The Phlip Side: Analysis of the Sally Boynton Brown Controversy Part 2

Part 1 of this column

Miami New Times Article quoted

The Miami New Times article about new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown, written by Jerry Iannelli (A link to the article is above, as is a link to Part 1 of this article), was an unfair piece that was full of both factual errors and tortured logic.  A cynic might posit that the author was actively looking for ways to make Ms. Brown look bad and based his critiques through that lens.  Since I have a reputation as the nicest person in Florida politics to uphold I am happy to give Mr. Iannelli a break and simply credit the many deficiencies in his article to naïveté and ignorance regarding the subject matter that was discussed by Ms. Brown.  I also reject the idea that some who promoted these criticisms of Ms. Brown put forth that I shouldn’t comment on these inaccuracies to correct the record.  Facts matter, even when they are not convenient or comfortable.

Here is the one criticism that was so absurd that it actually caused me to start laughing:

In a follow-up question, she also warned party members not to get too excited about turning districts from Republican to Democrat and said the best we ought to hope for is that Florida becomes more “purple.” (She also said she was proud about not supporting either candidate in the 2016 Democratic primary, which is an odd sort of thing to boast about as a Democratic Party leader.)…

The rest of the meeting didn’t inspire much more confidence. Brown was also asked about the party’s plan to convert formerly red states or counties to blue ones — and her response was that she had spent the past six years working to instead turn Idaho “purple,” and that’s the best we ought to hope for in Florida (which voted twice for Obama).

“I think that it’s unrealistic to think that you convert red counties to blue,” she said. “I think you have to ask red counties to come up with a long-term strategic plan on how they’re going to move the needle forward, and the FDP is committed to working with them, and making sure that they have resources to accomplish that plan.”

(Genuine question: Does the party not realize it needs to win Republican-held seats to win a majority at the state or federal level?)

I don’t believe I actually have to explain this, but seats and counties are two separate things.  I am sure that Ms. Brown wasn’t saying that Democrats shouldn’t target Republican seats and try to turn those seats Democratic as anyone in her position would be trying every day to do so.  What her point was is that there are 67 counties in Florida and Democrats shouldn’t be trying to win every single county as that goal would be unrealistic.  That said, we shouldn’t ignore any county as margin matters.  Just because we can’t reasonably expect to win a county like Okaloosa, where Hillary Clinton got 23.6% of the vote, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work that county and try to get that number above 30% in 2018 for our eventual gubernatorial nominee.  Ms. Brown was being honest, and not just giving platitudes like so many people in the same position would have.

Mr. Iannelli continues his air of superiority in another part of his piece by writing:

“This is not going to be popular, but this is my belief of the time and place we’re in now: I believe that we’re in a place where it’s very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters that are not voting,” Brown said.

In perhaps the most tone-deaf statement of the night, she said voters can be persuaded to go to the polls by reminding them they can “change their lives” through the “power of democracy.”

So poor people have just forgotten about the power of voting rather than resigned themselves to the fact that no matter what party they vote for, their lives never seem to get better. That explains it!

Actually, it does.  The point that Ms. Brown was trying to make is that voters need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.  Our entire system of government is based on electing people to represent our interests because we are so busy that we don’t have the time or expertise to make an informed decision on the multitude of issues that affect our everyday lives.  Democrats need to focus on making sure that their voters turn out more than Republicans do because Democrats are far less reliable voters here in Florida.  Anyone that has done voter contact knows that a lot of voters don’t think that their vote matters or will make a difference as I would be a multi-millionaire if I had a dime for every time someone said that the two political parties are the same or that their vote doesn’t matter.

The following statements from one of the participants that Mr. Iannelli highlighted also need to be addressed:

“You sort of hinted when you first answered that you felt that what got people out to vote wasn’t really issue-oriented,” the man said. “The evidence is that that’s not really true at all. Voter participation tends to crash, but when somebody tends to bring out issues, that’s when [people] come out. We saw that with Bernie Sanders. And so I think you have a contradiction there.”

I understand that some people hold Sen. Bernie Sanders in the highest regards, but do I really have to get in to why following the Sanders model that LOST last year nationally by every metric and received only 33.3% of the vote here in Florida may not be the best way to go?  When considering that Sanders received that 33.3% in the most sympathetic electorate, a Democratic Primary Election, he could have faced it stands to reason that exploring other electoral option might be prudent.  The fact that liberal poster child for being “right” on all of the issues, Fmr. Rep. Alan Grayson, lost his Primary Election by more than 40% here last year just further proves that going down the Sanders path will not lead Democrats out of the wilderness.

For those liberals who want to start screaming about people putting their thumb on the scale of the races I mentioned need to be able to reconcile their position with what happened last year in PA and WI.  Bernie Sanders led the fight to create the most liberal Democratic platform in history.  If issues and having a liberal platform, which we had last year, is the key to victory then why did we lose in both PA and WI?  I am not talking the top of the ticket. I am speaking of the US Senate races.  Both states hadn’t been lost by a Democrat at the Presidential level since the 1980s, yet despite that historical advantage the most conservative swing state Republican senator got re-elected in PA and one of the biggest liberal icons lost in the WI US Senate race.  Both Clinton and the US Senate candidates received fewer votes in both states than Pres. Obama did in 2012 despite the supposedly amazing Democratic Party Platform.

Platforms and issues do matter.  What the official Democratic Party stands for matters, but the FDP doesn’t have a vote in any elected public office.  Candidates and elected officials push issues, and we Florida Democrats need to focus on increasing our numbers at every level of government so that our ideas can start becoming laws.  To win more elections we need to be less strident about one approach and more open minded to considering alternatives.  I am not saying that Chair Bittel, President Brown, or the FDP are perfect.  I am quite certain that they are not.  We do owe them the opportunity to prove that things are improving under their leadership.  We won’t have to wait long for their first real report card either.  The proof will be whether they can significantly increase fundraising as Chair Bittel campaigned on and whether they can turn swing seat Senate District 40, in Bittel’s back yard, blue later this year.

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to

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.

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