Stephen Bittel’s victory as Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair and the subsequent election of several southeast Floridians to fill Florida’s DNC slots is from my vantage point an overall negative for regional considerations. But in the interest of fairness we will look at both the pros and cons of a more southeast Florida-centric party leadership. Per the US Census Bureau, the Miami urban area as it is defined is the fourth most populated in the nation making it one of the most vote rich areas of concentrated voters in the nation.
The cons to me are fairly clear. Southeast Florida is a unique region and in many way an insular one. SE Florida is the region most unlike the rest of the state. The party has to perform better in places like Volusia, Polk, Pasco and Marion counties to be successful statewide, yet at the lowest ebb for Democrats in the post-reconstruction history of this state, they appear to be doubling-down on the most Democratic region in the southeast United States. While Miami-Dade County is performing better and better in elections for Democrats, Broward is relatively stagnant (though in fairness it’s tough to squeeze many more votes out of a country that has been performing incredibly with few exceptions for Democrats since the 1994 Governor’s race) and Palm Beach has seen a declining vote for Democratic Presidential nominees each of the last two elections.
In fact, Palm Beach in that period has gone from being the second most Democratic urban county to fourth falling behind Orange and Miami-Dade in both 2012 and 2016. Southeast Florida Democrats do know how to win elections which is a positive for a party that seems addicted to losing – however some would argue that local Democrats would have to work harder to lose than to win elections given the demographics and party preferences of the region.
Politics in Florida has become more about the seeking of power and personalities than ideology. Much like it’s politically advantageous in the rest of the state to be a Republican for access and financial reasons, it is equally lucrative to be a Democrat in the three southeast Florida counties. Many who emerge in Democratic leadership from southeast Florida do not have the progressive values or understanding of populist movements that those from the rest of the state do. These party members are transactional Democrats or those who seek a certain status locally and for them, it is more advantageous to be a Democrat than a Republican within the region. People in the other 64 counties tend to be Democrats because some sort of driving values system or ideological principle makes them Democrats. In the three southeastern Florida counties many become Democrats because it is politically and socially advantageous for them. Much like Republicans in the rest of the state.
In long-term alliance with party insiders from other parts of the state these southeast Florida-based transactional Democrats have essentially controlled the party in one way or another for over a decade despite the gradual shift in emphasis electorally away from southeast Florida and the counties surrounding Tallahassee to the I-4 corridor and adjoining counties. Unfortunately like the “flyover” adage, the areas between Tallahassee and Jupiter often represent “drive through” country for Florida Democrats, vote rich areas which both political operatives and donors speed through en route to the ultimate destination, the capital on one end or the three southeast Florida counties on the other. This is the type of elitism that has made the Democratic Party less palatable to those outside large urban areas in the rest of the country.
A positive about southeast Florida leadership is that the synergy of big donors and party leadership will largely be located in a single region. This is a bigger deal than it might seem as planning and execution of a formulated strategy becomes easier and more seamless. Another positive is that the regions leaders know and understand how to win elections even if I would argue they have little understanding of the places you need to win to be successful electorally. A final positive is that is if Democrats are really isolated now to large urban areas and university towns nationally, doubling and tripling down on the most densely populated areas of Democrats in the state makes sense.
On that third point however, I would hope the party isn’t so far gone and unsaleable to the masses outside urban areas that retreat to the core Democratic regions is the only reasonable course of action. However, based on the FDP elections it seems the party is retreating to its comfort zone. Let’s hope for the sake of the two-party democratic system we should have in Florida that this is not the case.