Senate Primaries: A Liberal Triumph That Sends A Strong Signal to Party Elites

Bullard’s victory was among the liberal triumphs on primary day

After years and years of Florida Democrats forcing moderate candidates down our throats, progressive voters made a statement in last week’s primary. While the swing voter myth has died a long slow death with Democratic insiders and political consultants throughout Florida, it has become more and more apparent according to pollsters in 2012 that the vast majority of likely voters are dug into their respective ideological camps. A friend of mine, a former DC based political consultant told me this weekend that the only moderates left  in the country are non-voters, lobbyists and political insiders. I concur with this sentiment and while elites decry the growing nastiness of politics and the ideological schisms in our country, politics need to be about big ideas not two parties that are positioned closely in terms of issues, temperament and policy. Democratic activists are fed up with a party in Florida that is driven by elites whose business interests dictate the direction of campaigns instead of the true issues of the day.

Last week, three key Senate Primaries matched true progressives against mushy, special interest driven moderates. Geraldine Thompson, Jeff Clemens and Dwight Bullard all defeated more conservative, big business oriented opposition and sent a strong message across the bow to the elites of our party who have continued to push a phony message of needing to appear pro business and “moderate” on public schools, gun control, and bread and butter economic issues to be successful electorally.

The Florida Senate Democratic Caucus while led ably by Nan Rich the past two years has become dominated by deal cutting Democrats from liberal areas. The likes of Jeremy Ring, Gwen Margolis and Gary Siplin have represented urban areas in a way that has irritated and angered activists and constituents alike and has moved the pendulum of the Democratic caucus towards the middle. Tuesday’s elections will help swing the caucus back to the left and give Florida’s citizens a voice of opposition to the monolithic conservative control of state government imposed by the GOP majority, corporate lobbyists and their Democratic allies in the legislature and the state party.

It is the responsibility of the GOP to govern. Democrats need to create a clear distinction with the majority party and advocate an agenda that the 51% of Floridians that supported Barack Obama in 2008 can coalesce around. This agenda does not need to be written by lobbyists, and other Tallahassee based elites. It needs to be developed in the urban and suburban centers of the new Florida: Orlando, Tampa/St Petersburg, Daytona Beach,  and in the corridor between West Palm Beach and Port St Lucie.  An eye also needs to be cast on the interests in areas such as Jacksonville and Sarasota/Bradenton with large numbers of new residents more aligned with the national Democratic philosophy than that of the GOP of FDP. The Democrats must continue to inspire and turn out base voters in the heavily Democratic corridor between North Miami and Lake Worth which is the most supportive area for national Democrats in the entire southeast USA.

The Florida Democratic Party has  in the last decade largely become an instrument to protect incumbents, many of whom are “moderates” tied to the political class in Tallahassee and special interest lobbyists and a mechanism to dispense patronage when the Democrats win the White House.

While demographic changes have heavily favored the Democratic Party in the three major Metropolitan areas of the state, the FDP has been led for 17 of the past 20 years and each of the last ten by chairs from north of Orlando. With the party staff in Tallahassee seemingly unaware of the opportunities that are abound in the medium sized counties and suburban areas maybe the change can come from the elected officials whose priorities should reflect that of their districts and general areas.

In the era of single member districts Florida’s Democratic legislators seemingly have become less and less aware of the broader picture across the state. Until recently, the Republicans were more aware of statewide attitudes and changes than the Democrats. However, the GOP has since become an arrogant out of touch majority giving the Democrats newly emboldened by fresh progressive blood in our upper chamber the opportunity to turn the tables statewide. The big question is do the elites in the Democratic Party really care to turn the tables on the GOP?

31 thoughts on “Senate Primaries: A Liberal Triumph That Sends A Strong Signal to Party Elites”

  1. Well argued and developed piece. I agree on all counts. Our elites as you call them are comfortable with minority status and don’t want to rock the boat so to speak. They have strong business interests they are protecting.

  2. AIF, the Chamber, Home Builders, Sugar …

    All of these GOP aligned special interests pay Democratic operatives to lobby and consult this creating a one party structure in the state.

  3. Fundamentally nothing is going to change until you have a state party chair not tied to the old order in some respect.

    That has not happened yet and may not happen anytime soon. I am not sure Scott Randolph is the answer as he was in the legislature and probably has the same allies.

  4. Comfort is the key word . D’s who were influence peddlers when we controlled things pivoted to a comfortable accommodation with the Republicans keeping business and using the party apparatus to keep outsiders, activists and the unions away.

    It is all by design.

  5. Well this is a very troubling post.

    The Democrat activists and crazy activists have derailed the party and led to being super minority. Business is not the enemy and those who do not know how to play the game lose. The Democrats cannot play the game and the activists want to form a party where you must meet a strict litmus test as to who can be part of the club. The Republicans do not work that way.

    Clemens will be a disaster. He has no idea how to compromise, or play the game. He is a gadfly and has taken out a rising star Bernard. The black community is pissed at the activists and by extension this website for making an endorsement although it must be said many blacks are happy this website stuck with Lawson while the party backed Bembry.

    Abruzzo will be a good moderate Democrat in the Senate. The activists wanted to create a similar primary trying to recruit Tara Laxer but she wisely choose not to run.

    In the House we are happy with the progress of members. Pafford used to behave like Clemens but now we support him as he is becoming smarter politically and less reactive. Clemens would do well to emulate his example.

  6. Laxer didn’t run because she is policy driven not politically driven. Abruzzo will be just like Sachs. Clueless but pay people off in order to get bad policy pass.

    Clemens will be like how he was in the House. He like Pafford will make a lot of noise and not get anything done since MS and others have no clue on vision, gains or even running Democrats in real seats….yeah like the Democratic Party. Pafford will be the same as he was in the house too. Pafford and Clemens are two peas in a pod.

    Bernard was not a rock star. The biggest loser in this is Sink, Wexler and Deutch. How did you all do? Rader was their win. Need anyone say more.

    In regards to the black community. Just because you are black does not mean you are better for the community. Look at what MS and others have done in South County. Your theory does not fit. The way things are in the state, none of these people need to show up for work.

  7. And this “progressive” triumph is why Dem’s in Florida will continue to be maginalized and have no ability to ever take control of the Florida legislature again…Dem’s can’t win a majority in the House or Senate without support from the business community, those that believe in a strong private enterprise system…trial lawyers, unions and liberals are not enough…neither is President Obama…this “progressive” faction represents the smallest percentage in self-identification among voters, with moderates being the majority nationally and in Florida…so keep crowing about your victories while you remain a vocal but nevertheless a minority in policymaking

  8. Rod Smith is the right image. We need more moderates like him and have to focus on winning back North Florida. You guys keep going on about liberals and the ineptitude of the party but don’t you realize we are seen a stoo liberal already. Here in Gainesville Bosshardt would have won the seat against Perry but now we are stuck with Morey who the activists love but is not electable.

    We have allowed the Republicans to capture most of the counties of the state. You guys show your biases constantly talking about Orlando and south Florida and Tampa but you ignore everything north except Jacksonville. The belt between Tallahassee and Gainesville has more registered Demos than Republicans unlike many of the counties down south but yet gets ignored. Taylor, Union, Suwanee, Columbia, Levy, Gilchirst, Lafayette, Madison, Hamilton, etc are waiting to come home but not with a Democratic Party dominated by ethnics from southern Florida whether they are blacks, Jewish, Hispanics, whatever. Our caucus is so minority driven it is scary to those in North Florida.

    We have allowed the Republicans to dominate the white vote statewide, the majority of the voters after all while we settle for the blacks, Jews and Hispanics and send the wrong image. I am all for equality and fairness but when your party doesn’t look like the majority of the state you cannot win. Obama has been a disaster pushing all these liberal programs and not learning the lessons from Clinton of triangulation, and creating a wedge between mainstream white middle class voters and the conservative whackos in the Republican elite.

  9. Well said. These special interests, unions and trial lawyers from Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale etc have ended common sense and disconnected the party from everyday Floridians. I am a real Democrat unlike these left wing whack jobs.

  10. Well said. If the Dens had stayed true to their principles we would still win those areas and would have all D legislators like we did in the early 1990s from Pensacola to Gainesville. They had 1 seat and we had 15 or do. Now we have 4 and they have 12 or so and you wonder why they have a majority.

    We stupidly go hunting votes in places like Orlando and Sarasota which have been Republican since the 1950s and abandoned our loyalist voters. These city slickers and big city lawyers have finished us off.

  11. No racism. Just anger at how non big tent inclusive the Democrats are in Florida. A party where white christians can’t get elected.

  12. While I sympathize with some of the sentiments here, times change and the independent vote in Central Florida is far more important than the Dixiecrat vote the Panhandle.

  13. I agree with the above sentiments. The lobbyists and Tallahassee consultants are vets who understand what’s happened in our state and want to ensure the Democrats compete. The loony leftists like the ones here in S Florida and the author of this blog have taken us off the cliff. Their patron saint Barack Obama has pushed a socialist health care plan, a pro Arab foreign policy and an anti religious policy on contraception.

    Obama and these liberal Democrats have made it impossible to win the heartland of the state. Bembry’s loss is devastating for those of us who hope our party will wake up. He will be missed. Same with Saunders.

  14. Democrats were losing the heartland of the state long before Obama was on the scene. We lost two Polk County seats and by extension the House in 1996 when the “moderate” Bill Clinton was at the top of the ticket. Adam Putnam and Paula Dockery were elected and the GOP took a 61-59 House majority. Both Putnam and Dockery proved to be able legislators something most candidates who at the time were recruited by Florida Democrats would not have been. Our party pandered to lobbyists and these so-called “moderates” by consistently nominating candidates that stood for nothing and had a mish mash of inconsistent policy positions. They were neither liberals nor conservatives and the voters rejected them. Why vote for a phony conservative in a party that stands for nothing when you can have a real one like Putnam in the actual conservative party? Heartland voters since 1998 when Rick Dantzler resigned from the Senate and 1999 when Joe Spratt switched parties have not elected a single Democrat to the legislature. I don’t think any Fla voters had ever heard of Barack Obama at the time.

  15. I actually don’t disagree with this sentiment. Reaching out to white males and making an economic argument why white working class voters should back us is something we MUST do to win back a majority statewide. But listening to AIF, the Chamber and other Tallahassee based big money institutional lobbyists is going to do the trick. Being economic populists will do the trick.

  16. That was around the time Tom Tobiassen (who recall was a Republican who became a Democrat to have a seat drawn for him) wanted to split everything from the Apalachicola River west off and join it with Alabama. Culturally, voters west of Panama City are not only conservative but military oriented and left the national Democratic party a long, long time ago. Yes they kept Bob Sikes and Earl Hutto around but they were not Democrats. Would I like to win back West Florida? YES! But can it happen? No, although Obama’s performance numbers were better than Kerry’s or Sink in those counties.

    Between the Apalachicola and Suwanee Rivers their just aren’t enough voters to bother (Leon excepted of course). I know this upsets many Tallahassee based consultants and lobbyists who know this area better than the rest of the state. Do I want to win back this area? I really don’t care honestly. The numbers here are inconsequential in a statewide election and Obama performed WORSE here than Kerry or Sink and race cannot be discounted as an issue in that performance, especially considering Obama performed better across the state than those two candidates EXCEPT in this area.

    By the way you are going off old logic. In 1994, when Chiles was re-elected registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 20,000 in Orange County (Orlando). Today, their are 75,000 plus more registered Democrats in Orange and NPA’s are actually poised to overtake registered Republicans in the next ten years.

    Also Bill Clinton got trounced in Orange County in 1992 while 16 years later Barack Obama carried the county by 20 points. The area has completely changed, but it’s no surprise someone who seems to be in Tallahassee and unaware of what goes on south of the Big Bend would be unaware of these seismic changes.

  17. Lewis in Lauderdale

    Agree with everything here. This was a pivotal election for progressives and those who do not want us to play dead in the face of the GOP.

  18. If it’s true that Democrats need to move to the left in order to win Florida, then why is it that center right candidates like Bill Nelson and Alex Sink are able to outperform fellow Democrats in conservative areas by as much as 20 points? It seems to me to be wishful thinking on behalf of Mr. Krishnaiyer here.

  19. That’s why Sink ran BEHIND Obama’s numbers in every single urban county in the state. The liberal got out more votes. I know many Democrats who did not vote or skipped the Governor and Cabinet races and went down ballot to vote on other things. Nelson ran against Katherine Harris so I wouldn’t read too much into that election.

  20. I’m speaking specifically on Alex Sinks 2006 numbers, but even in 2010 she outperformed other Democrats in the same year by 6-7 points. Let’s not read to much in to 2010, that was a wave year that knocked a lot of people out and we had no control of.

  21. True in 2006 although I think Tom Lee was a weak Republican and that election like 2010 is an outlier being an overly Democratic year all over the country.

  22. Sink is a real leader unlike Obama who we will all reluctantly vote for. Look how much stronger she ran in most of the state. Obama ran up a big margin among blacks and Hispanics but lost everyone and everywhere else.

    We must run conservatives and moderates to win.

  23. All Obama's Fault?

    From the Times-Union

    The most remarkable thing about recent switches from the Democratic to Republican Party is that they aren’t very remarkable.

    More than 440 other elected Democratic officeholders have changed parties since the Clinton-Gore election of 1992 – 62 of them in Florida alone.

    State Rep. Bud Bronson, whose father and great-grandfather also were lawmakers, has served the Kissimmee area since 1983. As a conservative, he was left behind as his party drifted to the left.

    He was expelled from the Democratic Caucus, for example, when he voted to make Dan Webster the first Republican House speaker in more than 100 years.

    He crossed party lines numerous times during the past session, supporting everything from the A-plus education plan to the billion-dollar tax cut.

    ”Today,” Bronson declared, ”I am joining the party that truly represents the ideals to which I hold firm, as well as the party that best represents the values of my constituents.”

    That is a powerful message to the Democratic Party’s leadership.

    Interestingly, the Republicans gained a majority on the Kissimmee City Council the same day when one of its members switched parties.

    Also, on the heels of Bronson’s switch, Rep. Joe Spratt of LaBelle became the sixth House Democrat in two years to join the GOP. Last year, Spratt was one of the few Democrats who voted for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s education bill allowing the use of school vouchers.

    The Florida House now stands at 75 Republicans and 45 Democrats.

    The Democrats held a majority in the House as recently as 1995.

    The latest converts are ”Blue Dogs,” conservative Democrats in Southern states who joined the party when it dominated the South but tend to vote often with the modern GOP.

    The name evolved from the old ”Yellow Dog” label for Democrats who were such diehard party loyalists that they said they would vote for a yellow dog rather than a Republican. The Blue Dogs say their conservative views have been choked off by their party’s yellow dog wing, turning them blue.

    There was a time when Democrats were a clear majority nationwide – also when it was a waste of time to run for office as a Republican in Florida.

    Unless the Democratic Party’s leadership gets back in touch with mainstream America, its ranks may continue to decline.

  24. Right – the biggest wave of party switching in the south among office holders took place between 1995 and 1999. Despite being a southerner and moderate, Clinton’s Presidency opened the door for GOP domination of the region. At the same time Clinton’s Presidency began the process of destroying the last shreds of the ancesterol GOP domination of the Northeast.

  25. We could have beaten Abruzzo if Laxer had run. Smart, young and HOT! But she is not running because she is not playing the game and is only concerned about good policy.

  26. Abruzzo will be fine and Laxer knows that. Move on because she has and so has he. Next round please.

  27. Nick Lake Worth

    Here is the issue with this state, candidates, etc in a nutshell. The Ds are not smart on any level nor are the Republicans. Even in Democratic seats, the establishment are running people like Sachs, Abruzzo, Bernard and helping Rs in the process. Between pushing Crist and backing Green & his hookers on his boat, you will continue to have bad elected officials. The reason why good people don’t run is because they are too smart and they can achieve things outside of the legislature.

    Take at look at this. In south county we saw the Rader issue because of Deutch and Wexler, we saw Deutch endorse Abruzzo before the redistricting was even finalized and we saw Robert get involved. Isn’t everyone tired of this guy already?

    Lawmakers want to block the redistricting testimony because what both parties did was probably illegal. Look at when Deutch put his nose in the races and wait until you see what is next.

    North County is not going to take this crap Teddy.