How Can Florida Democrats Lose More?

The easiest way would be to diminish the support for Democratic candidates among minority communities.  Enter the aftermath of Florida’s victory on 5&6, a legal challenge led by prominent black leader, Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville/Orlando) and prominent Cuban leader, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami) to block 5&6 on the basis of detriment to black and Hispanic representation.

I will not waste time hashing out whether or not their claim has merit, though I find it without merit, but rather focus my concern on how this will impact the Democratic party regardless of the outcome.  The racial equality components of the Voting Rights Act are Federal Law and must be adhered to regardless of state redistricting policy.  5&6 will be utilized within those confines, reducing the incumbent friendly absurdly shaped districts but maintaining majority-minority (or near majority) districts.

The media will be eager to cover a dispute between the Democratic Party and a number of key constituencies of the Democratic party.  There will be briefings filed, legal processes, press releases launched and interviews on local, state and national TV.  None of it will be focused on what we should be talking about.  It will be at best a distraction and at worst, a public relations nightmare.  The discussions in the media will not be centered around the tremendous leap forward in Democracy 5&6 represent, it won’t be about the underhanded efforts of the (Republican) opponents to add opposing measures to the ballot, it won’t be about how badly the current and incoming legislatures misrepresent the people of Florida on so many issues.  The focus will be about racial conflict where little exists, relatively small disagreements inflated to maximum proportions to sell newspapers and gain TV viewers.  At the end of the battle, the loser, regardless of legal outcomes, will be the Florida Democratic Party – if the FDP is seen as the primary defending force of 5&6, which is exactly what it will be if Rod Smith runs the defense of 5&6 and serves as Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.  One might even question the desirability of him heading the defense of 5&6 should he not seek the chairmanship officially, as the Democratic Nominee for LG and a past candidate for Governor as a Democrat, there is no doubt he is part of the “Democratic Establishment.”

The notion of one person occupying both of those roles is foolish at best…but really malpractice is the best word I can come up with.  This idea flies in the face of the atmosphere that the Fair Districts campaign was based on, separating party from the issue and focusing on what is best for the people of Florida.  Why would we abandon that attitude now in such a big way?

I encourage Democratic leaders to step forward and help lead the discussion about why 5&6 are good for Florida, I also hope they restrain their role to unofficial – cheerleaders and counter weights to the attacks lobbed by their Republican counterparts.  Let people unaffiliated with the party take up the defense, in a vigorous manner, with minimized detriment to the Democratic Party.

Those in the media, the opposition party and supporters thereof, will do their best to take full advantage of the situation.  Images that reflect poorly on our party will be easy to find, emphasizing racial and class based rifts, ignoring the much larger chasms of the same regard within the Republican party.  Discussions of the failures of Democrats to correct or even understand issues within minority communities will be given center stage for the duration of the process, re-hashed with each new development, however insignificant.  The Republicans know that they just need to suppress minority turnout for Democrats a small percentage to secure victory the Republican Presidential nominee and the nominee for Bill Nelson’s Senate seat (George Lemuix?), not to mention down ticket pickups at all levels.

We must make the 2012 election one of expansion and growth, not retraction.  We must have a full time party chair, dedicated to recruiting candidates, developing and disseminating a message, overseeing strategy, training and execution, on a much higher level than the FDP has been operating at in recent years.  We need contested primaries and we need candidates that will be proud of their Democratic values.

One attribute being peddled as “key to being a successful chairman” I have seen repeated often is that the next chair must be able to raise money. Indicating there is a talent or history required to show this – in most situations, this is valid, though less of a priority then one might think – more important is the willingness and time to do the work needed to fund raise, the institution and success/competence thereof will drive fundraising, regardless of the talent level of the chairmen.  In other words, it is like gym class, the effort is what is graded, not the talent.  This is more true than ever in the 2012 election cycle.  As in 2008, a guy from Chicago will be on the ballot.  President Barack Obama will be seeking re-election, Florida is a crucial swing state and fund raising will not be a challenge for the Presidential campaign, DNC or state parties.  It only takes effort.  A part time chairman is NOT ACCEPTABLE – this is a full time job that needs a full time commitment.  Anyone not willing to give that, and more (40 hours/week doesn’t get the job done) should not apply.

For candidates, the talent of fund raising is more important, but also it is incumbent on the FDP to do more to ensure that all our candidates are better trained at fund raising and all other aspects of campaigning.  We left a lot of votes on the table due to inadequate or non-existent training in 2008 and 2010, we must do better in 2012.

Show me… a chairman who will dedicate themselves to improving the way the FDP operates, increasing the talent level of staff and county DEC members through training where possible and replacement where necessary.  A chair that will not only recruit candidates themselves, but will provide the resources for staff (current or new) that will systematically work to fill as many races in all 67 counties with viable candidates that can inspire and disseminate the Democratic message.  A chair that will encourage primaries rather than compromise the values of the party to avoid them.  A chair that will do more to involve young people, minorities and technology.  A chair that will act with independence from establishment figures, putting the party as a whole above the election or re-election of any one individual.  Show me that chair and I’ll get excited in a hurry…

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