Florida Democrats moving forward? Comparing the LEAD and STEP proposed reforms.

Statewide Demos Sample FinalEarlier today, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida release a party rebuilding strategy, called STEP, regarding their view of the future direction of the Florida Democratic Party. This was a response to the LEAD report released by the Florida Democratic Party earlier in the year, which was a response to the disastrous campaign of 2014. When I saw that it was the Democratic Progressive Caucus presenting this new vision of change, I was expecting that most of it would advocate moving the party ideologically to the left. However, ideology was rarely talked about, and the document was a well thought out response to the LEAD report. Still, I would not call the STEP report an alternative to the LEAD report, but instead an expansion (which will be talked about later).

Before getting into today’s recommendations, let’s first look at the LEAD report. When the report was released, it was criticized by many, mostly because it was too broad. Not only do I agree with this assessment, but the report also seemed to give the impression that the Florida Democratic Party has actually been doing well. Using their own words, 2014 was a disappointment after a “strong” 2012 election. Was it really a “strong” result? Were there any surprise seats that the Florida Democrats won in the Florida House and Senate (besides Clelland’s victory, that this blog predicted would happen)? The LEAD document continues to praise itself by saying that Democrats had good candidates, that their statewide field plans were “strong and effective”, and the legislative efforts were “aggressive”. Again, were they really?

Of course, the LEAD plan lays blame on gerrymandering and the money game. This doesn’t explain the loss of Joe Saunders in House District 49, as well as some of the other seats that the Democrats should have retained. The basic message of the LEAD report seems to be that the FDP did all that they could, but the cards were stacked against them and there was nothing that they could do.

Even with this, the LEAD report did suggest some changes. However, none of the changes were detailed, and the document was extremely broad. Yes, they did say to strengthen the DECs. But how? These were the types of toothless reforms that the LEAD report proposed.

Now, let’s move to the STEP report released today. If the goal of the Democratic Progressive Caucus was to embarrass the FDP, they sure did a good job of it. Taking the framework laid out in the LEAD report, STEP created specific proposals to reform the party. In many cases, these reforms were well thought. While there were some holes in the report, it was definitely a strong contrast to the LEAD report. This report actually had teeth…a lot of teeth.

First, I would like to talk about the positives changes that the STEP report proposed. The report starts by saying that the FDP should start targeting Duval and Volusia counties. While I disagree with Volusia targeting (as suburban sprawl from Seminole County is making it trend more Republican), Duval county shows promise. The report also has an extremely detailed plan to strengthen the DECs, which is actually too extensive to summarize. However, I do feel that the STEP report might ask a little too much of the DECs, and I think the plan might be a little more bold than practical.

As far as reforming the structure of the Florida Democratic Party, the plan asks for more members to carry the weighted vote for counties without the votes lying exclusively with the state committeeman and committee woman (a problem that was finally exposed after the Tant-Clendenin election). Also, in regard to party structure, the STEP plan seeks to further professionalize the FDP. With many in the FDP staff conducting constant Twitter Wars on their personal Twitter accounts, this proposed change is certainly valid. The report also called for increased transparency between the local DECs and the Florida Democratic Party, something this author suggested in 2010.

When it comes to candidate recruitment, the STEP plan seeks to make the process more local, and also seeks to created regional offices with full-time staff that will help with building the DECs as well. The creation of the regional offices should be the first step in building the Florida Democratic Party.

Even though the report showed a lot of promise, there were also some flaws. First, the plan advocated moving the party headquarters from Tallahassee to Central Florida when the Legislature is not in session. I personally do not see how this would help the party logistically, especially in the internet age. In addition, most of the “money people” stay in Tallahassee all year, so having the apparatus of the party in Tallahassee is vital.

The plan also calls for the Florida Democratic Party to advocate to the Democratic National Committee to go back to a 50-state strategy. Again, why? If we are talking about the redistribution of resources to all fifty states, Florida, the largest swing state in the nation, would easily lose out. I can understand why this might be in the report, as some of the people who created it were with the Dean campaign back in 2004, but it just doesn’t seem to be practical, and is a lose-lose situation for Florida.

As far as messaging, the STEP report recommends that the party spends less time on the economy and focusing on the “middle class”. Unfortunately, this is not how campaigns work. The “helping the poor” did not help John Edwards in 2008. Additionally, the economy is always the number one issue at the polls. Also, when looking at all of the academic forecasting models for elections, economic indicators are central to nearly every model. So, the economy must be included…it needs to be a strong part of messaging…and the middle class needs to be stressed (because even if people are poor or somewhat rich, many still identify as middle class). However, when it comes to messaging, the STEP report does stress the importance of earned media, something that the LEAD report ignores.

While I did criticize the STEP report a little, I think an overwhelming majority of what is proposed in the report is an extremely positive step forward. However, at the beginning of this article, I said that the report was simply an expansion and not an alternative. The STEP report still works within the parameters that was set by the LEAD report, and only provides an expansion on those areas. I would have liked to see the STEP report go outside of the box and propose new things that couldn’t be explained in the LEAD report’s categories.

Over the next few weeks, the Electoral Research Group, LLC will be providing its own plan for the rebuilding of the Florida Democratic Party. In 2010, this blog created a five-part series called “Rebuilding the Florida Democratic Party”, which outlined a few recommendations. I am glad to see the STEP report picking up on some of those reforms. However, I feel that all of the reports, including the posts on here, ignore some very important issues that need to be addressed, such as understanding voting behavior, the inclusion of Young Democrat organizations into the process, as well as creating a separation between the representation and governance roles of the party. This report will be out near the end of November.

Still, while the LEAD report was extremely disappointing, the STEP report was extremely positive and provides a clear alternative. Hopefully there will be some movement on this, as it would bring positive change to the Florida Democratic Party.

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