Will Stephen Bittel be able to diversify funding sources for legislative races?

Stephen Bittel has been elected Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) in a decisive vote of the State Executive Committee. Bittel was a popular choice among establishment figures but raises lots of red flags among the activist base of the party and those who would like to see control of the party wrestled away from southeast Florida money interests. However, those interests don’t always play in state legislative races so a silver lining might appear on the horizon in Bittel’s victory – will the new Chair be able to get his monied allies to put more money into the state party’s legislative campaign accounts?

Democrats have under-performed terribly in legislative races over the last two decades. While during period from 2002 to 2010 much of the failure could be pinned squarely on GOP-drawn Republican gerrymandered districts since 2012 the defeats have been inexplicable considering the number of districts Democrats have carried at the top of the ticket in the last few cycles that have elected Republicans to the State House and State Senate. The advent of Fair Districts and subsequent court cases have left the Democrats with accessible (albeit not favorable) legislative maps. But in 2014 the Democrats won only 39 State House seats while party Gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist was carrying 55 seats and in 2016 the Democrats won just 15 State Senate seats while Hillary Clinton came a few hundred votes from a 20-20 split.  A big part of the problem has been a lack of resources for legislative races and the forced choices staff has had to make between good candidates in various races. Other problems such as candidate recruitment, targeting of races, poor strategic decisions based on non-monetary factors and others we will save for another discussion.

Bittel’s promises of more money to flow into the Florida Democratic Party seem familiar since every recent winner of FDP Chair’s elections have touted the fundraising prowess they allegedly bring to the job. Bittel’s fundraising success in the past has been based around the national party and high-profile rock-star type national candidates. Can he translate this into the heavy lifting and tough sell related to funding legislative races, where the Democrats sit in a nearly super-minority status?

If the new Chairman makes one tangible change that helps Democrats in this state lift our way out of the mess the party is currently in, it would be to find new alternate funding sources for legislative races. The party has in the last decade been too dependent on insider-oriented corporate interests that give more money to Republicans than Democrats to make a go at trying to pick up more seats in the legislature. The failure to convince those outside the Tallahassee bubble the relevance and importance of funding legislative campaigns has been a collective failure not only of Democrats in Florida but of national Democrats who have allowed the party’s bench and effectiveness at the state and local levels to fall to record lows. This is part of a larger national problem for sure but we need a Florida solution.

The infrastructure and effectiveness of the party has long since waned. Florida Democrats have lost 17 of the last 20 statewide races and 17 of the last 18 statewide cabinet races – a record which is comparable to that of deep red states in the interior of the country. The new chair will also inherit a party with a progressive wing that does not trust the establishment, and an insider clique largely based in Tallahassee who routinely does lobbying business with Republicans despite representing themselves at election time as dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. The FDP has long shared the internal behavior of collapsing businesses, declining empires or nation-states as well as losing sports teams in that decisions are often made based more personality, sentiment and factionalism than on competence, accomplishment and merit. 

The new Chairman was elected in divisive race that doubled-down on the type of tribalism and personality-based politics we’ve come to expect from the FDP. But if he can change the culture around funding legislative races he would have been successful on one very critical score.

6 comments

  1. Bruce Seaman · · Reply

    If there isn’t a major effort to organize neighborhoods, precincts, and communities, an indication that Dems are actually organized rather than dreamy fanciful about their condition and capacity, then I can’t see why anyone would financially support Dems at any level.

  2. Patti Lynn · · Reply

    The trick, now, is for ALL of the defeated candidates to get on board and work from the inside to achieve success. Each of them has strong points, therefore, each of them should be tapped, by the Party, to help it succeed. If they can all do that, then I would hope that their supporters would jump in, too. Together, we have a shot. If we stay divided, we will, once again, be defeated.

  3. Dave Trotter · · Reply

    Honestly, the real building needs to be done at the DEC levels. Tip O’Neill’s quote still holds true today…all politics is local. It is the local DECs that are going to be able to recruit the best candidates out there, not some faceless entity in Tallahassee. Empower the DECs, Democrats win. Republicans have been empowering their RECs for at least since the mid-2000s, and look how it has helped them.

  4. Sad but true, the best we can hope for is help with the fundraising. Today I am deeply disappointed in a party I hoped would be revitalized and redirected at the state level. Solely because hope is a habit by now, I want to see what Bittel does to change the practice of ignoring the counties that don’t usually win for Democrats.

    I worked for a legislative candidate who got zero support, financial or otherwise, from the state party. Party leaders seemed to evaluate our chance of winning, and fund only the ones they thought would win at the beginning of the race. And chance of winning was based largely on how much money we could raise with no outside help. It was a catch-22, and along with no combined campaign in the district, we did only a few points better than Hillary.

  5. mike coleman · · Reply

    This commentary raises a great number of topics and addressing each one will take a lengthy commentary.
    To begin let’s discuss the headline “begin to be able to diversify resources into legislative races”

    First every Democrat needs to develop an understanding of Florida’s Democratic registration margin which stands at around 350,000 voters.
    Now consider Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Leon,Orange,Miami-Dade,and Palm Beach County have a Democratic registration advantage of about 970,000 Voters.

    That means there’s a Democratic deficit of 620,000 voters everywhere else.
    Let that sink in and if you live in those areas go out and make more Democrats and work to ensure the Democrats you have only Vote for Democrats.

    Next we need to understand that there are a number of Counties generally in the south and north central,portion and northeast areas plus Florida’s Great Bend and the Panhandle where, despite close Dem and Rep registration levels Democrats lose by big margins in Statewide elections because a sizable number of registered Dems haven’t voted for Democrats for decades.

    These Voters are the real DINOs and their numbers must be recognized and programs, perhaps very simple messaging delivered to these DINOs that reminds these Voters of the promised delivered, and kept by Democrats form the basis of their entire concept of our American life.

    Without Democrats there would be no Social Security or Medicare, Public Education would be drastically different. There would be no 40 hour work week, the concept of Overtime Pay wouldn’t exist, Medicaid which also keeps our Elderly from horrible poverty filled end of life situations wouldn’t exist.
    Civils Rights Laws, Voting Rights, and an ever expanding application of underlying recognition of the uneven application of Equality throughout our population spring from Our Democrat Party.

    Too many of us and far too many Americans take these bedrock elements of American Society for granted and I strongly believe we have failed to BRAND DEMOCRATIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS that all Americans benefit and depend upon every day of their lives.

    Back to numbers we need to heed.

    The Democratic registration distribution ts hard for many very Dedicated Democrats to comprehend and/or admit exist.

    Just 7 counties contain 275% of Florida’s Democratic registration advantage.
    Even in those counties there are pockets of Republican voting strength and more than a few of these counties also contain the largest Republican registration totals.

    Add in Osceola and St Lucie that advantage rises above 1,000,000.

    Understanding this uneven and highly concentrated Democratic registration distribution sheds much light and provides a guide to electing Democrats into Office.

    Florida isn’t a place where a one size fits all strategy will work but when every County DEC understands it is a part of something bigger than itself we can make it better.

    Where each DEC can operate with confidence that their effort means something important and where they fit into a greater political movement power will build and accrue.

    One undeniable fact about our Democratic electoral strength is hidden in our Democratic Registration advantage.
    Due to an uncountable set of DINOs in many of Florida’s Smaller Counties our 3% registration advantage doesn’t exist and perhaps it’s 1-1.5% if that.
    Let’s act as if we’re 2% behind.

    In Gubernatorial elections our turnout weakness is multiplied and that weakness (failure to vote in non-presidential elections) must be seriously reduced if we want to win Statewide Elections when the Governor’s mansion is up for grabs.

    There’s much more to grasp and take into our minds and hearts concerning Voting,
    Turnout is key to winning elections Statewide.
    Winning Districted Elections that are the vast majority of all elections is different but there is a huge connection to both of them.

    We must understand how to succeed with the opportunities that are doable and how to create conditions that make winning in District elections more likely.

    We also need to understand that a 4.5% registration advantage in any District Election is a very very steep climb and winning won’t happen often but not running Candidates in them leads to lower turnout statewide.

    That recognition shouldn’t ever stop any Florida Democrat with a desire to work hard and get out into the District building as large a turnout as possible, activating their base, persuading the persuadable to run because it is good for our Party and that individual.

    Wins come from efforts like this and turnout of our Voters rise too which is very good for those Statewide Elections where there is no way to gerrymander the State.

    Let’s talk local fundraising;

    Local DEC’s (every one of them) need to create programs of “sustaining donations” in order to obtain a steady revenue stream.
    How many believers of the proposition that small donors giving regularly (like $27 per month as many Democrats got used to giving) works?
    If we all understand the power of giving as Grassroots, giving regularly to your own County’s DEC is how we build up the resources to get an Office, buy the equipment to communicate, hold meetings and build local power .
    Every County needs some form of this type of revenue stream and as we build we all find that obtaining more financial resources becomes a bit easier.
    It’s hard, it is scary, but if you believe in your/our cause, it becomes part of the job.

    What we do between now and August of 2017 will set the stage for winning Statewide Offices in November 2018.
    The next election requires us to retain our 2016 Voters, and in selected areas we must add to our Democratic registrations, everywhere we must increase VBM request rates.(an example of the turnout power of VBMs is the 2016 Sarasota County VBM requester turnout which was 96.5% this number is the total votes from both the return of VBM ballots as well as the in person voting those who requested VBMs and chose to vote in person)

    We must message to DINOs who vote Republican they are voting to fundamentally change the American bedrock programs, systems they depend upon and take for granted.
    Never forget the ironic Tea Party poster saying “Keep Government’s hands off my Medicare”.
    If that doesn’t demonstrate how Americans fail to remember Democratic Programs they take for granted I don’t know what does.

    There’s work to do, Voters to contact, funds to raise, candidates to find and a new Leader to follow.
    It’s up to each one of us and the sooner we realize that we are all connected in this massive undertaking to win the winnable elections, run in every possible election, the sooner Democrats will realize our power to elect Democrats in Florida.

    There will always be disagreements, there will always be Officeholders who don’t vote the way we want every vote. Let’s understand that some votes are meaningless in the entirety and others that are truly critical.
    Being able to determine the difference and then having the power to put pressure on those who fail to properly make those critical votes correctly is a goal to work toward.

    There’s tons more to discuss especially the difference between getting out the Base Democratic Vote (DEC’s real job) and winning Elections through persuasion (campaigns are Persuasion Organizations).
    Understanding the difference and setting about to achieve success in the mission you are charged to accomplish is how success occurs more often.

    It’s time to grasp the facts as they are,message to everyone they depend upon the bedrock programs and concepts created and sustained by the Democratic Party to the point too many voters take them for granted.

    This is the time to believe in ourselves and our mission for the future. We will succeed when we understand and work together playing the positions we have chosen and believing in the power of our Democratic Brand.

    By acknowledging the very real issue that there are huge swaths of Florida where Democrats are severely challenged to elect Legislators and that legal gerrymandering can carve out Republican registration advantages in many places we must run candidates in every district because every contest raises turnout.

  6. In his interview with caucus leaders two weeks ago, candidate Stephen Bittel committed to developing infrastructure throughout the state of Florida, including small and medium-sized counties. I fully expect him to keep his word. He’s been involved in the non-profit world for many years and understands that much of the good work done outside the party cannot come to fruition because of the makeup of the Florida Legislature.

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