In 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.