It is a fact that you can’t beat somebody with nobody. In politics, no matter how bad somebody is you are unlikely to beat them unless you have a better option. Over the past decade Democrats have won a grand total of zero Florida Cabinet races. The Florida Democratic Party failed to even recruit a viable candidate in half the cabinet races in 2014. There is a lot of energy among Florida Democrats right now, but if we want to move this state forward we need to start by electing quality Democratic candidates next year. The first step in that process is to actually field quality candidates, and that process needs to start sooner rather than later as effective campaigns don’t materialize overnight. Electing a Democratic Florida Cabinet is vital. Here are the Democrats who are not only best equipped to get themselves elected to the cabinet, but who will excel in the roles in which they should run.
Governor/Lieutenant Governor – John Morgan/Andrew Gillum
Running statewide in Florida is an expensive proposition if your goal is to win, but one thing that makes the prospect of running statewide less expensive is the luxury of having people already know who you are. If you did a poll right now, I would put my money on John Morgan having the highest Name ID out of any of the Democratic candidates contemplating a run for Governor. Morgan was intimately involved with the Medical Marijuana initiatives, which was one of the few bright spots for Florida Democrats over the last decade. The fact that he can self-fund a large portion of his campaign if he chooses to do so also makes a run a lot easier as he can focus his time on campaigning and not fundraising like traditional candidates have to do. Despite the fact that Morgan has never held public office before, he knows the political process and is far from a novice. This would allow him to hit the ground running if elected without being saddled with a long history that the GOP can attack him with.
Gwen Graham, Bob Buckhorn, Andrew Gillum, and Philip Levine are other candidates seriously considering runs for Florida Governor, and can be split into the two categories of traditional candidates (Graham and Buckhorn) and potential game changers (Gillum and Levine). Graham and Buckhorn are in the mold of candidates that Florida Democrats have nominated and lost with over the last 20 years. I have yet to hear anyone claim that Buckhorn is exciting or inspiring, and he doesn’t seem to have a natural base of support from which he can launch a statewide run. Graham can lean on the fact that her father is a Democratic legend in Florida, but the younger Graham has a fairly light resume with only a single term in Congress and her father hasn’t been on the ballot himself at all this century. The definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Graham is by far the best traditional choice, but do we really want to go down that road again?
Levine is also a candidate who can self-fund a statewide campaign, and is intriguing not because of his potential to pull an upset and win the Democratic nomination but because of how his candidacy would change the dynamics of the race. I have serious doubts that Levine can get any traction outside of South Florida in a crowded primary field, but his existence in the field makes it much more likely that Morgan would win the Democratic nomination if they both ran. Despite the fact that Levine won’t need to raise large sums of money to fund a statewide run, he would tie up a lot of the Democratic dollars from Miami-Dade County because he has personal relationships with the major Democratic donors. That would make raising the funds to be competitive that much more difficult for Graham, Buckhorn, and Gillum, which would be a competitive advantage for a candidate like Morgan who would be less dependent on that source of funding.
Andrew Gillum is the candidate with the most potential to have his candidacy catch fire and lead to what would be a somewhat unexpected journey to the Governor’s Mansion next year. Despite being young, Gillum has the experience and talent to be a quality candidate for any office in this state. The biggest question is whether he can raise the money to get his message out. The reason money is so important is that it takes substantial funds to communicate to voters statewide in Florida. It simply can’t be done without millions upon millions of dollars. Right now almost no one knows who Andrew Gillum is outside of Tallahassee and Democratic Party circles, which is a shame. Gillum might have his eye on being Lieutenant Governor should neither he nor Gwen Graham win the Democratic nomination (Graham and Gillum are both from Tallahassee, which would make her choosing him as her running mate unlikely). Morgan choosing Gillum as his running mate makes sense as it gives Morgan someone with vast governing experience. It would give Gillum a statewide platform where he can continue his public service and build himself into a Democratic institution like Graham and Chiles were last century.
Attorney General – Eugene Pettis
In normal times Florida Attorney General might not be a position that would interest someone with the pedigree and resume of Eugene Pettis, but we don’t live in normal times. Pettis was the first African American President of the Florida Bar, and I have yet to meet someone who knows Pettis and isn’t blown away with how impressive he is. I know for a fact that the possibility of running for US Senate in 2018 was floated to Pettis if Sen. Nelson retired, which it doesn’t look like he is doing, and Pettis didn’t reject the idea of possibly running for public office. Pettis is a civil litigator, and could build a national profile defending Floridians against the actions of the Trump Administration. Being Florida Attorney General would also set Pettis up to be Governor, US Senator, or US Attorney General in the future. His stint as Florida Bar President gives him a statewide network that he can tap for a statewide run. Eugene Pettis is a name that too few people know, but one we need as our next Attorney General.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – Patrick Murphy
There was no circumstance where Marco Rubio was going to underperform Donald Trump last year, which means a Trump win in Florida meant that Rubio would defeat any Democrat running against him. Despite the fact that he lost, Patrick Murphy ran an excellent campaign. Murphy is in his mid-30s, and he still has a very bright future in Democratic politics if he wants one. Murphy has a background in business, and is one of the few candidates who wouldn’t need to start a statewide campaign from scratch as he can build on the statewide campaign he ran last year. Murphy is a prodigious fundraiser, a tireless worker, and someone who was well thought of by his Democratic colleagues in Congress. Murphy would be a strong and very well qualified candidate who could serve as CFO and still be young enough to have a bright future in Democratic politics even if he served the full eight years in the position. Florida would benefit from having Murphy as CFO, and he fits the position well too.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Katie Edwards
There are few people in politics who are so talented and effective that they can truly shock me by what they achieve. Katie Edwards is one such person. Despite the fact that I have always thought very highly of Katie Edwards I thought it was a fool’s errand when she tried to get a Medical Marijuana bill passed in the Florida Legislature. I was the one who was the fool in underestimating Edwards as she got the job done. Edwards is whip smart, and has the rare characteristic of learning from her experiences to get better at her craft of politics even though she had an elite skill set to begin with. She was Executive Director of the Miami-Dade County Farm Bureau, and deals with agriculture issues on a regular basis with her law practice. Agricultural areas tend to be more rural, and therefore might have a constituency that leans right more than the other cabinet posts. Edwards is the one Democrat whose resume would meet or exceed that of anyone that the GOP might put up against her.
It is entirely possible that none of the candidates mentioned above actually runs for the position I have them slated for as none have declared their candidacy. It is likely that one or more have yet to even seriously contemplate running for a spot in the Florida Cabinet. That being said, this slate would give the Democrats a real shot of sweeping the Florida Cabinet posts. It would also set up Florida Democrats for a future that would be brighter than they have had in decades. Three of the five people mentioned above are in their 30s despite the fact that they are all imminently qualified to run statewide. Only two currently serve in office, but both Edwards and Gillum are elected to safe Democratic seats. The cabinet officials elected in 2018 will be in place the next time that Florida goes through redistricting. So, winning could expedite Florida Democrats path back to relevance while continuing their losing streak would likely mean another decade in the political wilderness for Florida Democrats.
(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.