Newly elected Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair Stephen Bittel, who won the position decisively by gaining a majority of the vote on the first ballot despite having four opponents, has hit the ground running by announcing a $100,000.00 grassroots challenge grant for small and medium sized Florida counties within days of his election. Bittel won his election to become FDP Chair because he ran the best grassroots campaign, and the fact that this challenge is among his first acts as Chair proves his commitment to grassroots organizing and shows that he is a man of action. The attacks against Bittel and this challenge are laughable, and just proves that Bittel and his team are on the right track. There is no one action that will give Democrats some semblance of power in Florida, but every long journey begins with a single step and Bittel seems to be leading Florida Democrats in the right direction.
According to the press release from the FDP, ”Competing organizations should provide a proposal that includes how they will increase voter registration volunteer recruitment, organizational expansion, and community engagement. All proposals should include metrics milestones and program timelines.” This challenge is likely to be an incubator of ideas, with the best ideas being shared across all small and medium sized counties to the benefit of all Democrats. Despite being from a large county, excluded from this competition, I agree with Chairman Bittel’s decision to exclude Florida’s large urban counties. Organizing to achieve Democratic gains looks very different in a county like Broward than it does in a rural panhandle county. It is also very encouraging that Chair Bittel is requiring milestones and timelines, which is thankfully going to be the new normal at the FDP according to Bittel, so that the primacy is on actions and achievements instead of plans and promises.
The focus on small and medium sized counties should be prioritized by the FDP not because large counties don’t matter, which they do, but because small and especially medium sized counties are where Democrats have fallen short in recent elections. Out of the seven counties that make up half of Florida’s population, Sec. Clinton did phenomenally well in all but one county (Pinellas). The 678,000 vote margin for Sec. Clinton out of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties was as high as anyone could reasonably expect, and she still lost the state. Trump increased the Romney 2012 margin by at least 10,000 votes in 14 counties, and 11 of those 14 counties were counties that Pres. Obama lost in BOTH 2008 and 2012. There are many counties that Democrats have very little hope of winning, but we should work those counties too because margin matters. Decreasing the margin of loss in a red county is just as effective as increasing the margin of victory in a blue county.
This challenge was blasted in the GOP controlled Sunshine State News by Leslie Wimes, which in my mind if further proof that Bittel is on the right track. Wimes claims this challenge is just a ploy to try and help Sen. Nelson. Even if that was true, which I don’t think it is, that would be considered a good thing by anyone who actually cares about seeing the FDP contribute to winning elections for Democrats. If Sen. Nelson’s re-election isn’t the top priority for Florida Democrats, it is a close second to electing a Democratic Governor. The type of work outlined in the parameters of the challenge grant will help Democrats up and down the ballot, including but not limited to Sen. Nelson. Proffering two candidates who have never won an election over the only statewide elected Democrat, who has won three statewide elections (though admittedly against less than stellar opponents), as Wimes did is absurd.
I give the credit for this new $100,000 challenge grant to Chair Bittel, the man who chose to actively put himself into the arena to do good, instead of the critic and perpetual provocateur Wimes. Instead of resting on his laurels, Bittel immediately went to work. When asked where the $100,000 would come from Bittel said that he would either raise it or fund it from his own pocket. As the first President Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing…and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” It is refreshing that Chair Bittel acted decisively as too many times good ideas get bogged down by endless debate in the political arena. Chair Bittel has a long four years ahead of him as the FDP Chair, but if his first actions are any indication those four years will be filled with much more prosperity and success than Democrats have experienced this century.
(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)
Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.