Last night, Florida Democrats suffered a major blow throughout the state. Along with the defeat of Republican-turn-Independent-turn-Democrat Charlie Crist losing the governor’s race (something that I warned people about a number of times), Democrats lost all of the constitutional positions, as well as five state house seats. The State Senate remained unchanged, basically, because there were no competitive races. Overall, it was a disastrous night for Team Blue.
Yes, there were some bright spots last night. Democrats defeated Steve Southerland. After years or time, money, and resources that the state Democratic Party used in the congressional district, at the expense of other campaigns, they finally won the seat. I mean, it seemed as if the Florida Democratic Party was only concentrating on the 2nd CD for the last two cycles. But even with Gwen Graham’s win, the losses were more shocking than the one pickup. While Karen Castor Dentel’s loss was a disappointment, Joe Saunders’ loss in House District 49 was a major blow. Saunders’ loss (which will be discussed later this week) really exemplifies the scale of the Democratic defeat.
After such a defeat, the finger pointing starts, as well as it should. And who should the finger be pointed at for the Democratic defeats in Florida? The answer is simple…Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. A party leader must take responsibility for the performance of their party after an election. Even if they were not the actual reason why they lost, that person still takes responsibility. But after the tweets from Tant last night, it seems as if a state of denial is setting in, and a true realization of the magnitude of the defeat fazes the FDP Chairwoman.
Not being able to take a responsible role and deal with the low points of an election defeat is a sign of a weak leader. Ignoring the fact that the Florida Democrats suffered last night is also a sign of a weak leader. Throughout the last year or so, I have criticized Chairwoman Tant for not having the leadership qualities to be an effective Florida Democratic Party chair. Unfortunately, her post-election reaction to the results in Florida further confirms her lack of leadership qualities.
But is Allison Tant the main person to blame? Technically, yes. I say technically because of the old “The Buck Stops Here” concept, idolized by President Harry Truman. Since she is the leader, the “buck” needs to stop at her desk, as she must be held accountable for those who work on her behalf. In Canada, when a party loses an election, party leaders usually acknowledge their party’s loss and resigns that night (or very shortly after), even if they were able to retain their own riding. That is the mark of a true leader. In the case of the Florida Democratic Party, however, there is much celebration that the shed out back didn’t burn down, even though the house went down in flames. The “turning lemons in the lemonade” analogy can only work in a number of cases. This phrase has now outlived its usefulness in Florida Democratic politics.
This “ignoring our losses” tactic is getting quite old. While the night was horrible, the party always deflects attention away from it, and tries to blame the election loss on externalities. I’m sure, like clockwork, we will hear the old line “well, it was a wave year, and we were taken in by the way”. Yeah? Why did Graham win despite the “wave”? Why did Saunders lose in the highly Democratic district that a “wave” should not have implications? Using this diversionary tactic is a way to suck local Florida Democrats into thinking that everything is alright, and having them ignore the real issues. This tactic is no different from those employed by the NRA. After a mass shooting, public opinion is strongly for gun control. But as time passes, and the NRA talks about externalities, such as mental illness and video games, the gun debate disappears and the NRA is off the hook. As a result, Columbine became a debate about video games and Sandy Hook became a debate about mental illness. The NRA did their job. The FDP will try to do their job as well and try to make everyone think that everything is alright.
While the post-election “nothing to see here” reaction shows lack of leadership, her leadership qualities have been questionable from the start. I have questioned her leadership in the past because of her lack of being strong when it comes to selection (or in this case retention) or Florida Democratic Party staff. Allison Tant continues to keep failing consultants and staff on the payroll, and has shown that she does not have the strong leadership qualities to fire people who are either dead weight or detrimental to the party. Some have claimed that she has not made staff changes because of “intimidation by male staffers” to keep the current FDP staff. But once a person decides to seek, and eventually obtains, the position of leader, who is the top decision-maker where “the buck stops here”, you have lost your privilege to play any of the “victim cards”. That comes with the territory of being a party leader, or any leader.
After a loss like this, it is time for Allison Tant to show that she is a true leader. And contrary to popular belief, I really hope that she does a good job. It is this type of election loss that Allison Tant needs to show that she is a strong leader, and to prove her critics, like myself, wrong. So, what does she need to prove that she is a strong leader? Frist, she must acknowledge that last night was a disastrous result for Florida Democrats. Without this step, she will continue to be a weak leader.
The second step can go one of two ways, which requires a longer description. First, she could resign as Florida Democratic Party chair. This move might be seen by some as “honorable”, and I can accept that assessment. But if she does resign as FDP Chair, she must also relieve all Florida Democratic Party staff of their duties, and institute a moratorium of a specific time period, let’s say two years, where Florida Democratic Party staffers cannot be involved in the election of Democratic Party officials (such as Scott Arceneaux was in Tant’s election). The influence of current staff in party leadership elections has corrupted the system, giving some candidates an unfair advantage, and has also created a highly questionable voting process (as many feel that Richard Daley-style ballot stuffing tactics were used by Allison Tant’s team to defeat Alan Clenednin). Therefore, centralized party staff influence should be removed.
The “second second” option that can be used is that Allison Tant does a house cleaning at the Florida Democratic Party and hires all new staff. But simply cleaning out the party staff is not sufficient. To replace current Florida Democratic Party staff, the party needs to look outside of the state for quality staffers. Simply replacing Christian Ulvert with Susannah Randolph does not solve the problem, as both of these individuals are self-interested actors and will make decisions based on their own benefits instead of for the benefit of the party. Furthermore, the Florida Democratic Party is extremely unique. It is the largest swing state in the nation, with a state Democratic Party is that suffering. If the Florida Democratic Party advertised that they are seeking people to staff and run the FDP, the “best of the best of the best, with honors” (as Will Smith in MiB would say) would be lining up to grab these positions. What high-profile political director wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to save a failing party in a state with such opportunity? Therefore, selecting staff outside of the state is the only real option.
On the other hand, selecting staff within Florida doesn’t make sense, unless they have a long history of either winning, or a pure understanding of Florida politics. Picking staffers inside of Florida is kind of like teaching Tea Party members about the theory of evolution. If you want to teach them that evolution is a viable theory, is it a good idea to pick someone within the Tea Party group to teach them about evolution, or someone from the outside? The answer is pretty obvious.
While the staff needs to be cleaned out, the Florida Democrats really needs to have some key players go. The first of those is Scott Arceneaux. He has been Executive Director of the Florida Democratic during the worst of times. He has also made the Florida Democratic Party a closed circle of people that must come to him first in order to get the Florida Democratic Party’s “blessing” regarding anything. Under Arceneaux, there has been no transparency whatsoever (which was apparent during the Tant-Clendenin election). Competition between vendors is a highly selective process, not because the competition among the vendors is great, but because those who make it to his door seem to be pre-selected.
Political Director Christian Ulvert also needs to be relieved of his duties. Of course, I have questioned Mr. Ulvert’s tactics in the past, and I still do today. Since coming to the Party after Tant’s election, legislative races have been primarily run through Ulvert’s office. But looking at how he conducts business, I truly wonder if he is “in over his head”. One question that I have about Mr. Ulvert is his knowledge of politics. Personally, I am usually very weary of people who enter politics through a communications background. Basically, looking at where money is being spent and campaign strategies under Ulvert, I think he lacks the basic skills to understand fundamental electoral politics in Florida. The reason I say this is that he has always been reactionary in his campaign strategy. You can easily see Florida Democratic Party money shift from race to race only when polling says that the party might have a chance in a particular seat. A good political director should be able to identify the key races first, stick to those races, and not be reactionary every time poll numbers shift one way or another. This zig-zagging between elections leads to a very incoherent party apparatus.
Steve Schale is also a person whose value has been overinflated throughout the years. One could argue that Schale was “in the right place at the right time” in 2006 when it came to the wave in Florida. Even with this luck, Schale has passed himself off as some kind of “numbers guru”, yet his analysis of the numbers in Florida are quite elementary. For example, here is a quote from his website regarding numbers in Central Florida:
” Since 2000, Florida has experienced subtle demographic shifts. For example, the 2000 census showed that just under 54% of all Floridians lived in one of the state’s seven ‘urban’ counties, counties with a population of more than 750,000 (Broward, Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Orange). Today, that number is 51.7%. The shift, not surprisingly, is almost exclusively into the midsize (typically suburban) counties.”
Honestly, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to come up with these numbers. A middle school student with a calculator and a basic understanding of Florida geography could easily come up with the same conclusions. However, these generalizations by Steve Schale are the backbone of his so-called “expert opinions”. In addition to his lackluster interpretation of the numbers, Mr. Schale has also bounced around from campaign to campaign, seeking what is best for him and rarely open to outside opinions. Therefore, he suffers from the same closed approach as both Arceneaux and Ulvert.
On the financial front, we have Beth Matuga. Yes, it is still quite comical that she claims to have a “Yale education” because she attended a weekend seminar there that wasn’t even sponsored or conducted by Yale. However, the fact that she has to embellish her educational credentials should raise red flags. What is interesting, however, is that Matuga is listed as the Finance Director for Senate Victory. How many senate races were competitive in Florida last night? Yep, zero. Yet, the Florida Democratic Party justified paying Matuga over $115,000 in 2014 alone to raise money for predetermined outcome races. While Matuga is not closing the doors like Arceneaux and Ulvert (or she might be and I am unaware), she is easily feeding at the trough of the Florida Democratic Party. While there are a number of finance directors nationwide who work their butts off to raise money for their respective Democratic parties, I am quite dumbfounded that someone who falsifies their educational credentials and doesn’t work gets a free $115,000. This “feeding at the trough” mentality in Florida needs to go. I am not saying that Matuga is the only example of this practice, but she is the most blatant example of financial abuse in the Florida Democratic Party’s corrupt system which does not attach performance measures to income. The “free money” problem is a disease in the FDP.
The final group that I would like to bring attention to is the so-called “communications team” of the Florida Democratic Party. If anything exemplifies the reincarnation of Moe, Larry and Curly, it would be Joshua Karp, Max Steele and Ben Sharpe. The unprofessional manner in which these three have carried out their jobs must make one wonder if the Florida Democratic Party leaders have the intellectual fortitude to put together a strong Democratic Party apparatus. These three, particularly Max Steele, have been known for their childish manner, getting into pissing matches with people they disagree with on Twitter. They are also widely believed to be the masterminds behind parody blogs and websites which purely insults those who disagree with the FDP, which does not contribute to the overall debate, and rather magnifies their childish manner. These public Twitter spats are reflective of how the Florida Democratic Party runs. And while I had my issues with the FDP before these three arrived, I feel that Brannon Jordan and David Bergstein ran the communication arm in a professional manner (even if they had an obsession with the 2nd CD).Just because someone has the “disclaimer” that “opinions on this account are solely that of the author” (which is the reason I parody this quote on my Twitter account) does not mean that the attitude of those “authors” are not damaging peoples’ opinions of the Florida Democratic Party, especially those that matter. If I am looking to invest money in the FDP, I want to make sure they have a professional team. These three show the lack of both discipline and professionalism within the party, which will make investors weary.
As we have seen, the Florida Democratic Party has some big problems, and the staff is the root cause of these problems. However, the ball is now in Allison Tant’s corner. As someone who wants the Florida Democrats to succeed at every level, it is important to have a strong, professional political party that exemplifies the best of what Florida Democrats have to offer, and not the worst. The first step in showing she is a strong leader is for Allison Tant to admit that yesterday was a disaster and to make changes within the Florida Democratic Party. I, personally, do not want to see Allison Tant resign. She seems like a very nice person, who is also a progressive. But I also do not want her to resign because I am not entirely sure that she would be replaced by a strong leader. But, if she does not make changes or acknowledges the losses, she should be forced to resign.
Allison Tant was elected leader of the Florida Democratic Party, and now it is time for her to show those leadership qualities. I think Mrs. Tant should realize that if she does make the wholesale changes that are needed in the Florida Democratic Party, and seek the “best of the best” talent from outside of Florida, she would have a surprising amount of support within the local parties.