Fixing Florida’s Democratic Party…what does it take?

Yeah, my hands are up in the air too. But I don't have a smile.

Yesterday, as many of you know, I wrote my “open letter” to FDP Chairwoman Karen Thurman asking for her to resign as the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. Since I wrote this letter, I have had some people agree with me and some people disagree with me. Luckily for me, all the correspondence that I have had has been very civil. Again, that is what makes us different from the GOP.

Still, even with some criticism, I stand by my words. If a football coach leads his team to a losing season, more than likely he will be fired. But if he has three losing seasons, he would easily be fired. We need to hold the leaders of our party to the same standards.

While my letter did ask for the resignation of Karen Thurman, the problem just doesn’t lie with her. In fact, the problem lies with the entire infrastructure of the Democratic Party in Florida, from the leaders in Tallahassee to the local DECs.

There are some DECs that do try to make an effort. I remember living in Pinellas County in the mid-1990s, and was amazed to see how many people they had active in not only their DEC, but campaigns in general. I can’t say if it is like that nowadays, but back in the mid-1990s, it was impressive.

But in other counties, we have seen quite the opposite. Take my home county for example, Orange County. During the era of Doug Head, Democrats really worked to increase their advantage in voter registration. While this is a small part of the process as a whole (which I had criticized in the past as well, I must admit), it showed some progress nonetheless. In addition, Chairman Head also update the computers and voter files for Orange County, which again, was a positive step.

After Head, we had a number of disastrous chairs that didn’t do anything productive whatsoever. The latest example is Bill Robinson. During his time as chairman, it was nearly impossible to get a hold of him, even if you were a candidate for public office running under the Democratic ticket. Hopefully Jeremiah Jaspon will restore my faith in the Orange County Democrats, which I have very high hopes that he will.

So, with all that being said, what do we do to change the Democratic Party? Of course, we need to do the obvious, which is force Democratic leaders at all levels, who have either been inactive or just dead wrong, to resign. While the Tea Party is a liberal’s nightmare, they did teach us that an organized group of people who “can’t take it anymore”, can rise and take on the establishment.

But in addition to changes in our leadership, we need to change the fundamental way that the party does geographical targeting.

In my open letter to Thurman, I mentioned that we need to move away from the “Northern strategy”, and start targeting races along the I-4 Corridor. For some reason, there is some obsession with the folks in Tallahassee that feel that targeting Lafayette, Dixie and Liberty Counties will bring us electoral success. Even Rod Smith said in the closing weeks of the campaign “We are going to win Dixie County.”

My response…who flippin’ cares! Did you ever hear Tim Russert or Chris Matthews point out the importance of Dixie County in Presidential elections? Nope.

Each minute that a statewide candidate spends in Dixie County, which had a total of 5,266 people showing up to the polls on Tuesday, the same candidate could be spending time in Orange County, which had 55 times as many voters turn up on Election Day. In addition to the pure numbers, there is a strong likelihood that the candidate will get press coverage in Orange over Dixie. Do you think a camera crew out of Tallahassee or Jacksonville is going to drive all the way to remote Dixie County to cover a candidate? I don’t think so.

In the last 10 years, we have seen a 36% increase in voter registration in Orange and Osceola Counties. In Broward, we have seen a 14% increase. In Miami-Dade County, we have seen a 25% increase. Just those four counties in the last 10 years have had just over 700,000 new voters. In Dixie County…we have lost 277 voters, for a grand total of 10,264 voters.

Now you tell me what is the logical choice…Central and South Florida, or Dixie County?

But even with the change in the geographical mindset of the Florida Democratic Party (which still seems to be stuck in the Napoleon Broward Era) , we also need to start recruiting quality candidates to run for State House and State Senate as well. I feel that this is one of our biggest weaknesses.

The big question regarding candidate recruitment is “who should be recruiting the candidates?” Is it the responsibility of the FDP or the local DECs? This is where I feel that there needs to be some communication between the state and local parties, which I feel currently lacks.

But even if we find someone who looks to be a quality candidate, we still lack any kind of vetting process to make sure that this candidate is knowledgeable of Florida politics in general. In 2008, I worked for a State Senate candidate (and later left because of the candidate’s lack of commitment to the campaign) that the Orlando Sentinel basically described as lacking the knowledge to run for State Senate. I totally agreed. It was extremely embarrassing.

Just a change in the way the state and local parties operate in addition to quality candidates will vastly improve our chances in both the Florida House and Senate. And while these two things are very important, fundraising and the way the Party spends their money as well is just as important.

Spending nearly $60,000 in Debbie Boyd’s seat exactly makes my point. If that money was given to, lets day, Lee Douglas, an Orlando Sentinel endorsed Democratic, running against Stephen Precourt, in a district that has a slight Democratic lead in registration, he would have had a fighting chance.

Instead, we put the money in a district that we knew we would lose, just by the fact that Allen Boyd was getting killed in polls conducted in his Congressional district. If Allen Boyd isn’t going to win his CD, then no Boyd is going to win anywhere else inside that CD, pure and simple.

Again, these are just some of the main fundamental problems that the state and local parties face right now. There are many solutions to these problems, which I will be laying out in more detail in this blog over the next few months.

But the first move that needs to be made is getting rid of the current Democratic Party leadership and replacing their State House and Senate campaign staffs.

That change needs to take place now rather than later.

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