Florida Democrats are once again going through the motions of electing a new chair and directing a post-election inquest. This go-round feels somewhat different in the sense that the party has seemingly hit rock bottom and those around the establishment of the FDP are listening with more interest to the feedback coming from those of us on the grassroots level.
The last four chairs of the Florida Democratic Party have come from the Ocala area or north, leading to a disconnect between the party’s leadership and the areas where Democrats tend to do best in the state. Furthermore, the staff with decision making power being tied to Tallahassee, a place that is unique in Florida’s political culture has clouded decision making.
The counties where the Democrats need to improve performance in order to be successful are all clustered around the middle of the state, yet the party’s HQ is based in the coffin-corner of Florida both geographically and in terms of population.
The discourse in Tallahassee is dominated by lobbyists who convince Democratic operatives and staff in the small fishbowl around the isolated capital that the party cannot compete and win in select legislative races across the state – in parts of the state many staffers and consultants for the party have little familiarity with. Or worse yet, some of these lobbyists have competing interests and have a vested interest in convincing the Democratic Party not play in certain places. The continued double-dipping of Democratic operatives who lobby the legislature on behalf of corporate entities providing “Democratic cover” for these companies lobbying efforts as well a direct pipeline to Democratic legislators (mostly elected from safe seats in southeast Florida) has poisoned the party beyond repair it seems. The Amendment 1 effort which involved some of these operatives was just the latest effort by corporate Florida to weaken progressive policies by employing Democratic cover. In some cases, those who cover for these efforts continue to have influence in the party and in media.
It should be noted that of the chairs from North Florida, Allison Tant who announced she is stepping down last week did the best job of the bunch – but a disconnect still existed, more due to the party operatives than anything else. For years, Democrats have misunderstood the meaning of medium-sized counties in the state partly because these places represent “drive through” country en route from Tallahassee to the fundraising rich region of southeast Florida. Democratic operatives spend very little time in the places that might actually matter most politically in this state these days and leave the DECs in those counties to fend for themselves.
The party should retain a presence in Tallahassee during the legislative session and around the capitol for other purposes, while moving its main thrust to the I-4 corridor. This will give staffers and party operatives closer proximity to counties like Volusia, St Lucie, Pasco, Pinellas, Lake, Marion, Sarasota, Manatee and Brevard where the recent Democratic performances have been unacceptable for a party that professes to run a statewide operation. At the same time, Florida Democrats can work to increase turnout with allied organizations in Orange, Osceola and Hillsborough counties while hopefully continuing the upward trend in Seminole County.
Why not move to southeast Florida, some will ask? Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are about as different from the rest of the state as Tallahassee is. Yes, driving up turnout and even larger margins in the most vote rich area of the state where the FDP raises much of its money is important, but a far greater prize lies in the catchments area within a 2.5 hour drive of Orlando than any other locale in the state. The folks in southeast Florida can continue doing the good work they have been engaging in and perhaps should cast an eye across Alligator Alley to southwest Florida where the performance for the party MUST improve.
The consultant-lobbyist driven Florida Democratic Party model has failed voters in the state and the grassroots level of the party. While cleaning out the trash so to speak around party HQ and with associated vendors and contractors should be a priority of any new chair, a bigger priority would be to uproot the culture that created this situation and relocate to greener pastures with much greater potential upside. That can be hopefully accomplished with a move of the party out of Tallahassee and toward where the voters actually reside.