Florida Progressives need to vote values not party – history informs of us why

As we approach another party primary which has been divisive, the calls for unity and coming together are as loud and nauseating as ever. As a longtime active Democrat in Florida, I’ve sacrificed principle and my values before to back deeply-flawed candidates who were nominated. In retrospect, doing this did nothing but further solidify a long-standing pattern of behavior from the party establishment.

This behavior means that progressives get ridiculed and stomped on in party primaries, but once the general election roles around values-based left-leaning voters are expected to compromise and support the candidate with a D next to their names. When the Democrat inevitably loses the General Election as 21 of the last 22 statewide candidates not named Bill Nelson have, progressives are blamed for depressing turnout or not enthusiastically backing the nominee. Progressives and issues-oriented-voters are often blamed for the discord within the party, reflecting the attitude that the Democratic Party is like a sports club that you uncritically cheer for irrespective of circumstances.

Meanwhile, Florida’s establishment Democrats go back into peaceful cohabitation with the ruling Republicans who have pillaged this state in the last two decades. Many work as lobbyists in a GOP-dominated legislature and strike up public friendships with Republican elected officials. For many of these establishment Democrats who are feeding at the trough in the political system they’d choose social and personal association with Republicans over progressives if given the choice. Many simply like to rub elbows with people they perceive are in power and get free things from those lobbying governmental bodies though ironically they castigate progressives like Bernie Sanders for wanting to give away “free” things to the general citizenry of this nation.

We’ve seen this election scenario play at before and it did not end well at all for Democrats or the state. 

Since 2002, Florida’s progressives have been asked to repeatedly park values at the door to support flawed party nominees. It began when Bill McBride, anointed by insiders as the best hope to beat Jeb Bush won 62 counties in the primary edging Janet Reno, the former US Attorney General who had impeccable progressive credentials. Reno ran up enough of a margin in the three southeast Florida counties, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach that she barely lost the primary. She also won overwhelmingly among African-Americans statewide including in Duval County.

Coming off the 2000 recount and a stolen Presidency for George W. Bush that happened right in front of our eyes energy on the left was at a high in Florida. Yet, the establishment instead of empowering this energy to take on Bush’s brother in the Governor’s race opted for a safe play – a conventional moderate who could win statewide and as party stratgeists obssessed about make the counties between the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers a sea of blue.

McBride did well along the “I-10 corridor,” but was slaughtered up and down I-4 and I-75. He lost by the largest margin of any Democratic nominee for governor in the state’s history.

Reno, who generated enthusiasm among the most activists was rejected for the traditional institutional Democrat,  the late Bill McBride. What ensued was a Republican landslide that we noted above was the biggest at the Gubernatorial level in the state’s history.

Despite anger about 2000, turnout dipped in 2002 thanks to nominating the wrong candidate. It’s an important lesson for 2018 where an assumption is being made by many that nominating the “safest” candidates will ensure an anti-Trump wave. This is the public face, but perhaps the private reason is what’s discussed above. Party insiders have contempt for progressives and those who put issues and personal values over party or cheerleading against the Republicans.

2002 is the most analogous example to 2018 we have but it wasn’t the only insatnce of the Democrats forcing a flawed nominee on progressives and expecting values-oriented voters who are motivated by issues and ideology to park their ideals to support a candidate wearing the uniform of the blue team.

In 2004, Betty Castor occupied the middle ground against Mel Martinez who, despite a somewhat moderate record as Orange County Chairman, decided to run to the hard right. Castor lost to a Republican nominee who ran the most conservative campaign (for a Republican) in the state’’s history. Martinez’s extremism motivated an increased turnout on the right and the Democrats were caught flat-footed. The turnout gap allowed the GOP to win a record 84 seats in the 120-seat State House.

In 2010, moderate Alex Sink, the wife of McBride, questioned President Obama’s Health Care plan, positioned herself to the right of GOP Governor Charlie Crist on insurance and banking and tried to appeal to “swing voters” against a pathetically weak GOP nominee in Rick Scott. Sink, like McBride and Castor, was defeated thanks in large measure to a depressed turnout in southeastern Florida. The primary was cleared to ensure Sink got a shot at the Republicans, who nominated their percieved weakest candidate, Rick Scott. We all know how that ended.

After the 2010 election, progressives in southeast Florida were scrutinized for not turning out in higher numbers to support a nominee and party that scarcely showed any concern for them and had worked dillegently to discredit Kendrick Meek, the progressive African-American US Senate nominee who hailed from the region.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s loss in Florida by over 100,000 votes was conviently blamed on Bernie Sanders-supporting progressives, Jill Stein voters and the Russians.  Yet exit polling data and post election surverys showed fewer Sanders voters had defected to the Republicans than Clinton voters in 2008 who voted for John McCain instead of President Obama. Jill Stein also ran behind Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee who logic tells us probably took more votes from the GOP than the Democrats.

2016 US Senate nominee, the moderate Patrick Murphy was similarly flawed, but was hoisted on us with the assurance he could win. He didn’t come close to being competitive let alone a successful US Senate candidate.

On the national level we’ve seen time and again the contempt with which progressives are treated by the party establishment. Entities like the Democratic Governors Association and its outside allies meddle in primaries almost always backing the candidate with the greatest corporate connections.

In the midst of all of this, progressives are told it doesn’t matter who the Democrats nominate, they’ll be better than the Republican nominee. This might in theory be true but the party will never learn it needs to stand for something and produce candidates that reflect the values of the vast majority of Democratic voters – not the values of insiders who make a living of the best-funded candidates or off cohabitation with the Republicans.

This election cycle, we’ll be providing a clear idea in November which Democrats deserve the support of progressives and which don’t. For me personally, the time has come to start skipping some races or voting for third party/independent candidates where a viable progressive one is present. I’ve personally compromised far too often with the Democratic establishment through the last dozen plus years.

We are at the point where the only way the Democrats will learn is by rewarding solid nominees with vocal support while witholding votes from those who are deeply flawed or Republican lite. The party establishment is going to blame progressives in any event and given the party’s track record even when progressives pile support behind a flawed candidate, they’ll lose irrespective of what progressives say or do. That’s a fact in Florida when looking at the recent past.


  1. This right here is the dog-honest truth –> “Many simply like to rub elbows with people they perceive are in power and get free things from those lobbying governmental bodies though ironically they castigate progressives like Bernie Sanders for wanting to give away “free” things to the general citizenry of this nation.”

    NBC reports today that seniors are declaring bankruptcy at a fast rate than ever before. WHY? Because of student and medical debt. Currently 40% of Americans can’t afford the basics of what we consider to be a “middle class” existence: housing, school, healthcare. This isn’t about “free stuff,” it’s about civilization, and whether or not we live in one.

    When I was born the medical bill for my mother’s hospital’s stay was paid easily with one working-class paycheck. Now you’re lucky if your bill is less than a YEAR’s median salary.

    When I went to college, right as Reagan was dismantling our university system, you could attend a decent state school by working summer jobs. In-state tuition was less than $1000 a semester, increasing to $6000 before I graduated.

    When people in our party decry “free stuff” they’re using oppressive language to support a system that is stealing from us.


  2. Democratic Gal · ·

    The Bernie Bros do more to enable Trump than the GOP it seems.


  3. David Jones · ·

    Tokyo Rose could not do a better job of undermining the morale of those fighting for a free and democratic society than does the author of this article. The Democratic party is made up of people, and progressives make up a large portion of those enrolled as Democrats. Rather than subscribing to the notion that one should go AWOL if their preferred candidate does not prevail in a primary, your ink should be inspiring progressive Democrats to recruit non-affiliated activists to become part of the Democratic coalition towards tipping the scales from within. Perseverance will forge the future of the party. Throwing your arms up in the air and advocating to sabotage the campaigns of candidates whose platforms do not precisely mirror your own is akin to gifting absolute control to the far right. By all means, we progressives should be all in for our progressive Democratic candidates in the primaries. However, if the effort falls short, coalescing and getting behind our Democratic nominees, all of whom are far more progressive than the likes of Adam Putnam, Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott, will at the very least provide us with an opportunity to fight another day with a reasonable chance of succeeding (think redistricting, judicial appointments, regulating commissioners, etc.). If we break ranks, securing a successful progressive movement will become a much steeper climb.


  4. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾🔥 to every word in this post!!!


  5. Patti Lynn · ·

    Gillum for Governor


  6. Ruth Ann Eaddy · ·

    I consider myself a progressive, but I voted for Hillary Clinton when Bernie did not win. Donald Trump is our president because many progressive Democrats could not vote for Hillary. How do you like where our country is now? David Jones is exactly correct. We must get control of the House of Representatives whether we like our candidates or not. This year is no time to be a purest. This kind of talk scares me to death. I am looking forward to vote for my Congressman, Darren Soto and I am not compromising any values with that vote.


  7. InsiderMyself · ·

    Spot on!


  8. Remember, Mel Martinez was Ken Connor’s running mate.


  9. I don’t see the proof that “Donald Trump is our president because many progressive Democratic could not vote for Hillary”. The place where the voter drop off was extremely high was in African-American precincts, precincts that voted for Hillary in the primary by overwhelming majorities. Additionally, how many people did not show up to vote for Hillary simply because they thought that she would win because Democrats kept on saying “there is no way Trump can ever be president” and that “the demographics make it impossible for Trump to win”? There are multiple excuses.

    On one hand, Hillary supporters blame progressives (particularly Bernie supporters) as a convenient way of deflecting the blame, and are usually too cowardly to reflect on their own flaws. This happens when you have a movement based on a cult of personality (like Hillary). On the other hand, I know more Trump voters who voted for Trump because they hated Hillary more than they liked Trump. Democrats, especially Hillary supporters, are clueless when it comes to the amount of contempt for the Clintons among Republicans and many independents.

    That is Kartik’s main point of this article (I think), is that Democrats constantly pick flawed candidates, both nationally and in Florida, and yet we never realize it. Another flaw is to blame Bernie Sanders, considering Hillary Clinton won the Democrat primary in Florida by a very large margin. And, as Kartik said, more Hillary supporters voted for McCain in 2008 than Sanders supporters voted for Trump in 2016 (ANES data also backs this up).

    However, another flaw of Democrats is that the assume that all Bernie Sanders’s voters are “progressives”. There were a lot of people in rural areas who are FAR from being progressive, but were turned on by Bernie’s economic message. So yes, some of Bernie’s voters voted for Trump, but these type of voters who supported Bernie in rural areas were never going to vote for Hillary in any case since Hillary ran a campaign on identity politics and crony capitalism. This shows that Democrats have a simplistic understanding of voters, and are unable to understand nuance when it come to political ideology.


  10. Michael Carr · ·

    So I just found this ( beat a dead horse to death article) sp forgive me for being late to the table.
    I have one bottom line comment to make and that is “WINNING MATTERS”… You wait for the “perfect candidate” you grow old and grump under the wrong president and lousy administrations… in the end, you die irrelevant. Pick a democrat, then mold that democrat… You’ll never mold a republican… Take a look around and think a minute about where we’d be if you held your nose and just said ok and voted for Hillary!!!!


  11. billn7222016 · ·

    A note that is missing here is that folks on the Democratic – progressive – liberal side need to learn to work in coalition. Had the Dems reached out to Bernie and worked something out, perhaps many more of his supporters would have supported Hillary. Or had Bernie reached out to Hillary … This should become a habit for us. When you have as many votes as Sanders has, that needs to translate into some kind of power, even if he is not the winner. The R’s, with lots of help from the Russians, were all about dividing us. We can’t let them succeed.


  12. Does it not strike you as…problematic that in August you tell progressives to vote for their values, not their party, and in November you seem unable to figure out why Democrats keep losing? Maybe everything is actually not the fault of the vague “party elites” who you refuse to call out by name. Maybe people “voted for their values”by staying home, just like you literally asked them to. If you want to replace the elite, go ahead and do it already, it’s not actually that hard of a process. But don’t tell Democrats they should stay home if they don’t like their candidate and then not even three months later wonder why Democrats keep losing.


    1. Fair point and I regret that column to a certain extent. However, voters should always vote their values. The vast majority of people who cast ballots aren’t political people and they just want to be represented by someone looking out for their interests.

      However, I don’t regret telling folks they didn’t have to vote for Gillum because of ethics. A fundamental of progressiveness is opposing government corruption and deceit.

      As for naming names, I put myself out there, don’t collect a dime from this site and have become hated, losing countless “friendships” (okay they were not really friends in hindsight because most people in politics can’t really be friends, they always want something from you and once they can’t use you anymore, they disappear or abandon you) but you and so many others critique without putting your names out there. I don’t really respect anonymity if that is how personal attacks are done. But I wouldn’t expect anything less in a party that rewards relationships over competence and one where personality and lack of accountability trump everything.


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