FDP Chairs Race: False Choices & The Path Forward

By Kevin Thurman

Since I wrote my guest post last week there have been a number of developments in the chair’s race and I am not expert in the machinations of the Florida Democratic Party’s election system for chair — but I am more fascinated by the insane false choices that seem to be put forth by leaders, columnists, and activists over the past few days.

Paul Fleming even wrote an entire column about all of these false choice claiming the FDP is the “the longest-running soap opera in the Sunshine State.” Sure he gave lip service to the RPOF that has a former chairman under indictment, big spending Amex cards, just badly lost the last election — but says he’s going to focus on us anyway.

What I find funny is that he fails to mention that the “soap-opera” was the organization that exposed all of that thanks to Tampa Democrat Susan Smith, and staff at the FDP like Scott Arceneaux and Eric Jotkoff.

These is the first of series of false choices that he and many others say Democrats are fighting over — which everyone need to just stop. Here’s the four worst I’ve identified.

Money vs Organizing

For some reason thinking in Florida hasn’t grown to meet the 21st century reality that good organizing and good fundraising go hand in hand. Some people have argued that financial resources are the first priority to win in 2014, other have argued that grassroots organizing is the key to winning in 2014. Not only are they both vital to winning as we have seen in the Presidential election in Florida and in races across the country — but they feed off each other.

Since the Obama ’08 campaign moderns campaigns don’t make that choice. It’s easier for Presidential campaigns to do this, but it is how technologically driven campaigning works. Whether it’s turning swag purchases into donations so you can build your donor base at rallies or using successful organizing to impress big dollar donors — these two issues work together.

I remember when i was working for Hillary in 2008 I was asked to present to senior staff an understanding of why Obama out-raised us in the first quarter of 2007.They all assumed it was just the small dollar donations (specifically, incorrectly indetifying the My. BarackObama.com as a major donation driver) — but they later learned that we got beat on high and low dollar donations. Obama’s momentum and grassroots campaign (with a lot of free media) had leapfrogged a generation of traditional high dollar fundraising contacts. The whole fundraising game has changed — there is no choice between organizing and fundraising.

I don’t even have to just point to Obama, there is a Florida politician who did this very well: Marco Rubio. Rubio understood this and used his grassroots machine to create momentum, and used the momentum to raise money, and the money to invest in gaining more momentum to eventually out-raise his opponents when no one expected him to. His main opponent’s campaign, Charlie Crist, was so caught off guard by this success he left the primary before it was over.

I think both Alan Clendenin and Allison Tant likely understand this, but they have each been portrayed as being on once side of the flase choice between organizing and fundraising. We don’t need one or the other we need both. That means pouring what money we can into organizing so we can expand the donor base and raise money (some versions phrase exists in both of their plans — which is why we’ve already won something from this race).

No divided choice here: No matter who becomes chair I hope both Tant and Clendenin will work together to make sure the FDP embraces this kind of 21st century political reality.

Leadership vs Grassroots

The worst statement I have read from anyone in this campaign came yesterday from Scott Randolph:

“It really just goes to show the dysfunction caused by what I believe to be unconstitutional statutes governing how a political party is comprised going into these elections,” he continued. “And then 20-plus-year-old bylaws that give the people who have the most on the line — the elected officials–only around 12 percent of the vote. Even if we had a Governor, every cabinet seat, both U.S. Senate seats, every single Congressional seat and every single legislative seat, these bylaws would still limit the influence of elected officials to around 20 percent. Then add that even county chairs don’t get a single vote — the people that do all the work at the local county level get zero say in the next Chair. This is like all the factors that had to be in place for the Titanic disaster to occur.”

I have a lot of respect for Scott’s work over the years — but he’s dead wrong. The people with the most on the line are actually the people all over the state of Florida being crushed by Republican leadership, the people gerrymandered into bad representation, and Democratic activists who do this for free and donate money instead of going to the movies.

The system works correctly — it values a Congresswoman’s vote at significantly more than the grassroots already there is no need to had the party over to our elected, end the Democratic process and build our party around the whim of Republican gerrymandering. Randolph’s suggestion would mean Dems in Pasco county would get royally screwed for living in Bilrakis’ district. Committeemen and women are elected by the people who show up — it’s always been that way and always be (it’s the same for every office in the world).

Our elected Democratic leaders deserve our respect and deserve a right to have a say in a Party Chairman — but so do the grassroots that helped elect them. If they want people to follow their lead on who should be cahir then they need to successfully convince the grassroots to join them. That is generally the process that allows President’s and Governors to just appoint chairs of their respective party — not circumventing the democratic process.

Going so far as call this process a “Titanic disaster” because the elected officials don’t have control over the process is creating some false choice arguing that the people elected at the local party level can’t seem to

I am all for amending the process to have it make more sense — we haven’t had an election lately to see the flaws but valuing any group over the other is the wrong kind of argument to be having. The question need to be how do we make sure that the grassroots and work better together.

Fire everyone vs Status Quo

Many have argued that there are only two options we need to fire everyone or we get the same result in 2010. This is incredibly dumb — we can change the way the party works without losing talent across the state.

Our party staffers are talented even though I don’t agree with everyone about political strategy and many people don’t agree with me (for instance I want a Gubernatorial primary to activate the base and I think i am the only one). But they have done great work. Instead many people have attacked them over and over. But they have won elections (a bunch in 2012) as well and know how to run a party (something that is not easy to learn). Some will say that Obama not Florida Democrats that won in 2012 — but many of the staffers on that campaign have worked for, or with, the party over the years.

Additionally, I have heard some people dismiss “activists” but these are the volunteers that made the phone calls, millions in small dollar donations, and other volunteer work that got us over the line in 2012. Obama didn’t just raise a bunch of money and run TV ads and the FDP can’t do that to win either. Even Rick Scott spent his largess to buy a early vote program that won him the primary (and the general election).

We need the staffers, lobbyists, insiders and we need the volunteers, DEC, and activists. Using every single resource is how we’ll win in 2014, because that is how we won Florida for Obama in 2008 and 2012. I believe that Alan and Allison can do that.

I don’t think we have to keep the status quo or fire everyone. I think we need to keep everyone (including both Alan and Allison) and work together.

Active Campaign vs Unified Party

Let’s get this through everyone’s heads: January 26 is an election, not a date for some version of the Mayan apocalypse for Democrats — no matter who wins.

Many states have had chairman elections and gone on to win many elections right afterwards. Colorado, Ohio, and North Carolina all had serious elections for chair and went on to win huge just two years later. The same thing happened for Dean at the DNC. The team that helped elect Dean DNC chair (Joe Rospars & Blue State Digital) went on to fuel the Obama campaigns digital strategy in the 2008 elections. That’s just one example of how change can help a party in ways we don’t expect.

At the same time, many state parties have also been able to change and win elections without massive change, but focusing on the some changes after an election like this. They provided the will to make the type of changes that many people in charge badly want to make (I am sure if you ask Arceneux and Ulvert that list is VERY long for them).

We can have an active campaign, unify and and then win. It’s in your hands to decide if that happens. Whether you are a Tant supporter or a Clendenin supporter, unifying our party isn’t really determined by what happens before Lake Mary it determined by what each of us decide to do when it’s done.

So lets make a promise to all go out and have a soda or a drink after the 26th, then come together to win in 2014.

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5 thoughts on “FDP Chairs Race: False Choices & The Path Forward

  1. This makes more sense than I have heard or read in a while. In these internal organizational campaigns we should all strive to leave our opponents with enough dignity to be able to rejoin our common goals and work together to win across Florida and America.

  2. The state party doesn’t value local elected officials, but spends all its time courting legislators and MOC. It isn’t the legislators/MOC who raise the money at the local level – it’s the municipal and county officials, but the FDP has never recognized that. In part, it’s because we don’t have a vote yet we, more often than not, know what is going on on the ground. Having been both a legislator and county commissioner, I speak from firsthand experience. I would like an FDP chair who recognizes that and, quite frankly, pays some attention. That didn’t happen with our current party chair. Hopefully, it will with whoever is his successor.

  3. Thank you Commissioner Ritter! The FDP is an insiders club that spends ZERO time canvassing the needs of local parties and even less time if that is possible connecting with county and municipal officials.

    Those that do not understand the depth of why we are so angry right now with the party and DWS need to think clearly for a change. When you do nothing but LOSE elections for two decades yet keep the same people and same politics while doing ZERO to reach out to local officials, build a bench, help them raise money for the local party you deserve what you get.

    The FDP is always wondering why so many local elected Dems either don’t run for higher office OR run as Republicans, yet the reasons are painfully obvious.

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