Allison Tant was the first Florida Democratic Party Chair since Charlie Whitehead that didn’t harbor any ambition of running for higher office. In that sense Tant, love her or dislike her was a unique figure fully committed to the party. But often through the years candidates for FDP Chair have seen it as a stepping stone to something bigger and better – be it a run for public office, an appointment to a potential Democratic administration on the state level (which never happens of course…) or lucrative lobbying contracts.
This year’s FDP Chair race features a former elected official in Dwight Bullard, whose career in public office was a shining example of what a Democrat can accomplish if they stick to a values-based approach to governing and legislating. Bullard’s positive public record stands in contrast to that of the vast majority of Democrats in the legislature over the past decade. But where do the other candidates for FDP Chair stand on running for office or parlaying the chair’s position into something more lucrative?
Alan Clendenin ran for Hillsborough County School Board this past year but his presence in the race was considered by some a favor to the party and liberal interests trying to stop a tea party takeover of the school district. Lisa King and Stephen Bittel, the two candidates with most establishment backing for FDP Chair have not made clear whether or not this is job is a culmination of a lifetime of organizing and activism or if it is a stop along the way to bigger and better things. Leah Carius also should be asked the same question.
It’s important for activists and members of the party’s State Executive Committee to know what the future plans of each candidate for chair is beyond the January 14 election and the initial period of reorganization/consolidation. Will the party and its infrastructure be used as a means to launch a campaign for another office as Scott Maddox did or will it be a more full time role absent of the potential office shopping or lobbying that Allison Tant gave us? I believe the latter model is the appropriate one, but it can be justified, I suppose that the former model gives the party’s chair more influence in some circles – but I would argue it undermines the the autonomy and independence of the party itself.
In the dog-eat-dog world of the 2010’s where the Democrats in Florida have virtually no bench the state party chair becomes perhaps the most visible and prominent Democrats in the state outside of big city mayors and Senator Bill Nelson who is approaching his 75th birthday. The temptation of anyone who gets elected party chair to try and jump to a statewide office or one of those big city mayor posts must be resisted from where I sit. Otherwise any temporary progress a party chair might make could be easily given back after the jump to another race.
It is worth noting, Lenny Curry appears to have used the RPOF Chairmanship as a jumping-off point to run for Mayor of Jacksonville. Curry did an excellent job as RPOF Chair but his abandonment of the party for the Mayor’s Race led to internal confusion and a chain of events that led to the election of State Representative Blase Ingoglia as chair and a fracturing of the party. Still the RPOF was in a strong position to weather the storm created by the tumult but a weaker Democratic Party might succumb to it.
Stakeholders in this party need to ascertain where the potential candidates future ambitions lie and make an educated decision on whom to support for party chair accordingly.