The two decade cycle of failure without even really trying (or listening) – Personal reflections of Florida Democrats since 2000 and why it might be time to walk away

If you had told me after the 2000 Presidential recount where I played a fairly significant role, at least locally in South Florida that in 2020, Florida would be less white than anytime since statehood, the Democrats would have a record amount of money to spend, we’d have more ads on TV than the GOP and more money floating around among independent groups and a Democrat would win the White House with 51% of the national popular vote, I’d say we’d have won the state easily.

If you had told me at that point, that following the 2020 Election we’d only have 42 State House seats and had never cleared 50 since the 1998 Election debacle, I cannot imagine what my reaction would be.

If you had told me Joe Biden was the President-Elect then, I’d be super-excited as he’s someone I have respected and admired for years mostly due to foreign policy- he was someone I wanted to see Al Gore pick for VP in 2000 (and wanted to see run for President in 2004), unfortunately he instead opted for well, you know…

Anyway, If I looked at 2020 in 2000 and the state of the FDP I would be SHOCKED. That’s also because after the 1998 and 2000 cycles we did lots of hand-wringing thinking we had magical solutions to fix the party’s malaise. We didn’t. We keep failing. It’s worse than ever now. In 2020, Florida moved further toward the Republicans while EVERY SINGLE OTHER SWING STATE WHERE BOTH PARTIES ALLOCATED SIGNIFICANT RESOURCES, SWUNG TOWARD THE DEMOCRATS WHEN COMPARED TO 2016 NUMBERS.

Guess what? The 2020 Republican Presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump carried Florida by the largest margin of any top-of-ticket GOPer since 2004 and is the first GOP candidate at the top-of-ticket to clear 51% statewide in the same time period.

The lie that created laziness: Florida’s Demographic shifts would flip the state

National donors, Democratic consultants and talking heads in the media among others who have sold the lie for years that as Florida (and Texas fwiw) got more “black and brown,” the state would be more Democratic effectively hijacked the work of party building for a decade or more. Instead of rebuilding infrastructure, and reconnecting with disaffected for Democratic voters who were mostly white, we counted on perceived demographic shifts that were going to carry the day.

This gave campaign operatives and the party every incentive to be lazy between cycles and not do the proper level of party or progressive infrastructure building or voter education, especially given the money that kept flowing in Florida. After all the less white Florida became, the more easily and regularly victories would come, correct?

Well, not so fast – when those demographic shifts did in fact occur, low and behold the state was MORE REPUBLICAN than before. That’s because they had leaders like Rick Scott who actually made an effort to understand the minority communities of the state. For all we can say about Governor Scott’s horrible policies and rigid ideology, he’s been attentive to minority communities and understood cutting Democratic margins there meant Republican victories statewide.

The reverse of this is that Democrats have still yet to fully grasp the need to engage working class white voters in medium-sized counties and exurban areas as a way of cutting GOP margins in the opposition parties base.

This is what we would call malpractice in a real business where results and accountability guide decision-making.

Florida Democrats that have power to make changes never listen to critiques

Completely untethered from the responsibility of governing the state, too many leading Democrats in Florida have become whiny chasers of attention, relevance and the almighty dollar.

Almost any critique I have made over the last twenty years have fallen on deaf ears. Just about any suggestion people like me make which are based on empirical data, facts on the ground or obvious reality get push-back if they conflict with the economic interests of some in power or the ego of others. After a while, let’s say 20 years saying the same things over again and being ignored or shamed into recanting and then seeing the same results can be mentally draining.

Pluralism depends on two competitive political parties and a competition of policy ideas but Florida Democrats have become completely irrelevant in this conversation – allowing extreme Republicans to do whatever they want, including on issues like COVID-19 where their decisions have cost thousands of lives in this state. The failure of Democrats to compete the last two decades has had real world consequences – but many in the party don’t see this or are so divorced from the realities of everyday Florida life, they don’t care. The view constituencies as objects in a game rather than actual people in need of relief from the long and dangerous arm of permanent GOP governance.

Every two years we have the same conversations, the same excuses being made. We go through the same sort of frenzy about changes and how things will be different in the future. The only differences are the Republicans get stronger and stronger.

Here is a brief breakdown of some my own personal experiences over the last twenty years of trying to “reform” the Democratic Party in Florida.

  • After the 2000 Election, in early 2001 I was part of a group that pitched the state party about a reinvestment in grassroots and a pilot program for certain county DEC’s. Nothing happened with it, though some DEC’s liked our thinking and implemented the ideas on a local level.
  • After the 2002 Election, a statewide disaster we had similar conversations with a similar tone as we are having in November 2020. I was in the middle of many of those discussions. Most were town hall style “listening” events. Quite frankly NOTHING came of them.
  • After the 2004 Election, another statewide disaster, the party’s solution was to focus more on rural North Florida counties rather than the exurbs where we had been CRUSHED. The Exurban problem got worse and worse and even as we had decent cycles in 2006 and 2008, those areas got further away from us by 2010.
  • After the 2010 Election, I was not involved but heard the cycle of discussions were similar to 2004.
  • After the 2012 Election, our down-ballot under-performance was minimized even though as many of us thought it was a very bad harbinger for the future. Those who wanted reform were shouted down. The bottom line was 2012, when we won the two top-of-ticket races in this state was an opportunity missed to realign the legislature. Especially given it was a Reapportionment year. In that cycle, Bill Nelson at the time recorded the MOST VOTES EVER FOR ANY CANDIDATE in Florida history, a record now broken twice by Donald Trump. Despite that record, Democrats largely failed down-ballot. The excuses flowed and set the stage for four successive cycles to follow of outright failure.
  • After the 2014 Election, we began a cycle of three of straight elections where blame for failures was placed at the doorstep of either the FDP Chair or candidate campaigns without actually looking at the underlying messaging or strategy that was behind the failures. We also have consistently failed to address the same people run campaigns over and over again on the Democratic side and lose again and again. In ANY other business those who keep getting hired would be kicked to the curb.
  • In 2016 and 2018 Democrats under-performed relative to the nation. After 2016, positive changes were made in the party, but were quickly undone as 2018 arrived.
  • Following failure in 2018, despite the obvious growing tilt of the state toward the GOP, Florida Democrats made few changes and actively lobbied for the state’s relevance as the most important swing states. Well guess what, it’s the only swing state Democrats performed worse in 2020 than 2016 AND the Democrats won the White House without Florida. Therefore, perhaps it’s time to shut up shop down here.

I wish those who are fighting the fight again to reform the party once again the best of luck. I hope they are successful. If they are, perhaps I will have different feelings in the future about engaging this party.

The Florida Squeeze and my role going forward

I am older now, don’t have the energy nor psychological wherewithal to fight these internal party fights any longer – having wasted most of my adult life on this party in Florida, it’s time for me to move on. I’ll continue to support candidates and issue campaigns that make sense. I’m quite frankly tired mentally after this cycle where so much went right nationally while the same old things went wrong in Florida. We’re further now from the national median for Democrats here in Florida, than anytime since I became a registered voter and active Democrat, a quarter century ago.

The same people made the same excuses and conducted the same spin as we see cycle after cycle down here. It’s not worth critiquing because clearly in the past the critiques I and others made were dismissed out-of-hand even though everything we feared would happen here, has come to pass.

On the flip side, we hear the same arguments I have historically made by new people with little institutional knowledge or historical perspectives. I think they need more grounding to say what they say but wish them the best of luck because without them being successful we are doomed. I hope they have better success than I have had.

This site will continue to exist in its current form as a way to promote center-left and progressive ideas, discuss issues related to our state as well as Florida History through our weekly history podcast and feature writers with ideas about the party or progressive groups. But I personally am disconnecting from the party scene and will focus on non-party related activities.

If those who are empowered are unwilling to submit to any level of real accountability, why should those of us who have failed to hold them account despite our best efforts keep trying? That’s where I am today, and while I will stay politically active, I do not plan to critique or work within the party again for the foreseeable future. Who know how things will shake out and the door is open, but for now I will focus on issues and specific candidates. People and policy over party.

Thank you to all our readers and contributors for your continued support!

One comment

  1. Florida Democrat · · Reply

    Representative Anna Eskamani is basically the only hope that the Florida Democratic Party has. She is an exciting young progressive who has a huge following and flipped a Republican seat in 2016. I see her people canvassing neighborhoods on a regular basis. She engages with constituents at every opportunity from school functions to town parades and celebrations. Her people knock on doors and sign up volunteers by the car load. It’s amazing! Every other Democratic “leader” within the party needs to STFU and GTFO! They are useless!

    Like

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