A few weeks ago it looked like Alan Clendenin, the runner up four years ago for Florida Democratic Party Chair would either not qualify to run or be an afterthought. But after Clendenin found a way to qualify via rural Bradford County, and the establishment candidates in the FDP Chairs Race, particularly Stephen Bittel and Lisa King continued to sound, well like establishment candidates either excusing previous failures or not giving enough incentive for reform-minded folks to embrace them, Clendenin reemerged as a potential front-runner.
From our conversations over the past week it has become obvious that Clendenin has more support that originally anticipated and even has won over some of those who opposed him four years ago. Why has this happened? Some of those who didn’t buy his critiques of the FDP four years ago, now do six statewide losses out of a possible six later (including the Presidential). These members of the State Committee and other rank-and-file Democrats 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.
The insider class that runs the Florida Democratic Party has taken note of the Clendenin surge and now Patricia Byrd, a particularly well-connected establishment figure from the Panama City area has questioned the eligibility of the FDP Vice Chair to run.
Whether or not you like Alan Clendenin or not, or support his candidacy the gamesmanship from the establishment is clear. They play nasty, they play tough and will use any means to win – call it a Clintonian technique and we’ve all seen how far that’s gotten our party in recent years. Byrd’s maneuver is an attempt on behalf of the party establishment to maintain control at all costs – smart if perhaps if the audience is merely the couple hundred members of the State Committee and other political insiders. Unwise however for a party that needs to win millions of votes to reestablish itself as a meaningful statewide force.
This chair’s race has been disappointing from where I sit. Instead of seeing the proposals for reform and the acknowledgement of past failings from those running, we’ve seen what has more or less resembled an insider contest where the deck chairs on the titanic are being rearranged to look more aesthetically pleasing as the ship tries to steer clear of another iceberg (since this same ship keeps hitting icebergs every two years). Some candidates running for chair have used fluffy rhetoric and talking points to appear as reformers or progressives while continuing to play an insider political game. Talk of deal-making between candidates and machiavellian maneuvers have intensified in the last week, culminating with this complaint made by Byrd.
Should Clendenin be disqualified on this technicality it becomes far more difficult for whomever becomes FDP Chair to satisfy reformers. The sense of a party adrift that is being run by access-minded DNC members, Tallahassee-based lobbyists and consultants as well as southeastern Florida money interests will just intensify with Clendenin going down as a martyr. Concerns about Clendenin that some active Democrats might have shouldn’t blind them about the cynicism and nastiness of this move by Byrd – it’s nothing less than an establishment power play to shut down a potential threat to the powers-that-be.