Rod Smith: Changed Man?

Call him Johnny Come Lately. Rod Smith, the current Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chairman, was once upon a time in a not so distant galaxy a State Senator. Senators, particularly those without a strong ideology, vote their self -interest more often than not. In 2002, Smith was one of the deal makers on reapportionment, selling out the seat of fellow north Florida Democrat Richard Mitchell (D-Jasper), and advocating/voting for a plan that protected incumbents, added to a GOP majority and drew zig-zagging district lines. As the Legislature convenes today for a Special Session to redraw the Senate map after court rejection, Smith is coming out of the box swinging at the GOP and offering an unprecedented alternative plan which makes sense for Floridians of all political stripes.

Public officials tend to change over ten years and Rod Smith in 2012 is showing greater public awareness and understanding of the stakes around redistricting. In 2002, Chairman Bob Poe and the Florida Democratic Party staff ran a poorly organized public effort to oppose the GOP drawn maps. In fact, Senators like Rod Smith and others from liberal southeast Florida had sufficient cover to vote for the incumbent protection reapportionment plan because the FDP was so inept at framing the public debate. Over on the House side, seven southeast Florida Democrats voted for the most partisan gerrymander in post Baker v Carr Florida history. Those Democrats were never publicly repudiated by the state party despite the best effort of House Minority Leader Lois Frankel (D-West Palm Beach) to make their lives difficult within the Democratic House Caucus.

Smith’s public posture in recent weeks has put the State Senate squarely on the defensive, asking the types of questions that needed to be asked in 2002 but were not. While the last redistricting cycle was prior to the passage of the important Fair Districts Constitutional Amendment,  the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic effort in 2002 made it very simple for elected officials in both parties to conduct the process arrogantly and without fear of retribution.

Here are some of Smith’s best quotes of the week:

“I took the position from Day One that a map is no less unconstitutional simply because Democrats may support incumbency protection than if Republicans supported incumbency protection”

“A map does not become mysteriously correct just because it has 21 votes. It also must more carefully adhere to the court’s guidelines in following geographic boundaries, compact districts and drawing minority districts in the most compact way possible.”

“Contrary to what Sen. Gaetz suggests, the score is not 32 to 8. The score is zero to one, If the Senate doesn’t get it right this time, the score will be zero and two. Frankly, the Senate will not get a third shot in writing a map.”

Smith’s alternative plan  is reported to be a strict adherence to the spirit of the Fair Districts Amendment that passed in 2010. That’s what Florida’s citizens overwhelmingly voted for and that is what as FDP Chairman Rod Smith is providing. Past sins can easily be washed away in politics by doing the right thing. In 2012, Rod Smith is showing that he has learned for 2002 and is now working in the best interest of his party and the citizens of Florida.

12 thoughts on “Rod Smith: Changed Man?”

  1. I continue to be amazed by the number of Democrats willing to vote against the interest of their party in redistricting. In 2002 the party was dysfunctional and a number of Democrats had come of age when we were in the majority so they voted to protect themselves. But ten years later the mentality should be completely different but it is not.

    I do like that the article correctly points out Smith’s hypocrisy on the issue even if you laud his late conversion. Being a Senator and Party Chair are two different things.

  2. The senate is apparently taking proactive steps to ensure they are not back in court. Random district numbering etc. Smith framed the debate well

  3. Smith is the best chairman we have had in years.

    He is actually taking the fight to the GOP in a very public and uncomfortable way for them.

    Go Rod Go!!!

  4. What really is funny is how Smith is showing blatant hypocrisy from his past position and yet this is the first article I have ever seen that points that out.

  5. Honestly, it is entirely possible based on the court ruling that the Senate can randomly number the districts, alter a few lines subtly and pass court muster this time. Don’t think that this is some sort of great victory for Smith and the party until the final maps are produced.

  6. I’ve been tipped off about 2002 and the author’s complicity in our failed strategy. The author of this piece was actually the person tasked by the Florida Democratic Party to present our objections and alternatives to the Senate Cmte on Redistricting.

    But I am told from someone close to the situation that the author in collusion with Senator Dyer created the opposite; a democratic gerrymander that threw out all incumbents. A moderate sensible approach was needed.

    What resulted was total defeat and annihilation. So ten years later the author, who was serving as one of the first officers on the titanic now blames the senators for the failures of himself and his superiors who were running the FDP at the time. He says their was no strategy in place but fails to mention he was among the people responsible for the strategy.

  7. In 2002, I was responsible for implementing a statewide campaign strategy DEVELOPED BY OTHERS. Moreover, I was retained as a redistricting consultant by OTHER ENTITIES OUTSIDE THE FDP, including several county DECs who were unhappy with the inability of the state party and their communications team to articulate any message on reapportionment. They did the exact opposite of what Smith is doing now. The somehow thought silence was golden and that the courts would throw out the map if it was as bad as possible so they appeared to tacitly encourage as bad a redraw as humanely possible.

    In my capacity for other clients I began working with the Senate Democrats most closely with Senator Dyer and his staff. The FDP itself was not engaged in the process and was so dysfunctional they had to postpone the party convention to April 2002 after it was originally scheduled for December 2001. Due to the anger of some local party officials in the Orlando Area that were working with me and supporting my efforts, the state Party gave me recognition as their rep THE DAY OF THE SENATE REDISTRICTING COMMITTEE MEETING. I was left alone and was literally ambushed by the committee with the Democrats sitting still.

    So while yes, public perception was that I may have had some responsibility for the strategy, I wasn’t. Do you honestly think they’d leave the entire tactical thought process to someone in their mid 20s? No, unless they needed a scapegoat. Granted, I had just a year and a half earlier been one of two key people in changing the recommendations of some of the same state party officials in Palm Beach County’s recount.

    The Orange County DEC in particular was interested in having me work on drawing an alternative plan. If I recall correctly, we didn’t gerrymander in partisan fashion as much as we altered some districts in Central Florida, leaving the rest of the state pretty much in tact. At most the Democrats would have picked up one or two additional seats. That’s it.

  8. I think this is an excellent commentary personally regardless of what the author’s previous sins in the arena were.

  9. Sounds today like the Senate is going to cut since incumbents loose to avoid further court intervention. Smith’s gambit paid off. The House is probably laughing now. By conceding like 5 districts to Ds but maintaining a super majority they avoided court intervention.