The FDP needs to look beyond southeast Florida and transactional Democrats

HollywoodFL_BeachIn our Friday survey of TFS readers over 80% of those voting indicated they prefer either Stephen Bittel or Dwight Bullard for Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair. That’s fair considering those are the two most prominent candidates and the battle has been framed as a showdown that will be decided at Tuesday’s Miami-Dade DEC meeting. But southeast Florida is the most unique part of the state and it can be argued (as it will be here) that the reliance of the party on donors from a single region of the state as well as the brashness exhibited at times by those from that region have demonstrated. The three southeast Florida counties are the most unique in the state in the sense that they are unlike any other place – the insular nature of many in southeast Florida, a superiority complex toward those outside the region which mirrors the contempt Democrats from the urban Northeast and Pacific coast have for “flyover country” and the south has had electoral ramifications. The region boasts an isolation and a rudeness not found in other parts of the state as well as various other traits that indicate a parochial self absorption.

Time and again many southeast Florida Democrats have said statewide elections are won and lost in their region even though all empirical evidence is to the contrary. Southeast Florida does not boast the majority of the state’s voters, the majority of the state’s Democrats or even the state’s largest media market. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are critically important, but the nature of their impact on statewide elections gets consistently overplayed by many Democrats from the area and any effort to focus on other parts of the state are met with criticism.

Why is this?

Either it’s simply clinging to a comfort zone or misunderstanding bordering on contempt for the rest of the state  based on tired old stereotypes (ie. “everything north of Jupiter is filled with rednecks”). Either answer is a problem though.

Democrats from southeast Florida by and large fit the stereotype of the types of urban area elites that have ignored the hinterland of this country leading to electoral armageddon. Of course some exceptions are prevalent but a fear many outside the region and even those like myself who are from the area have is that SE Florida is dominated by non-ideological politics. Since the vast majority of the region’s voters are Democrats or lean toward Democratic candidates, politicians, fundraisers and lobbyists tend to be registered as Democrats. However, progressive policies and politics aren’t the norm in the region and unlike the rest of the state where those who register as Democrats and are active within the party do so due to some ideological consideration, in the three southeastern Florida counties many involved in DECs and party activities do so for business or financial purposes.

We call these folks, transactional Democrats. These are people involved in the party because it is socially advantageous and/or financially lucrative. Southeast Florida is filled with them. Many don’t care about the rest of the state and exhibit a bliss ignorance when evaluating the areas Democrats MUST carry or cut margins in to be successful. 

In alliance with Tallahassee-based lobbyists and insiders these southeast Florida-based transactional Democrats have essentially controlled the party in one way or another for over a decade despite the gradual shift in emphasis electorally away from southeast Florida and the counties surrounding Tallahassee to the I-4 corridor and adjoining counties. Unfortunately like the “flyover” adage, the areas between Tallahassee and Jupiter often represent “drive through” country for Florida Democrats, vote rich areas which both political operatives and donors speed through en route to the destination.

I am quite frankly tired of hearing that various Democratic politicians are “progressive” or “liberal” enough because they support marriage equality, restrictions on gun ownership or women’s reproductive rights. Democrats who vote poorly on economic issues and do not advocate forcefully the causes of economic or social justice are NOT liberals or progressives by most standards. They are more often than not transactional politicians who might simply be Democrats because of the part of the state they run from and the advantages being a Democrat gives in urban and many suburban areas. In time, so-called progressive activists become tied to these politicians whose personal convictions on issues beyond the easy social ones are not that hardened and often influenced by campaign cash and lobbyists.

Perhaps it is gross negligence or by design that many of these types of folks have taken a dismissive approach toward party building outside of southeast Florida. Where this impacts the FDP Chair’s Race is that it probably would be best to have a chair from outside southeast Florida that is not in the clutches of Tallahassee lobbyists and political operatives. If in fact we do have a chair from southeast Florida, how they handle areas outside the region will be critical. Allowing for development and empowerment of leadership from the I-4 corridor and tier 2 counties in the middle of the state as well as positioning the party as a clear progressive alternative to the status quo is critical for any upsurge in electoral fortunes.

Both Bullard and Bittel have progressive backing from outside the area (though Bullard has far more than Bittel owing to his voting record as the most liberal member of the Florida Senate) but will need to work with liberals to build the infrastructure of the party in the critical areas outside southeast Florida. It will be incumbent on both men to not fall into the lazy stereotypes and comfort zone so many Democrats from the region operate under.


  1. This is a double edged sword, better be careful how it is wielded. The Democrats in the “flyover” counties could easily look south and regard us as elitist snobs. Both visions must be avoided. A good Democrat, regardless whether urban or rural deserves support. As for “transactional democracts” I would use the term “democrats in name only” aka DINO, they are undermining the party at every level. Give the GOP credit,they don’t put up with the RINO’s in their ranks. It’s high time we did the same. Good article though, important to have this discussion.


  2. David Jones · ·

    The reason over 80% of respondents to your survey as to who should serve as FDP chair preferred either Bittel or Bullard is beause those were the only candidates named in the poll. It’s akin to having two candidates listed and a space for a write-in appearing farther down a ballot.


  3. mike coleman · ·

    You have written a very thought provoking article that delivers many answers to the challenges that are faced by every politically active Floridian who considers the conditions Florida’s Democrats face.
    When I first read your words I felt that Kartik was displaying contempt for the Democrats in Florida’s three biggest counties. That he considers the Democrats there elitists with a complete ignorance of Democrats outside of the South Florida.area.
    I’m positive that you could find example after example of the type of individuals you reference.
    I’m also positive stereotypes abound everywhere if they’re what one seeks.
    As a Floridian, originally from Central North Carolina,I have lived in Florida for nearly 37 years. I traveled this State extensively for decades so its highly unlikely that this South Floridian will ever forget the political structures that exist in the US South and in Florida.
    Much of Florida is very much like the States of the Confederacy in it’s political structure and history. .
    Other parts are as Democratic as Los Angeles or New York City while other parts are as Republican as Utah.

    I find it more than sad that we Democrats (by the tone of this article) prefer to bicker about where the source of Leadership resides than to recognize the structural political differences existing in Florida and seek to find the strategies and tactics that will result in Democratic victories in Statewide and District Elections.

    Florida’s Democrats need leadership that can deliver the vision plus the ways and means for Democrats throughout Florida to actualize a winning strategy.

    Before we meet that objective we have to be aware of the conditions that exist, evaluate the avenues of opportunity, make Floridians acutely aware of the fact Democrats have delivered the 40 hour work week,enacted child labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and made education a priority and have always been the champion advocate of the average American regardless of their individual differences.
    We have to be ready to fight for these principles and programs as they are soon to be in danger.

    A quick look at Voter registration may enlighten the SQUEEZE’S readers.
    The book closing Voter Registration totals reveal Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 327,000 but these Democrats are not evenly spread throughout Florida and as another feature of Florida’s Southern heritage not all of those Democrats have voted for Democrats since Ronald Reagan.
    Florida’s Democrats outside of its big and heavily Democratic counties need to understand that about 650,000 more Democrats within them than Republicans. (think about that a minute, Florida has Democratic Deserts where we barely exist)
    As Kartik point out this is a situation that is unique to this South Florida and it is both a blessing and a curse.
    The Blessing, most all of the South Florida Elected Officials are registered Democrats, the curse is the election turnout for general elections suffers because there are very few hotly contested elections in November.

    When Democrats consider that most all of our larger counties also have similar but smaller registration margins it means there are lots of places with very few Democrats.
    These Democratic deserts need to be nurtured, watered and fed messages that will provide growth.

    Florida’s large counties skew Democratic some by huge margins while the medium and smaller counties skew, in general, towards Republicans, sometimes by huge margins such as the ones found in Lee, Collier, Escambia and Brevard.
    Understanding the demographics and strategically applying the right messaging and actions will create the conditions for success.

    Proper strategy acknowledges a one size fits all proposition will fail but actual Branding efforts are necessary and they are not to be confused with each other.
    Democrats can come together and maximize their registration advantage by applying the proper resources to the appropriate tasks is essential.

    By owning the Democratic accomplishments of over the past 85 years and loudly messaging those accomplishments Democrats can win in 2018.

    To be successful Democrats have to have first class fundraising commensurate to the challenge because no matter how close we grassroots activists are to our voters the facts are that even the most bassic grassroots programs need $3 or so per registered Democrat to maintain our Voter Base using the tools we possess and tools we wish we had.
    Florida has nearly 5 million Democrats and that means Florida’s Democratic Party needs basically $15 million dollars per year just to perform basic programs that fit small, medium, large and giant counties.

    Each County needs to become proficient in fundraising and Florida’s Democratic leadership needs to augment the counties with various programs and to push funds to the local level where they can be used to register more voters, continue to add Vote By Mail requests, as well as performing community oriented programs that give both visibility and energy to our Party.
    Our next FDP Chair has a huge set of tasks before them and there are thousands of smart, energetic Democratic Activists ready to build a victory in 2018.

    We need to field Candidates in every House and Senate District because you can win if you don’t play. That being said, we must temper our expectations and really carefully choose where we spend huge sums to win.

    Our Small Counties in really Republican areas need help organizing and good simple and durable tools that help guide their efforts. They also need to know and feel part of a complete Florida Democratic Team. Things as simple as setting turnout goals that exceed the Democratic registration percentage within a county by just 3 or 4 percent. Similar goals, tools and strategies can be employed by medium sized counties and this progress will result in success.

    Large and Giant counties also must continually work towards building larger turnouts and create programs and activities that result in earned media.

    Democrats across Florida should adopt a “signature look” with matching color, fonts and messaging when General election time comes. This is Branding.

    Democrats have been the Party out of power everyday of the 21st Century.
    Together we can change this history.

    Winning won’t be done by any set of leadership that takes a provincial /area view of Florida’s electorate, population centers or registration distribution.

    No one can gerrymander a State and one single Democratic Governor can put a serious hurt into a runaway Republican hubris filled Legislature.

    We won’t get there with Democratis litmus tests, or by dividing ourselves by county size, location or any other means we can find a difference.

    We can get there when we recognize politics isn’t cheap,one size fits all plans don’t work in a State like Florida but we must recognize people really are far more alike than we are different and if we want to lead Florida we better work on being political leaders in our own locales.
    I don’t have a vote in the FDP election nor am I running for any office.

    I just want to be part of a dynamic Democratic Party that hurdles over the challenges we face to achieve a better government for Floridians.

    My hope is that everyone who reads this can come to understand that we are all in this together and we need very talented fundraisers, people with a cohesive vision and an understanding of the geographic and demographic landscape and the talent to make progress happen.


    1. Excellent manifesto worthy of discussion. I hope everyone considers the points here and works toward bringing the party together.


  4. Good points and I share the sentiment. However I wish EVERYONE would take a moment and read their posts to themselves BEFORE they click ‘enter’ because it’s disturbing when one comes across mistakes (I hope) like this in the above, for instance

    “We need to field Candidates in every House and Senate District because you can win if you don’t play..” blah blah blah…CAN WIN if you DON”T PLAY!!!???


  5. mike coleman · ·

    You are correct, “can’t” is the correct term.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if mistakes like the one I made were thesum of all of our troubles?


  6. mike coleman · ·

    And now I have failed to space two words, I’m going to get out in front of this error Misha!


  7. I have found some of the most Progressive and Passionate Democrats live in red districts. That being said numbers matter and so does money. We need to compete and unite statewide to build a bench and compete with Republicans. Most importantly we need outreach to the largest growing segment, the Independents. The future of the Democratic Party of Florida lies in our ability to capture the hearts and minds of our youth. Let’s all unite and work on messaging, forums, debates, honesty and transparency. That’s how we will win.


    1. I’d argue we have disparate portions of a bench but nobody to corral everyone together. Perhaps this can be done outside the party if the FDP won’t lead and unite.


  8. […] he’d go to great lengths to do so.  You don’t see many city dwellers, particularly the elite transactional types from southeast Florida who continue to dominate the party , willing to visit rural Florida, let alone get their hands dirty going to a DEC meeting in a county […]


  9. […] though it has been stated over and over on these pages that many Democrats from southeast Florida take a condescending view of the rest of Florida. But given the retreat of Democrats to core urban counties and the inability to win statewide, the […]


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