Florida Democratic Party chairs race finally takes shape

Why anyone would actually want the job of Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair is beyond many who watch the process. The seemingly thankless task of organizing a party on a record losing streak (losers of 17 of the last 18 races for Governor and Cabinet) has solicited the interest of five properly-qualified (via the party rules) candidates.

Much of the discussion about this race has centered around what progressive hero, former State Senator Dwight Bullard would do. Bullard’s strange odyssey to becoming qualified to run for Chair took him from two Miami-Dade DEC defeats soon after the loss of his Senate seat in November to qualifying in Gadsden County earlier this week. Bullard becomes the fifth announced candidate for FDP Chair.

Interestingly, the arch-conservative Sunshine State News (SSN) seems to have better access to the liberal Bullard and his plans than any other online or print publication. This might be due to the relationship prominent Bullard-backer and perennial Democratic Party troublemaker Leslie Wimes has with that website. Wimes has strongly advocated for Bullard just weeks after she was appearing regularly in conservative media bashing Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The Sunshine State News has since 2014 advocated for the most left-wing Democrats, perhaps to create chaos in the Democratic Party, which any objective reader of the website would quickly learn is not well-liked or respected by the site.

In The Sunshine State News, the articles written about Bernie Sanders earlier this year read nearly verbatim to the same stories that were run during the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary between Nan Rich who despite the sympathy of progressives got less than a quarter of the vote statewide and former Republican Charlie Crist whom SSN seemed obsessive about. In that period of time the Sunshine State News mixed conservative policy commentary with cheerleading for Nan Rich. In the months of January and February of 2016, they mixed conservative commentary and support for the right-wing legislative agenda with pro-Sanders and anti-Clinton commentary. Much like Rich, Sanders was slaughtered statewide in a Democratic party primary. Now the SSN has hitched its wagon to Bullard – will the third time trying to disrupt the internals of the Democratic Party be the charm for the conservative publication?

Bullard’s determination to run for FDP Chair came after he was defeated in an attempt to qualify in his home county of Miami-Dade on December 20th by Stephen Bittel. A prolific fundraiser who played a critical role in the DNC money raising operation the last few years, Bittel has locked down much of the support of the establishments including those close to Senator Bill Nelson and many unions. It has been claimed by some that Bittel would strip the party’s outreach components, move away from the Tallahassee-based consultant operation and simply focus on fundraising. I am however told that isn’t per se the case and that Bittel who considers himself a progressive will work to re-energize the party at the grassroots level. As far as Tallahassee operatives, it is anyone’s guess – Bittel would be smart to move away from the consultant-driven party model.

Bittel may have appeared to have the inside track on winning and have cornered the establishment mantle, but in the last ten days Duval County’s Lisa King who has been active in party politics for over two decades has been per sources made significant inroads among establishment Democrats and party insiders. King’s political ideology is per several contacts more or less undefined which gives her advantages in running for chair. Pleasant and well-connected, King is no doubt a formidable contender. An ally in the past of current FDP Chair Allison Tant, King might well have elements of the Tallahassee establishment that is fearful of Bittel behind her. Tallahassee-based lobbyists and political operatives always have a horse they back and influence on internal Democratic Party matters.

The political establishment has made a habit of spinning poor election results and finding mechanisms to keep control of a party and while the insiders might currently be divided between King and Bittel, it’s possible whichever wins could build a bridge to the loser. Or perhaps the divisions are real, Tallahassee and FDP insiders versus southeast Florida money? It’s a distinct possibility the party will be divided not just along the classic progressive vs mainstream/third way or Sanders/Clinton lines after the January 14 election.

Osceola County’s Leah Carius is also running for chair. Well-liked and generally progressive Carius is a potentially interesting candidate but this might be a cycle too soon for her.

The one candidate we have not covered here is Alan Clendenin. Late of Hillsborough County, now representing Bradford, Clendenin was close to becoming chair four years ago.  He then became Vice Chair of the FDP, a do-nothing job which he probably regrets taking because it associated him with the failures of the last four years without the ability to really shape what transpired. Clendenin’s candidacy in 2013 and again now in 2017 seems to be a magnet for those disaffected by the party, be it rank-in-file precinct workers, those who have had promises by party elders to them broken or the types of malcontents that feel they should be getting more business or recognition from the FDP.

Clendenin wrote an extensive action plan for the FDP in 2012 that hasn’t been updated – some may see that as negligence and laziness on the part of the candidate but perhaps it simply doesn’t need updating because the Democrats fundamental problems remain the same as 2012 and the party is simply now two more failed election cycles in the hole. While Clendenin’s chances aren’t being taken as seriously this go round as in 2013 by many insiders, the lay of the land indicates he retain some major pockets of support throughout the state. Residual backing won’t be enough for Clendenin to win outright on the first ballot but in a possible 5-way race it will be enough to get him to a second ballot. It is also possible that Clendenin will acquire new support from those who didn’t buy his critiques four years ago, but six statewide losses later (including the Presidential) have come to realize change is necessary to restore Florida to truly being a two-party state, rather than the one-party oligarchy it has essentially become.

It’s of course odd that a party whose Presidential nominees have gotten upwards of 5,000,000 statewide votes in the last few elections continue to select its leaders in peculiar fashion-resembling more a closed shop, elite country club than an actual organ of democracy. The Democratic Party’s own rules and insider manipulation of the process makes it difficult to take the constant whining of the party about a rigged electoral game seriously – because the party itself doesn’t operate in the light of day or in a democratic fashion. Perhaps this chair’s race with an election set for January 14 will change that perspective.

This story has been slightly modified since first published. 

20 comments

  1. Florida’s Democratic Party is a microcosm of the National Democratic Party. It is made up of regional as well as ideological factions. That in itself is not a bad thing. However when different factions try to control not only the narrative but the selection of our candidates then “Houston we have a problem.” This is, more than anything, the reason for all the loses and dysfunction we find ourselves in. Everyone has the right to prefer one candidate over another but when certain factions put their thumb on the scale and cheat and lie, how can we come together and unite to defeat our common adversary. The time has come for total transparency and fair primaries in order to unite to achieve our common goals. It all starts with the election of the Chair. On January 11th there will be a forum where all candidates will be heard and vetted. Tim Canova and his issue oriented group “Progress For All” as well as a number of other groups have come together to show how the Democratic process is supposed to work. It should stand as a blueprint to how our party works. How the candidates got here doesn’t matter but it obviously must be reformed. What does matter is that after the election we all work together to find the best candidates who are honest and trustworthy, don’t run from debates and forums, and we are proud to support. Hopefully the DNC does the same.

  2. Concerned Floridian · · Reply

    I cringed when you called Leslie Wimes a “troublemaker”. I want you ask yourself whether you’ve ever called white people “troublemakers” on your site. How is okay to call her that just because y’all have different political beliefs?

    Also, what’s up with you giving run downs of what Bittel, Clendenin, and King might bright to the table as chairs but not the “progressives” Bullard and Carius? SSN might have some conservative writers, but it seems that this site does too?

    1. Dave Trotter · · Reply

      And you wonder why Democrats lose….there you go.

  3. Kurt Donley · · Reply

    So being Progressive is a Republican Plot to disrupt the Democratic party. I’m thinking being Progressive means actually giving a shit about your constituents, not just their votes or their money. But go ahead keep propping up status quo, I’m sure you can get enough big $ donors to keep you in caviar while Black voters, your most loyal constituents are relegated to socio-economic segregation. While your shrinking white middle class ages out of the workforce with no means of retirement. While public schools are starved out by vouchers. While Florida’s fragile water supply gets Fracked out of existence. So the rich get richer and the poor get poorer… Is that Nero’s fiddle I hear playing.

    WAKE UP!

  4. Racism 101! · · Reply

    Hey Kartik whatever K last name. Do you have a K middle name? You are a racist plain and simple.

    Get the fuck out of the party you plantation wannabe owner. All this droning on about white votes and whites. Why don’t you go support trump you Uncle Tom!!!

  5. How much did Tant or Clendenin pay you to write this racist article?

    Maybe SSN is the only true voice for progressives, not party hacks like you and racists like MSM!

    Go play with your white friends – they’ll never accept you but please keep trying to be white if it makes you feel better kKk!

  6. Funny how the racists always cloak racism by blaming others.

    This article is dripping with racism.

  7. Racism 101! · · Reply

    All African-Americans should boycott this racist honky LET US CHASE WHITE VOTES site.

  8. Racism 101! · · Reply

    Since November 8 this site has led the we must engage white votes mantra. Trump has won with so called progressives like KKK writing prominent articles.

  9. African-American Democrat · · Reply

    If this and other so called democratic sites won’t give an African-American a fair shake where else are we to go. We aren’t allowed to talk to people you claim are conservative but are actually more progressive than you. SSN has not spent the last six weeks complaining that the Democrats don’t chase enough white votes!

    Maybe your initials aren’t a coincidence. Add one more K and a swastiga and you’ll be transparent for a change.

    1. His wife is Jewish and happens to be celebrating Hanukkah tonight with her family. He is not an anti-Semite, racist, or anything of the sort.

  10. KuKluxKartik · · Reply

    It’s a disagrace that the progressives continue to want us to go to the back of the bus and be slaves again.

    NEVER!

    This website has gone on about white votes and appalachia and rural whites but no mention of the racist policies of the party. This site has lamented identity politics while slandering Dwight Bullard unmercifully.

    Either this party becomes truly racially tolerant or goodbye.

    Leslie Wimes (not Lesley as this article states but that shows the agenda and quality of the “writer.”) is the one leader standing up to the uncle tom sellout crowd. It’s a shame Kartik Krishnaiyer has chosen to join them rather than fight. PRobably makes his Indian ancestors crawl or maybe they are racists also.

    1. She was Leslie K Harris when she gave $100 to Charlie Crist for Governor.

  11. This guy is so obviously racist judging by his post election tweets and articles why should we engage.

    True Democrats won’t read this crap and appreciate what Lesley does for all of us.

  12. Racism 101! · · Reply

    You know KkK is a racist when he doesn’t even attempt to respond!

    1. Yes well done!

      Kartik Krishnaiyer should apologize.

      He should be made to reveal who funds this site.

      He should be made to confess as to why he has no African-American writers.

      Power to the truth and the people!

      Wimes speaks truth to power!

  13. These idiots never get it.

    We are two weeks away from a victory. A change permantely in the party.

    Bullard and King are the two true progressives and it is possible they might eventually team up!

    The racists like this site might just try and get in the way. But everyone now knows the agenda.

  14. Leslie Wimes and SSN have previously been exposed by The Daily Kos. Kartik didn’t say anything that hasn’t been before.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/11/3/1590589/-Dear-Media-Stop-Featuring-Leslie-Wimes

  15. […] part, one which I had believed was largely accepted by Democrats in a larger narrative about the current state of the FDP Chairs Race. Dwight Bullard shares the general ideology of this site and has been a champion for our causes in […]

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