Having lost 17 of the last 18 elections for Governor and the statewide Cabinet, you would think Florida’s Democrats would be looking for new blood, new ideas and fresh energy. But the establishment of the party loves to double down on tired old thinking and lazy stereotypes. They also love to maintain power at all costs and marginalize progressives whose passion and dedication to causes rather than political machinations threatens the established order.
Two election cycles, 1966 and 2010 (a selective interpretation of that year’s events) reinforce these biases so are cited often privately though the reality is most other elections tell a different story.
1966 – Robert King High means Phillip Levine is flawed.
Robert King High is a name many today don’t know but perhaps drives today’s Tallahassee insiders (the ones who actually want to elect a Democratic Governor, not simply make money off continued losses) to pull out all the stops to defeat Phillip Levine in the party’s Gubernatorial primary.
Republican Claude Kirk shocked political observers by tapping into widespread discontent with the liberal direction of the national Democratic party with his huge 1966 Gubernatorial upset win. He became the first Republican Governor of a southern state since the 1920’s and the first in Florida since Reconstruction. Anger about the 1964 Civil Rights Act still was prevalent and after Mayor Robert King High, a Miami liberal who supported Civil Rights upset incumbent Governor Haydon Burns in the primary, the GOP surged. Kirk, running without a party infrastructure routed High in the General. Republicans which had already come to prominence in urban Pinellas, Orange, Broward and Palm Beach counties now were a statewide force.
Republican numbers surged in the Legislature and picking up seats in different geographic areas of the state, taking a legislature that contained single digit numbers of Republicans at the turn of the decade into a potent minority force. Outside of liberal (Miami) Dade County, Republicans were popping up everywhere. These new GOP officials took the state party into a hard right direction in sharp contrast to the old school Midwestern styled Republicans that had come from the urban areas south of Orlando. The next election cycle saw a shocker as Republican Ed Gurney, a reactionary conservative from Brevard County (which became Republican during the space program boom of the early 1960s) defeated former Governor Leroy Collins, the man whose leadership prevented Florida from becoming another Mississippi or Alabama during the Civil Rights era.
For some establishment Democrats who were around or study the history of the state, Levine evokes memories of High. His religion and ethnicity make matters worse for some of these folks. As we discussed last week, coded antisemitism has been on the rise within the party in Florida, much of it recently directed at Levine. Often forgotten is that since High was defeated, Jewish Democrats from Dade County have been elected SIX TIMES statewide, though the most recent victory in 1990 came long before social media and Donald Trump’s frequent use of antisemitic code on a national political level.
The truth remains that Democrats have not nominated someone of Levine’s profile for Governor or Senator since the 1980’s so the assumptions he’d be a flawed nominee are exactly that – flawed and assumptions. We have zero empirical evidence a candidate that is Jewish and from Miami Beach having served as Mayor of one of the most famous cities in America, would perform worse than a lobbyist from Tallahassee or Banker from Tampa statewide. The Democrats constantly lose elections in this state so if Levine were nominated and lost, he’d just be another losing statewide candidate.
2010- Kendrick Meek means Andrew Gillum is flawed.
Kendrick Meek is a name cited as to why Andrew Gillum can’t be elected Governor. It’s also a name cited as to why Alex Sink whose prototype is cloned over and over by party insiders lost in 2010 to Rick Scott, the Republican those same insiders badly wanted to run against. Never mind, Meek the 2010 US Senate nominee who was an outspoken liberal African-American from Miami never got a chance because the party establishment was plotting against him. That establishment succeeded in stopping him by throwing Jeff Greene into a messy primary and coaxing Republican Governor Charlie Crist to run as a third party candidate for US Senate. Meek’s electability or that of an African-American progressive was NEVER tested statewide
Congressman Kendrick Meek, an African-American and the presumptive Democratic nominee was seen as too liberal and perhaps the wrong color for many in the Democratic establishment. Those establishment figures coaxed Charlie Crist, then the GOP Governor of the state, to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent. To weaken Meek, many of the same leaders which included elected officials and self-described “activists” from south Florida (none of whom were African-American) backed Greene and made outlandish statements about how he would personally fund the Democratic Party’s GOTV efforts if he were nominated. We hear similar things this year about Greene’s late charge up the polls thanks to a cleverly crafted media campaign.
A racially-charged whisper campaign ensued. While Greene and his campaign staff weren’t responsible for this, many of those who pushed Greene into the race, particularly from Palm Beach County participated. While Greene got crushed in the primary, the damage was done to Meek who was deemed unelectable by the leadership of the party, which was the goal of encouraging Greene to run anyway. Crist became the defacto Democratic nominee and predictably Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, one of the most conservative officeholders in the recent history of the state walked into the US Senate.
The disaster of 2010 also was due in large measure to Alex Sink being the party’s nominee of Governor. Sink’s strategy to focus on the Florida Panhandle and to distance herself from President Barack Obama’s policies might have been the inspiration for Gwen Graham’s voting record in Congress and rhetorical direction in this campaign – not a surprise considering some of the figures behind the scenes are the same.
In Ron DeSantis, the GOP will have a nominee for Governor of similar ideological bent to Rick Scott, but one that’s likely to appear far more impressive to those deciding on whether to turn out in this election.
Once again Gillum is flawed because of his own possible actions and associations but we have zero empirical evidence an African-American progressive Mayor would fare worse statewide than a lobbyist from Tallahassee, a party-switching former Governor or a Banker from Tampa.
The Democrats constantly lose elections in this state so if Gillum were nominated and lost, he’d just be another losing statewide candidate.
While thoughts of 1966 and 2010 might serve as justification for the attitudes of many party insiders, the reality is 2018 is a very different election cycle. Energy on the left is badly needed to defeat Republicans in November.
This is a very different reality than 2018, where energy on the left is needed to defeat Republicans in November. Not only is Florida closely divided between ideologies now in a way it wasn’t in 1966 and 2010, but its also a state where Democrats would win more often if they stopped making obvious miscalculations and listened to some fresh ideas about electoral and historical perspectives.
The party’s drift toward blaming progressives for past failures and the desire to push back on any move to becoming a values-based party always had to be justified in electoral terms – hence 1966 and 2010 (a certain skewed interpretation of that year’s events) being used to justify failure makes sense. The Florida Democrats failure has to be justified somehow and the need to keep the gravy train going for many of its leaders needs to be placed in a historical context – even if it doesn’t make sense at all.