Those clicks you hear might be that of urban Floridians summoning Google Maps to find out where Hampton and Bradford County are following Alan Clendenin’s election to the State Committee from that county. Or perhaps they are trying to find where Gadsden County is because of Dwight Bullard?
Two years ago the idea of one county – one vote on the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) State Committee was lampooned from most quarters. But following another devastating electoral defeat the idea probably should be recycled even if just for discussion purposes and a logical starting point for real structural reform of the State Committee. The reaction to Clendenin’s move and Bullard’s prospective ones were two fold – the outrage over the rules facilitating/forcing such things for two men who want to serve the party, a sentiment which we here share but also a more nuanced claim of “where?” from party elites, particularly in southeast Florida.
It bears repeating 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 FDP must look for ways to engage those beyond the urban counties. Additionally, we currently have a situation where power to elect chairs is vested in very few individuals who represent just five counties.
Breaking the power of state committee members in reference to counties must be done because:
– The 5 largest counties (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Orange) control 48% of the votes. This represents 7% of total counties controlling almost half the vote. This consolidates power in the hands of not only a few urban areas but with 10 state committee people.
– The bottom 50% of counties represent just 8% of the votes.
– All the counties except the top 10 — the bottom 84% of counties, 57 counties in all — represent just 32% of the votes.
It’s not just that the votes are packed in the largest urban counties where Democrats (with the exception of Hillsborough) are racking up huge Democratic majorities in statewide elections – it’s that the power is vested in a small number of individuals.
Various alternatives were offered on this site two years ago to the current weighted vote which has consolidated power in a few individuals hands. But the potential remedies seem imperfect – either going to a one county, one vote model which will almost certainly put more power into North Florida or selection of committee people by Congressional or State House district. I like the later solution the best as it would give significant upgrades in representation to medium sized counties where Republicans currently win big and Democrats MUST perform better. Breaking up the vote weights in urban areas and having larger counties appoint let’s say 10 state committeemen just makes the State Committee too large and potentially unwieldy – potentially putting power in the hands of party staff rather than the committee itself. But maintaining the current setup allows for a handful of influence peddlers to trade votes for chair in exchange for political favors.
Places where Democrats have to start performing better and seriously attempting to reduce GOP electoral margins such as Marion, Pasco, Lee, Lake, Brevard, Seminole, Collier and Sarasota Counties would have additional representation under this model. But it has been pointed out that this model would completely take away representation from many small counties and would shift the majority of power to places in the state where Republicans and not Democrats win elections. I believe that might be a smart thing and incentive for stronger organization in suburban and exurban counties, but the pushback against this idea has united both North Floridians and those from large urban counties. However, keeping small counties represented in some way should be a priority- because after all the Democrats are getting their clocks cleaned in these places.
It’s also worth noting that the “southernization” of America means that Democrats have to think more like southerners to be successful outside their comfort zone. Urban elites might see lefty millennial kids (whose political opinions are liable to shift as they grow older) and demographic shifts as verification that they will eventually be victorious, but what I see is a counter-reaction outside large urban and coastal areas where migrants from the south, those working for defense contractors and religious voters are now dominating elections – more and more of the country is looking like the south and behaving like the south culturally – thus having a Democratic Party that demonstrates ignorance or contempt for the south and its economic concerns probably isn’t a winning electoral formula.
Some leftist elites might feel it is not worth engaging this population – some like Markos Moulitsas might simply want them to die. But others feel despite the disadvantage Democrats have on cultural issues with those in rural, exurban and suburban areas, that an argument can be made and won on economic issues. Democrats don’t have to cave on issues of environmental protection and social justice if they talk to white voters outside the big cities with the same voice on economic anxiety they do minority and immigrant voters. But being patronizing or disengaging doesn’t win votes – it fosters animosity and leads to almost constant electoral defeats. Having a party that is structured to benefit urban areas and dominated by elites from those areas is a bad idea – a losing formula. Whether it is one county, one vote or something more progressive like Congressional or State House district committee people, reforms in the party’s structure should reflect the need to reach beyond the largest urban counties in the state. It should reflect the clear view that Democrats are not doing well enough to win in this state currently because of the large swaths of Florida where the party is not only uncompetitive – but isn’t even trying.
If it appears I have changed my views on this issue, I have, even if just slightly. If Election 2016 didn’t wake up Democrats and stimulate a thought process that backs off hardened views of the past, I am not sure what will. Democrats have to deal with electoral and demographic reality, not fantasy or elitism.