There are lessons to be learned. I remember that the Republican Party of Florida did some soul searching a few years ago after serious financial malfeasance was uncovered. The RPOF that emerged from those times was a little leaner and lot more focused. While the RPOF continues to maintain a presence in Tallahassee, the funds generated by the current state party structure are reinvested throughout the state. I can attest to watching healthy infusions of cash come into the Republican Executive Committee of a small rural county like Wakulla. The local REC used that cash to not only fund candidates but also community programs – they had the leeway to invest in people and focus on community concerns at the grassroots level. For the majority of the county Democratic Executive Committees across Florida, such largesse is only a dream. Local Democrats fundraise to organize on the grassroots county level while tithing as much as possible back to Tallahassee. These donations are intended to fund media and field with the ultimate goal of electing top of the ticket candidates. In recent years, concerns that well-paid vendors bled the party coffers dry, in effect turning rising fundraising totals into hollow boasts of financial success with – cycle after cycle – continued ballot box losses.
Our Florida Democratic Party state leader matters. That person is the cheerleader in chief, the rainmaker, the face of the party. The staff hires also matter. Those folks do the mostly behind the scenes heavy lifting.
The donor class matters. Not all of them open their wallets to the party. Some line up to funnel cash into groups like the Alliance. This happens on both sides of the aisle.
Candidates matter. I believe that Democrats more than Republicans need to believe in their candidates. We want to believe – we want to fall in love.
The grassroots cannot be overlooked. These people give often and give until it hurts. They are also the folks who make calls and knock on doors.
In choosing a state leader we are also torn between pragmatic considerations – “who can get the job done?” over “who inspires me?” (i.e., who can I fall in love with?).
So where does that leave us? Much ink is being generated on where and to whom Florida Democrats should turn. Many names are being floated. Is there a transformational leader waiting in the wings? I don’t claim to know.
Full disclosure – I gave up my leadership vote when I decided to opt out of running for re-election to the DEC and the state committee woman role this year. That said, I’m still all in for the 2018 gubernatorial race. The demands of my job dictated that I step back from playing a leadership role right now in organized party politics. I still care. I can’t stop caring. Hence, I am moved to author posts like this one and will continue to write checks to caucuses and candidates.
I have to wonder, will the organized party and so-called coordinated campaign really be what finally breaks down 20 years of Republican ownership on Adams Street? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no. I think a well-financed candidate with a well-organized, data driven 67 county field organization combined with a strong cross platform media presence will be the person who prevails. And that will happen with (or more likely without) an effectively functioning state party.
Though I stand behind the previous paragraph, I still believe the state leader and the state party matters. Partisan politics is tribal. It is a family of affiliation. The organized party is the team and most of us, at heart, are team players and true-believing fans. We need the coach, the team captain, and the quarterback. We want to wear the team colors, while we link hands and sing the fight song together. That begins, for us, with the state party leader.
As cheerleader in chief, the state party leader should rally the tribe to support the team. The armchair quarterbacks of 2016 may argue that the state party settled on the wrong person to carry the ball on several plays – at more than one level of the ballot. The aftermath of the massive losses is a crisis of faith among the party faithful. The next cheerleader in chief will have to restore our faith and help us to remember why we chose this blue tribe as our team.
Dr Rachel Pienta was recently elected Wakulla Soil and Water Supervisor and is the former Wakulla County Democratic Party Chair and State Committeewoman