The Florida Democratic Party uses a weighted vote system with its State Committee members. This system is controversial as at least in theory disproportionately favors the three urban southeast Florida counties over the rest of the state. These counties arguably have little in common with the other 64 counties, yet can ostensibly control the party under this system with little coalition building.
This weighted vote has made the current chair’s race close. Were the rules that govern the RPOF Chair elections in place, Allison Tant would have already wrapped a victory. It is worth noting that the geographic variation of recent Republican Party Chairs has been far greater than among the Democrats at the same time, with the RPOF having been led in the previous ten years by chairs from just about every corner of the state, SE Florida excluded. The Democrats who have become overly dependent on urban areas for votes have not had a Chairman from a major urbanized area since Bob Poe left the job on January 2003, a statistic not lost on many from those areas. The last three chairs have failed to build the party structure in large counties both from the standpoint of donors and activists.
While this has been a nasty chairs race, not much has been written about the Democrats dependence on urban areas for votes coupled by the continued unwillingness of the party to either select chairs from urban areas or set up the type of field operation in areas outside Tallahassee the GOP thrives on. The Republican turnout and field operation in second tier counties like Pasco, Lake, Brevard, Lee and Sarasota are particularly impressive.
The weighted vote is controversial. Perhaps with 67 county DECs in the party it would be only fair if they were given equal standing in our party. Lawton Chiles won five statewide elections treating every county equally, having a county and steering committee in each county and spending roughly as much time in each place. His Gubernatorial running mate Buddy MacKay describes in his book “How Florida Happened” that this differed from his own approach. MacKay, who unlike Chiles had actually represented much of north Florida (Chiles was from Polk County) in the State Senate, realized when he ran for US Senate in 1980 he had to focus on “vertical counties” ie. large voting blocs in southeast Florida. It is also worth noting that even though both were DLC Democrats, Mackay had a more liberal reputation and track record on social issues so he was probably better received by liberal groups, while Chiles was stronger in north Florida.
MacKay stated that Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach had condos and residential developments which actually had more people than some counties in his State Senate district and thus campaigning more in these places was imperative. Dempsey Barron in those days often implied publicly that population numbers in the urban counties were embellished. Recent elections prove that Barron at least posthumously was flat out wrong.
As we’ve repeatedly pointed out on this site through empirical evidence, the Democrats in Florida have become more and more dependent on urban areas in the past decade. This reliance has despite the best effort of party consultants allowed some DECs to completely collapse in smaller counties. These parties even if still meeting are having more trouble raising money and getting the attention of candidates running for office. Plainly this situation is unacceptable.
At the same time this reality has created a situation where DECs in larger counties are being threatened by well funded outside organizations, and themselves are not raising money they way they could or should. So despite the weight these counties provide in FDP elections, many Democrats and those associated with the state party itself seem perfectly willing to bypass functioning DECs. Much of this is the fault of the local DECs whose organizations have become beset by factionalism and personality conflicts.
Factionalism is perhaps the biggest problem in larger DECs. Unity is difficult to come by although the recent near unanimous vote of the Palm Beach County DEC in favor of Alan Clendenin’s candidacy (Clendenin won the endorsement of that DEC 80-2 over Allison Tant despite Committeeman John Ramos’ open support for Tant) was a sign that larger county executive committees are beginning to pull together on matters such as this.
What do our readers think of the weighted vote? Below we have listed the vote from each county (please note each county has two committee members so they in fact have twice the number of votes listed below):
Indian River 3
Palm Beach 41
Santa Rosa 3
St. Johns 4
St. Lucie 8