend and went to a voter registration training?

    There we were told that all people doing voter registration (i.e., individual volunteer canvassers) had to be listed on a form submitted to the Division of Elections.

    This is not true (and we have confirmation from the Division of Elections on this point).

    In the face of some of the worst voter suppression laws in the country, we need the Florida Dems to be on top of this. I’ve contacted them three times but have not received a response. At the very least, I hope they will send out a correction to those who attended the convention.

    Was anyone else at this training?


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