Mario for FDP DNC Person

It’s unlikely anyone will ever mistake me for a traditionalist. I’ve decided to run for FDP DNC Person and hope to have your support. Below is my fairly non-traditional announcement.

I started to think about this as I listened to the FDP Chair candidates on PNN being interviewed by the united clubs and caucuses. They answered questions with theories of things that might be good as if those things were only theoretical, that they had never been tried in practice. Having ventured into the political world outside of Florida, I’ve seen these things in the wild. I’ve also seen the party organizations and how they operate in a number of states. I’ve been doing this long enough, and in enough places, to recognize what is a real problem to be solved and what is a symptom of another problem.

We need radical change, but at the same time, we cannot afford regressive steps. We need people in the room that understand how these things really work, with the perspective to understand potential changes.

Most of all, we need people who are going to be most concerned with advancing our values and not their own power. Restoring trust must be our primary focus and woven into everything we do.

While I am not running for FDP Chair, I used the chair questionnaire created by the unified clubs and caucuses to give voting members a fairly comprehensive understanding of my values, my understanding of the party organization & politics, and what they can expect if they elect me. Some of the answers reflect what I would like to see from the next chair, rather than “what I will do.”

In addition, they can expect me to attend the meetings, put in the work and research to get the job done, and to do anything I can to help ensure that our values and the candidates fighting for our values find better success tomorrow than they found yesterday.

I’m happy to talk about these things with the voting members, my phone number is nine-oh-four-three-4-5-zero-zero-72. I’m generally happy to talk about these things with anyone really. It’s what I’ve been doing for more than a decade.

 

PARTY OPERATIONS

  1. The LEAD Report, which was produced by a special task force following the 2014 election, recommended modernizing the FDP’s Bylaws. At around the same time, the DNC Rules Committee said that the FDP’s use of the weighted vote is in violation of DNC Rules & Bylaws and must be changed. In October 2015, a Special Rules Committee of the FDP introduced a proposal to change party bylaws to achieve these goals, but because of the election, the proposal was tabled. This proposal included two big changes. The first would move from the current weighted vote system (as required by the DNC) to one person/one vote through proportional allocation (like Congress). This would create delegations of differing sizes from each county. The second change would open up our Chair elections to allow any Democrat in Florida to run. Do you support or oppose these changes and why?

I fully support elimination of the weighted vote, and replacing that with a proportionally allocated one person, one vote system. I would add a wrinkle, applying a bonus delegate to the highest performing DECs based on meeting attendance (proportional to Democratic population), seats filled with competitive Democratic candidates, and growth of the DEC. This would encourage and reward growth and improvement.

I put forward a petition proposing rules reform including eliminating the weighted vote. We need to see more leadership on solving this, not because the DNC says it’s against the rules, but because it is just wrong and horribly detrimental to our party.

The weighted vote is an example of the politics of power preservation. It is the enemy of diversity, inclusion, and empowerment. It also functions to destroy accountability and promote reduced transparency. In the battle to restore trust and the Party’s brand, ending the weighted vote is a great first step.

I would support opening eligibility for chair and other state party offices to any registered Democrat who attains the exclusive support of a small number, possibly five members of the state executive committee, representing no fewer than three counties.

I would also support imposing ethics rules and financial disclosure on county and state chair races. We need to increase transparency, expand opportunity, and eliminate both corruption and the appearance thereof if we want our party to survive and grow stronger. We must recognize that the trust deficit is the greatest challenge we face right now. A huge number of activists, candidates, and donors have lost faith in the party due to a history of bad candidates/campaigns, bad rules, a lack of transparency, disingenuous outreach, and consistent failure. Trust must be earned. It’s up to us to take real action to earn that trust.

 

  1. One of the reasons for the proposed rules changes was to bring more diversity to the State Executive Committee. As chair of the party, how will you reach out to communities of color, young voters, people with disabilities, veterans, etc., to be sure that party leadership more accurately reflects the Democratic base? What role would party caucuses play in that outreach?

It needs to be less about reaching out and more about including from the start. We cannot continue to dump money on disingenuous minority outreach in the final months of an election. Our leadership, on the state committee and the party staff, must reflect our state and the members of our party. Our tables must be filled with diverse voices, and those voices must be empowered to participate. We cannot continue to hold events where only the wealthy can afford to attend and fully participate.

Clubs, caucuses, and allied constituency organizations should be engaged and included, not as an afterthought, but as primary participants and contributors. The clubs and caucuses should also serve as vehicles for development and mentorship, helping to improve our ability to organize and execute and building a more diverse array of talent to perpetuate party growth.

 

  1. Given that more than 60% of Florida’s Democrats live south of the I-4 Corridor, would you favor moving party headquarters away from Tallahassee? Why or why not?

Yes. Orlando seems to be the most logistically advantageous, but we need to open this discussion, explore what options are feasible, and incorporate the decision into a long-term plan for building party infrastructure that can enable our success for decades. An office in Tallahassee should be maintained, and party leadership should work from that office during the legislative session as is appropriate.

It would be ideal if our HQ could also serve to host trainings and some of our meetings/events. Creating a central hub available at low/no cost would facilitate engaging with activists, clubs, caucuses, and allies.

 

  1. Party events are generally held in expensive and sometimes inaccessible hotels, which prevents many Democrats from attending. What steps would you take to be more inclusive?

As I mentioned above, this practice must end. All party events should be affordable and accessible. We also need them to bigger and more engaging. Our biggest events should be in civic centers, not ballrooms. You can charge huge sums for tables on the floor and a few dollars for seats in the arena. Top tier guest speakers combined with quality event programs, training options, and bidirectional engagement will help drive the party forward. Expanding the party must be a part of everything we do, while improving the reputation and respect of the Democratic brand.

Accessibility needs to become an automatic component of all party activities. From ADA parking accommodations to ASL interpreters. Like some of the other things I’ve mentioned, these things cost money. But that’s not a reason not to have them. We must do these things because they are right, not because we can afford them. We must work to persuade current party donors to WANT to fund these things, as opposed to the ineffective end of campaign TV ads they are so happy to direct their money towards. Democracy is hard. We must put in the work to afford it. We must prioritize practicing what we preach. We cannot expect the people we elect, the campaigns they run, or the opposition, to take us seriously when we aren’t walking the walk.

  1. The 2016 election brought calls for open primaries. With more voters, especially young people, registering as No Party Affiliates, would you favor open primaries? Why or why not?

Open Primaries are a bad idea. They open what should be a party process up to external gamesmanship. The current impetus for moving to open primaries is based on actual flaws in our system that we should address. The first problem is that young people are choosing to register NPA – why? Because they don’t trust the Democratic Party. That’s what we need to fix. Restore the trust. Engage and welcome them into the party. Empower them rather than placate them. We should also push to expand voter registration through the first week of early voting, allowing for “same day voting” for one week each election. Combine this with other voting rights expansions such as making it easier to register (or moving to automatic registration), restoring the rights of adjudicated felons, and ending the expiration of VBM status and we will be on our way to expanding the electorate and improving turnout. The second problem is consistently giving voters no choices or bad choices in primaries. We must stop being hostile to primaries and start being hostile to Democrats who run bad (sewer) primary campaigns. Hold them accountable, demand better, and provide the training to help future candidates do better. If you provide voters with a good reason to be registered Democrats, those numbers will shift in our favor again.

As someone who has worked in open primary states, states without party registration, and in jungle/top-two primary systems, I know well how those systems work, how they impact party and campaign organizations. The first obvious issue is the loss of data. It matters. The best funded candidates, and the corporate funded GOP, can buy data to offset the loss. Most good, honorable, and progressive candidates cannot afford that. Jungle (aka top-two) primaries are among the worst possible systems. Implementation in California, Washington, and Louisiana has shown over and over that it is a bad system for Democracy and a great system for corruption and substance-free well financed candidates. If you are looking for a state party chair that understands campaigns and elections, do not look to anyone who supports Jungle Primaries. No, they will not help relieve partisan conflict. No, they will not help within the party. They are a terrible idea and even a little bit of research into the actual functionality of the system since it was put in place in California and Washington should easily dissuade anyone who understands elections from supporting such an abomination. Focus on the real problems, not the itchy rash at the surface.

 

  1. What changes would you like to see from the next DNC chair?

First and foremost, the next FDP chair must lead on reforming the rules and bylaws to eliminate the weighted vote and end the politics of power preservation. We need more leaders who work to elevate others rather than focus on maintaining their power.

Entwined with that, and in everything else we do, we must work to earn back the trust and respect of voters, activists, candidates, and young people. Part of that is also practicing respect for those that do show up; we need to hold better meetings/events with worthwhile content, we need to ensure that guest speakers are committed to staying on topic and within time limits, and we must demand respect of our elected officials.

From the DNC Chair, we need to see a commitment to ending the politics of power preservation, an expanded 50 state strategy, and a committed effort to improving the quality of our national, state, and local party organizations, candidates, and campaigns. Part of that should include a plan to reduce the turnover of staffers due to low wages, mistreatment, and lack of job stability.

As a general basis for everything, the following must become true: “Values come before money and power.

 

STRATEGY

  1. What is on your task list for your first 100 days in office? (Author’s note, answered as to what I think should be the next chair’s first 100 days task list, not my own.)

Rules reform, the next quarterly meeting must include a full package of rules reform and between now and then support for that package must be earned… To build that package there must be extensive bidirectional dialogue with members of the committee and other leaders around the state.

Alongside that activity there must be a true long-term plan built, one that provides for extensive infrastructure building including training, expanding the party staff to include experienced professionals in every aspect/department and building systems for mentoring both internally and within the county DECs, clubs, and caucuses.

Given the reality of the calendar, preparation and improvement of the annual Leadership Blue event and coming convention will likely consume time during those 100 days. Nothing should be done just because it’s what we have always done, we must seek to make everything we do purposeful and beneficial.

Our donor base must be radically expanded. The party has seen some success in soliciting small donors in recent years, but it’s still well behind where it should be. This should include hiring talented in-house staff to engage in a full time quality digital program.

The last key component of those 100 days is to monitor, and where appropriate, engage with municipal elections around the state. No thumbs on scales in primaries, but there should be opportunities to engage in a positive manner that can help restore the party brand and advance our values.

  1. Why did Democrats fail in the last election?

The same places they’ve failed for decades. We must stop functioning from a playbook designed to prolong large majorities and preserve the power of a few and start fighting for every inch.

The short answer is we failed everywhere. We failed to recruit enough quality candidates and get them engaged in quality campaigns early enough. We failed to develop a cohesive message that resonated with voters. We were handed a golden opportunity with the court victory on Fair Districts, but were unprepared for the opportunities and fallout thereof. We have to stop adhering to old ideas that resources are finite and must be narrowly focused and start realizing that resources grow when we give them a good reason to grow. That means candidates, messages, passion, vision… We must do everything better.

  1. How will you work to rebuild a positive public image of the Florida Democratic Party?

Quite a bit of this is woven in my answers above. It starts with changing our internal rules and behavior to reflect our values. After that, it’s about improving the quality of the product we put on the shelf. Our candidates and campaigns must better. They must stand for something that resonates and they must be able to communicate that effectively. The party itself must improve our meetings and events, from the local/county level all the way up. We must stop begging for scraps when it comes to speakers and content, and start demanding the best of the best. The number of top tier Democrats that come to our state and collect fundraising checks but don’t do anything to support our local and state party is unacceptable, and to change that, we need to earn the respect of the donors here, and then have them join party leaders in demanding the same respect from the candidates that want to visit the Florida ATM.

We need a proactive, positive, narrative-rich communications operation. We need to stop engaging in seeking political-tabloid coverage, and start aiming our message at our potential voters. We need to get creative about that, finding new ways to reach people and new people to reach.

  1. What are reasonable goals for the 2018 election?

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to aim for winning Governor and Attorney General in 2018, as well as making significant gains in both chambers of the state legislature. In part, this is aided by the likelihood that with a non-Democrat in the White House and both branches of Congress, it should be a leftward swinging midterm. To get there, we need quality candidates in a robust POSITIVE primary. They need to make the case for our values, for their vision, and they cannot make mistakes that put their trustworthiness in question. The party cannot be perceived as putting it’s thumb on the scale for any candidate before the primary. The party should demand and facilitate quality debates between the primary candidates.

At the end of the 2018 election, we should be able to look back at strong party registration numbers, expanded lists of volunteers and donors, and a large cadre of trained candidates, activists, and staff.

  1. Infrastructure
  • How will you build permanent infrastructure in all 67 counties so the party can expand voter registration and improve Democratic performance? How would your strategy differ for small, rural and/or red counties?

We have a small number of counties with no DEC at all, while this pains me, short-term I think the best move is to punt on those and focus on growing and improving the operations in the other 50+ counties. The FDP should be doing more to provide content, news, and information about the legislative happenings at the state and federal level to our members, clubs, and caucuses, and to engage our county DECs with worthwhile actions. It can’t just be list-building games. We have to make a real effort to effect change.

We need training programs and state party staff that respectfully assist county DEC leaders raise money, improve meeting quality, plan and execute events and actions, and recruit candidates for local races.

The small counties have in many ways been outworking many of our large counties, we need to recognize that. Despite being ignored and neglected, they have organized, held trainings, conducted voter registration efforts, exceeded goals on VBM performance, and in general fought a hell of a fight.

One thing they need is help expanding awareness, in reaching behind their core groups to the larger communities. They need resources that at larger scale are very affordable, but to each individual county are beyond reach. There is no reason we couldn’t have a paid fund raising, field, and communications staff that through a partnership program with the FDP work for 3 or more of the small and medium counties.

Year round. We need to stop looking at the calendar and only seeing the months immediately prior to an election. They all matter. The work we do 2 years before an election has more value than the work we do on the eve of the election. It needs to be constant and high quality.

  • Recognizing there is a need for more funding across the board, how would you prioritize the following:

Candidate support

DEC, club, and caucus support

FDP staffing

Training

Technology

In many ways, the answer is Yes. We must do all of these things, if that means we have to bring in more staff and get more time from our leaders and elected officials to fund raise, that’s what we have to do. Nothing should be an island, it all needs to be working together, growing together, and in turn it will help generate greater fund raising.

  • Under some previous administrations, teaching DEC members how to organize and win was a high priority. What types of professional training programs will you provide to local DECs in order to help them run more effective organizations?

We need to provide extensive training, partner with quality training organizations and/or bring in great trainers to work with our DEC leaders, prospective candidates, elected officials, activists, and students. These trainings need to be included in the content of our quarterly events, conducted regularly at party HQ, and regionally throughout the state.

As mentioned above, a key component in doing this well long term is improving the experience level and capacity of hired staff. In a state as large as ours, must of our needs should be met in-house. Our staff at the state party should be capable of earning the respect of county DEC leaders, and trusted as the first place to turn for help. And that staff should be eager to help and teach.

  • How will you inspire more active participation in the party? What is your position on working with NPAs?

As mentioned many times above, it is incumbent on us to improve the party brand and thus inspire NPAs that lean left (or are left of left) to re-register as Democrats.

In terms of our general activity, we should be welcoming NPAs to our events and reaching out to them with our messaging, not by shifting our values or softening our commitment, but by finding ways to connect with them and engage them.

In terms of inspiring more active participation in the party, that requires the restoration of trust, and legitimate efforts to engage and empower. If we improve the quality of our product, we will draw in more volunteers. If we field more and better candidates, provided with great training, we will radically expand participation.

  • When you think about building infrastructure, how do you view FDP clubs and caucuses and their role in the party?

Clubs and Caucuses are amazing, in that most of them have some share of membership that is disillusioned with the party itself, but continue to be engaged by their club/caucus. We need to embrace that and utilize it. We need to look to the leaders of those orgs and engage them in larger roles, learn from them, and do more to engage with those clubs and caucuses to play significant roles in party activities.

I can talk for days about building infrastructure. And it’s more than just putting a huge pile of money on the table. You need a plan, you need to understand the mechanics in play, you need to build your infrastructure with your values intertwined throughout.

Getting the HQ into the middle of the state is a good step, but long-term, we need permanent regional staff to partner with County organizations and serve as political hubs for candidate campaigns and allied organizations. We need to pay our staff quality wages and treat them with respect to ensure minimal turnover.

We need to make mentorship and training something that no Democrat wanting more can’t find.

There is several weeks of work done at the start of every significant campaign that should be a book (digital!) that is handed over from the state party. This would include things like lists of union printers and other vendors, grass-top leaders in the district, organizations that conduct endorsement processes, friendly businesses, venues for events, and a landscape memo on the district. The terms for receiving the “book” is returning it at the end of the campaign with improvements.

Through this basic information, we could significantly improve the quality of our campaigns.

  1. Policy
  • Where do you stand on the current Florida Democratic Party Platform? When considering the constituencies in the state party, what would you add, and what process would you use to change the platform?

Let’s start with the communication end. Our platform has no legs. Unless you go looking for it, or infer it from the passive aggressive tweets and snarky memes, you won’t find it. It should be pushed out in a proactive messaging strategy through surrogates and narrative messaging.

As far as composition goes, so long as the weighted vote is our norm and diversity is minimal, we can’t expect our state committee to produce a platform that will be accepted by Democrats across the state as “theirs.” We should include a platform process open to a wider array of voices from our DECs, Clubs, Caucuses, and allies like the DNC’s process, at least quadrennial. Possibly concurrent with the first or second quarterly state party meeting following a midterm election, allowing our platform to be updated prior to the Presidential primary heating up.

  • Would you continue the current process where the party takes positions on Constitutional amendments?

Yes. We need to be aggressive about informing voters about these near-permanent actions that can radically effect our state and communities.

  1. Candidates
  • The FDP seems to be in a difficult position. There were many questions about the FDP recruiting candidates all the way down to local races while also remaining neutral in primary elections. However, there were also lots of questions expressing frustration that the party seems to hand pick candidates and not support those with grassroots support. How would you handle a situation where you have recruited a candidate to run for an office, then another Democrat decides to run for that same office?

This isn’t a difficult situation. The party should be constantly recruiting, training, and mentoring future candidates. They should be providing resources to all candidates who meet minimum standards in primaries. They should not EVER be promising a “clear field” to anyone. Any candidate who wants or needs that isn’t worthy of our support. Being a candidate is hard. Building a good campaign is hard. Primaries are the best way to learn how to do those things, improve what you are doing, and the absolute best way to ensure we have the best possible chance of winning the general election.

Candidates should be offered support and guidance, and they should be informed that the same will be offered to any potential primary opponents they may have. To some this may be unpalatable, but this is what our values should look like in practice, and it is the best policy in all respects.

If we are transparent and honest in our behavior, we will grow respect and trust from potential candidates. We will build something they want to be a part of, rather than the situation now where it resembles begging.

  • Will you require candidates to support the party platform (LGBTQ, reproductive choice, disability, public education, environmental, gun safety, diversity, wage issues, etc.) and participate in debates (primary and general election) in order to get party support?

Any candidate that does not support equality is not worthy of party support. That’s a full stop deal breaker. All candidates seeking the Democratic nomination and support of the FDP should support the party’s platform. Is there room for minor disagreement around the edges? Sure. But if you disagree with our members on key platform issues, you shouldn’t be eligible for any party support. I would trust either the state committee or a sub-committee thereof to establish a simple and well disclosed set of criteria that would include platform positions and campaign performance metrics. Candidates failing to meet these basic standards would not be welcome to participate in party hosted events including debates. We have to raise the bar for campaign quality.

  • What steps will you take to build a Democratic bench of diverse candidates in all 67 counties of Florida?

Bottom up and top down investment and empowerment. We need to be working hard to improve the party brand and inspire more participation and we need to provide local DECs the resources and know-how to recruit local candidates.

  • Coordinated campaigns only seem to work in one direction in Florida. How would you guarantee that top of the ticket races work with down ballot candidates?

The easiest way is to make it clear to top of ticket candidates that they can’t win without help from the down ballot races. In part this will take time, respect is earned. The candidate campaigns have no respect for the state party because it deserves none. We must be honest about that.

Beyond that, through expansive training programs, and better candidate recruitment, those top of ticket campaigns will want more from those down ballot races and thus learn to respect them. There is no guarantee, but our state chair and leadership should certainly be more bold in demanding the respect for other Democrats from those wishing to take higher offices.

  1. Messaging – In your own words, how would you tell the Democratic Story?

In selfishness and greed a few may find glory, but most will find pain. Though effective government, our shared contributions can be turned into the prosperity of all. We should be judged by the least among us, and we must strive to make tomorrow better than today. As Democrats, this is what we work for, what we fight for; for all.

PARTY UNITY

  1. As you’ve traveled the state during your campaign for state party chair, have you see a divide between Bernie-Hillary supporters? If so, how do you bridge that divide?

There is a divide and we must close it. That starts by recognizing that the problems go back much further than the 2016 POTUS Primary, and that our rules and bylaws are designed to exacerbate such rifts. By delivering real reform, we can close that divide and build a stronger party forward.

  1. Some constituency groups in the party feel they are only valued at election time. How would you change that perception?

 They are correct and it must change. Inclusion is an everyday process, not a semiannual event. We change the perception by changing the reality.

  1. Will you pledge to work with your opponents in this race regardless of the results?

I will pledge to open the door to anyone who genuinely wants work to advance Democratic values, as I always have.

 EXPERIENCE

  1. How will your election as chair strengthen the Florida Democratic Party?

 I’m not running for chair, but as DNC Person, I will fight for reform of rules and process, and to ensure that the party is being transparent and honest. I will also use my unique perspective and experience to help the DNC improve infrastructure and better assist Democrats seeking office and governing, while not tolerating any effort to put the thumb of the party on the scale in primaries against Democrats in good standing.

  1. What differentiates you from the other candidates in the race and how do you think your management style will differ from theirs?

 Again, for DNC Person, not chair. There aren’t more than a few people in the country with the experience I have, working campaigns and elections, as well as legislative activity, in more than a dozen states. This includes key swing states like Ohio and Virginia, early states Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, and extensive experience here in Florida. I’ve attended county party meetings in more than 30 counties of Florida, and many dozen counties across the country. I’ve worked with the state parties in several states, and on elections at every level in every type of district/community you can imagine.

I’m proud to be a founding board member of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

Everywhere I have gone, I have earned respect and found ways to work with grasstops, potential allies, and rivals. I’ve helped candidates and campaigns endure moments of crisis, and done my best to leave each place a little better than I found it.

In 12 years as a professional progressive organizer, I’ve worked hard to both learn and teach. To take some of my wisdom and experience to each place I visit, and to take some wisdom from the local activists, staff, and candidates with me when I leave. We need to expand our perspective and reconsider how and why we do things.

We have an enormous trust deficit and our party brand is tarnished. We need to work hard to earn back trust and through real action improve our party brand to aid the state parties and our candidates across the nation. If you elect me to this position as DNC Person, I will work hard to achieve that end.

I’m asking for your support to be one of Florida’s DNC Persons.

1 Comment

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  1. Well said, Mario. We need more value based and goal-oriented progressives like you within the DNC. You’d have my vote, were I to have one to give.

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