Chairman Smith’s Suggestions: Some Worthwhile Discussion Points

Outgoing Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith gave a laundry list of items he’d like to see changed to the Tampa Bay Times the other day. It is somewhat odd that Chairman Smith would introduce these items to the Times after the fact, but many of the suggestions are worthy of extended discussion as we continue the effort to revamp and rebuild the crumbling Democratic Party infrastructure in the state.
Smith suggestion #1. Change the way party party chairs are elected, opening up eligibility to everyone rather than just to party activists who have been elected local state committeemen or state committeewoman and county chairs. The current system breeds “real subterfuge” where would-be chairs, himself included in 2010, at the last minute strike a deal to get elected to their local party leadership (as Annette Taddeo-Goldstein was elected Miami-Dade chairwoman Monday night).
“We eliminate lots of good candidates who might bring a special skill set to the chairmanship with a process that makes no sense to me,” said Smith, noting that under current rules two-term governor and three-term Sen. Bob Graham would be ineligible to be state chairman unless he finagled his way onto his county’s local party leadership.
Smith tried to get that system changed, but was shot down by state party leaders. Why? “It’s about some people who are empowered and have disproportionate political attention because you have to go to them and get their support to be chair of the party…when they might not even have much influence in their own county,” Smith said.
My thought: The Rules exist for a reason. It is important that those who serve as Chair have some working knowledge of how the state committee works and have served at the local level. But seeing that the rules are constantly circumvented and manipulated anyhow this grievance of Smith’s isn’t really valid. Still I believe we need to keep these rules in place even if they consistently are “waived.”
Smith suggestion #2. Restructure the way statewide and legislative fundraising and campaign planning is conducted. This one would be tricky: Smith would like to see the fundraising and campaign operations of so that state Senate and state House fundraising and campaign operations more centralized under the umbrella of the state party, rather than how they operate now – essentially three different efforts.
Legislative leaders by nature are mainly focused on how to grow their respective caucuses every cycle, while the state party chair should have a longer-term approach, said Smith, recounting how donors often don’t even understand whether they’ve written a check for the state party or for the House or Senate “Victory” efforts.
“You do need to have a more powerful chair – not me – but that position ought to be one where people have more confidence in the process,” said Smith.
I agree 100% on this one and have advocated this change as well. I congratulate Chairman Smith on articulating this publicly. I’ve found the House and Senate Victory breakaways to be counterproductive, confusing and largely responsible for the short term-ism of the statewide legislative seat strategy of the party.
Smith suggestion #3.  A longer-term reapportionment effort. “You need to start years in advance planning for reapportionment,” said Smith, who would like to see the party spend much more time and effort preparing and recruiting candidates for once-a-decade redistricting.
Again 100% agree but do not understand why Smith didn’t do this during his term as Chairman.
Smith suggestion #4. Aggressive efforts to continue/ramp up outreach and communication with key elements of the “Obama coalition,” particularly African-American, Hispanic and young voters. In non-presidential elections, for instance, “student voters ought to be understanding that the state of Florida has a much greater and immediate impact on the quality and cost of their education than electing the president.”
This is a no-brainer. But because power is concentrated in Tallahassee in the party, this doesn’t happen. The failure to educate young voters and ethnic voters about the importance of state elections has more to do with the limited world view of our state party leadership and consultants than any other factor.
Smith suggestion#5. “Focus on becoming the more welcoming and broader-based party,” said Smith, adding that while Democrats should be thrilled with this year’s results they should fret that Obama lost 56 of Florida’s 67 counties.
“We make a mistake if we make our party unwelcoming to people who may not agree with us on one subject,” said Smith, citing abortion as one of many possible examples. “Go into some of the areas where we’ve not been as strong, and I promise you we’ll find there are one or two subjects alone that are keeping them out of our party.”
That’s all the more important, Smith said, as the Florida GOP moves increasingly to the intolerant, and extreme right: “The Republicans must have watched what we did and decided we could do it even worse…If we continue this idea of having these litmus tests within the parties, you’re going to find wider differences between the parties and less ability to compromise and make government work.”
This is a double edged sword. This isn’t the Askew years when appealing to both North Florida and southeast Florida is going to work. I agree that we should not drive people out of the party on a single issue, especially Abortion. I know many otherwise good liberals who are personally pro-life, and this issue can fracture the Obama coalition pretty easily if it is pushed aggressively by the party. The Democrats victories among Latino voters can be easily blown by pushing abortion and  gun control too strongly.  But on other issues such as support of public education, supporting the right to organize a union, an aggressive government that builds and maintains public infrastructure, consumer protection, environmental protection, climate change and a belief in an activist government that works for the common good, no gray area exists. You are either a Democrat inclined voter or a Republican inclined voter.
Moreover Obama’s losses in some medium sized counties have less to do with issues and more to do with migration patterns into counties like Volusia, Pasco, Hernando, Flagler and Citrus. As for north Florida, those rural counties are gone and make little difference statewide if the Democrats can continue to push out the vote in the I-4 corridor and the southeast portion of the state. The migration patterns into the Tampa and Orlando suburbs favor Democrats.
Smith suggestion #6. Continue and probably expand the concept of a board of trustees for the party (Orlando developer and mega donor Jim Pugh led the board of trustees put in place by Smith), not only as an important vehicle for raising money but also as a sounding board for ideas and initiative the chair may be looking at.
Smith suggestion #7. Reconsider the value of full-blown state Democratic conventions. Jefferson-Jackson dinners raise significant money for the party, but conventions “are enormously expensive to put on and they are enormously expensive in terms man hours that probably could be spent better (elsewhere).”
And the conventions serve no real purpose either other than as a fundraising tool and a weekend get together. I last attended an FDP Convention in 2003 because they are in general a waste of a good Fall or December weekend (I attended every convention between 1995 and 2003).  The Jefferson-Jackson dinner is more useful but perhaps should be right after Legislative Session.

11 thoughts on “Chairman Smith’s Suggestions: Some Worthwhile Discussion Points”

  1. These are great things that Smith has brought up, which makes me ask the same question that you have….why did he wait until now?

    Coming out now, just weeks before his replacement is to be picked and with nothing to lose, I wonder if Smith if finally saying what he has been thinking all this time.

    That itself begs the question on who is really running the party. Is Smith publicly venting? Is this a coded message saying to people like us “hey, this is what I wanted to do, but those that work down the hall didn’t”? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

    While Smith doesn’t address many other problems in the FDP, he still shows that he has good ideas and intent. If what I said above is the case, then we really need to be careful as it is really the consultants and the Tallahassee Bubble folks running the show.

  2. There was nothing last-minute about Taddeo’s election last week. She has been the presumed new county chair for as long as I can remember. Maybe you are making a good point, but that’s a misleading example.

    On abortion, you don’t give that issue up. You campaign on it. It’s a civil right. “And similar social issues.” Same there. We know what you are referring to.

  3. The last-minute description was the Times’ not mine.
    I should have been more specific. I am specifically referring to gun control as an issue to de-emphasize. Democrats in Florida MUST focus on Education, Economic issues and Environmental Protection. Consider it the 3 Es.
    I am personally pro-choice and anti-gun but those two issues in particular hurt us outside of 6 counties (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Pinellas, Hillsborough) and even in those places they aren’t as clear cut as many think.

  4. The convention would make sense if we actually passed a platform and had campaign trainings. Right now it is a total waste and super expensive.

  5. The J-J is also an incredible waste of time , party people resources and money. It should only be held in non-election years.

  6. I say get rid of the ridiculous weighted vote that gives enormous power to a few corrupt state committee people like Diane Glasser. Allow DEC Chairs to vote for Chair and weight their vote not that of the state committeeman or woman.

  7. Pingback: Changing the Florida Democratic Party Chair qualifications…and voting. « The Political Hurricane – Florida Political Blog.

  8. The weighted vote needs to be eliminated. Right now Broward, Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Pinellas and Hillsborough can choose a chair with minimal outside support. You wonder why Obama lost 56 of 67 counties????? The focus of the party has become narrow and based around these counties exclusively.

    Democrats elect a grand total of one non African-American House member from outside these counties. ONE! I mean how can you be a statewide player with this reality!

  9. I’ll take a statewide WIN carrying only 11 counties as opposed to a statewide LOSS winning 56 counties!! The job of a political party is WINNING ELECTIONS……that means you put your resources where the votes are.

  10. The weighted vote if anything needs to be extended to offices beyond chair. The idea that in the election of the vice chair Gilchrist has as much influence as Palm Beach, Lafayette as much as Broward, Glades as much as Orange, etc is just plain idiotic.