The leadership of the Leon County Democratic Party has cleared a path for Allison Tant to become Chair of the local party without opposition at tomorrow night’s organizational meeting. Jon Ausman, a one-time powerhouse in the Florida Democratic Party whose power has recently been waning has decided to drop his bid to return as Chairman of the Leon DEC and will instead run for State Committeeman. Tant will seek to be the fourth successive chair of the FDP from north of Orlando and the sixth successive chair of the party from outside the two largest Metropolitan areas of the state (as defined by the US Census Bureau) and the state’s two largest TV markets (Tampa/St Petersburg and Miami/Fort Lauderdale).
In 1999, when Broward DEC Chair Mitch Ceasar was replaced as state chairman, the party still held many of the rural seats in the legislature and had in the most recent Presidential election won several rural and exurban counties. Since 1999, the Democrats have gradually lost every single rural seat in the legislature and as a voting bloc have been realigned heavily towards urban areas. President Obama won only 11 of Florida’s 67 counties as Chairman Rod Smith points out, but what seems to be lost on these critics is that he actually won the state by 75,000 votes by carrying those 11 counties. Yet, the state party continues to hire consultants and support statewide candidates who neglect the base Democratic electorate and spend little or no time among the Democrats in these areas. Democratic consultants continue to advocate a strategy for candidates that focuses on small pockets of voters unlikely to support progressive ideals while ignoring the fundamental shift in the electorate that has occurred in this state. One needs to look no further than Alex Sink Gubernatorial campaign for proof of this. The same can be said for Bill McBride’s 2002 defeat when Democratic operatives proudly and publicly proclaimed that we could see a record partisan turnout west of the Suwannee River. What instead happened is that Jeb Bush swept the I-4 corridor and won by a landslide record for a Republican, despite McBride carrying almost every county between the Apalachicola and Suwannee Rivers.
The Florida Democratic Party has since the late 1990s become an even more top-down Tallahassee centric party even as demographic changes have made the Democratic electorate almost entirely based around areas along I-4 and south of Fort Pierce on the Atlantic Coast. While Democrats have fallen into a helpless minority posture in the legislature and have a statewide record in Governor & Cabinet elections since 2000 that is the worst of any state east of the Mississippi, Tallahassee based lobbyists and consultant have in coordination with elected officials (both sitting and recently defeated) concocted various schemes to keep control of the party apparatus. They have done little if anything to support local DECs, even in Florida’s most vote rich counties and continue a trend of hiring inexperienced staff whose world view tends to revolve around the State Capitol building and lobbyists in the area. No doubt these lobbyists and consultants have a role to play, but they should not have complete control over the party apparatus as they have now for more than a decade. The staff can be properly trained if given a real plan to work from and ideas about what goes on politically outside of the second congressional district.
The Tallahassee centric group has provided no plan of action on how to restructure or revitalize a party who is consistently losing elections inspite of favorable demographic, voter registration and ideological attitudes in the state. Our endorsed candidate, Alan Clendenin of Tampa has provided such a plan that would help enable DECs and activists across the state. Clendenin’s candidacy is supported by numerous DEC and elected officials from throughout the state. A third candidate, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein of Miami has gained support as a strong voice for the emerging Latino/Hispanic electorate that had been largely ignored by FDP consultants prior to the Obama election in 2008. (hence Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist’s remarkable successes with this demographic in 2002 and 2006)
Tomorrow’s inevitable Leon County victory for Tant will move Florida’s Democrats into a new phase. Three declared candidates, with two from major urbanized areas who can connect with the changing demographic and political landscape, and one from an establishment helplessly out of touch with the reality of today’s Florida. That is the clear choice going forward.