Gillum concedes, Rod Smith to be next Florida Democratic chair **UPDATED**

Attention Florida Democrats: Rod Smith Is Your Leader...

It’s a wrap. Rod Smith has locked up the votes to become the next chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. Let the failing begin!

From the in-box: the last remaining opponent, Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum, just released the following statement:

Andrew Gillum Statement on the Future of the Florida Democratic Party

“Rod Smith is committed to delivering the reforms that the Florida Democratic Party needs to win elections, which is why I am proud to offer him my support,” said Gillum. “My candidacy was always about moving Florida forward, which required a serious dialogue about how we motivate our base, build our infrastructure, and recruit the next generation of Florida Democrats. We will make these reforms, and we will win elections.”

The numbers tell the story. According to data obtained by TRR, Smith has sown up 625 votes — well more than the 583 that he’d need to win the chairmanship, while Gillum has zero committed votes, though he told TRR this week that he had commitments of around 260. Another 481 votes are uncommitted.

Smith had 1 out of 2 voters locked down in Alachua (18 total votes, his home county, where he’s voting for himself), Charlotte (8) and Manatee (14) counties, along with two big counties: Hillsborough (60) and Broward (116), where one committee member in each has yet to decide. He’s winning both committeemen in other large counties like Miami-Dade (118), Palm Beach (80), Orange (62) and Duval (52), and medium sized vote counties like Pasco (22) and Volusia (28). And he has the votes of the Democratic Senate leader, Nan Rich, the House leader, Ron Saunders, Bill Nelson’s 40 votes and 12 of the 36 combined votes of the Congressional delegation. If the numbers are accurate, Gillum would be unable to prevail even if he got all of the undecided votes, unless some voters change their minds.

Which leads us to the Legislative Black Caucus, which on Wednesday issued the following way too late press release, which offers an object lesson in the awkward exercise of influence:

Black Lawmakers Chime in on Debate over State’s Next Democratic Party Chair

Tallahassee – The Florida Legislative Black Caucus added its voice today to statewide discussions on who will assume leadership of the State’s Democratic Party following Congresswoman Karen Thurman’s resignation from the post after last month’s failed mid-term election cycle.

Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando), Chairman of the Black Caucus, sent a letter to the highest ranking Democrat in Florida, Congressman Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), today urging him to wield his influence and compel the State Democratic Party to incorporate African American elected officials and their constituency of traditionally Democratic voters in its selection process for a new Party chair.

“The Party, at this point, should be striving to ensure that our leadership is more ethnically diverse, which is essential to making us more appealing and viable to our Democratic constituency,” Siplin stated in the letter. “Our issues are the issues of most of the people in this country and State, [and] our political efforts should now reflect that.”

In the letter, Caucus members asked Sen. Nelson urge the Democratic Party to hire a consultant who is particularly skilled at outreach to communities of color. “We lost a lot of votes during this past election – mostly in the African American and Hispanic communities because of ineffective outreach to them,” stated Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee).

Black lawmakers are also asking that they be consulted for input in the selection process. “Our constituency comprises a large segment of the Party’s traditional voting bloc, who are subject to abandon their Democratic loyalty if the Party is not reflective of them or their concerns.”

The Black Caucus is pressing the State’s Democratic Party to make a historical move by choosing an African American to chair the party, which would be a first. They feel the selection could potentially increase African American voter turnout and fundraising in a manner similar to that in the 2008 primary elections when the nation’s first African American President was elected to office.

I’m not sure what any of that means, since the “process” in question was already well under way when this release went out. And what the party could have done to “include” caucus members is unclear. The voting system presumably had been set in stone for some time, and Smith had been rounding up votes since the day out-going chairman Karen Thurman announced her exit.

So this was already pretty much a done deal. According to TRR sources, Bill Nelson had been placing personal calls to potential Smith challengers, including former Mayor Clarence Anthony, asking them to step aside for Smith, and even offered vague leadership opportunities as a carrot.

So will the legislative Black Caucus extract some vague “leadership opportunities” for African-Americans as a way to sell Smith to Black Democrats? Probably, especially with Rep. Alcee Hastings and Rep. Frederica Wilson already on the Smith bandwagon. But that also means that the party will dip into the same pool of the same old Black folk who’ve been going along with the failure-rich state party forever. Excited about the future yet?

So where does that leave Democrats — particularly younger and Black and Hispanic Democrats, who are not content to smartly salute Rod Smith — Loser of Serial Elections — as the new boss?

Here are three options for you if you are resigned to Smith, but not happy about it:

1. Register as an independent. I don’t care what anyone says. Charlie Crist made a pretty bold move by dumping the Republican Party when it got too crazy for him. He also won heavily Democratic Palm Beach and Broward Counties, which while not enough to nullify Meek supporters who were determined to ride his candidacy into the abyss, it showed that an independent is viable, even as he moves not to the right, but to the center-left, on key issues. Right now, about 25 percent of newly registered black voters and slightly more Hispanics are registering “no party affiliation.” It’s a good idea if you don’t feel that the Florida Democratic Party either represents you, or is capable of winning elections — two things I personally increasingly believe.

2. Ignore the Florida Democratic Party and focus on OFA. Organizing for America is the natural home for members of the “Obama Party” — people who were excited about Barack Obama’s candidacy, but are less interested in Democrats as a whole. These voters — again, younger, more ethnic, and less tolerant of stodgy, restrictive and ineffective party politics — could use OFA as the organizing vehicle through which to get involved in the 2012 re-elect. OFA isn’t perfect, and know that it is still going to work in tandem with the faily FDP, but getting involved with that organization would at least allow people who want to help the president, but don’t want to formally truck with the party. And one more thing: the FDP I think is clearly now primarily geared toward the re-election of Bill Nelson, not Barack Obama, and those two things will not necessarily happen in tandem, if the Alex Sink-Rod Smith campaign is any guide. OFA, on the other hand, will primarily be focused on the president. UPDATE: OFA, not so much. Don’t know how I managed to miss the fact that the organization was folded into the DNC, inexplicably, by Team Obama, which explains why it’s been so completely useless. More to the point, the DNC home means OFA is not a viable means of stepping outside the party’s padded room.

3. Double down. Some Democrats might want to step up their personal involvement in local party politics. It’s important to remember that the 1100 or so votes that decide the party chairmanship belong to members of the state and DNC committees. To be a committeeman or woman, you have to run for office in your local Democratic Committee. You have to get involved in the mundane work of building your local party. You have to be at the table when it isn’t exciting, so that you can be there when it counts. If you are committed to Democratic Party politics, that’s pretty much your only option, unless you’d rather just check out and stay home. And of course, that is not an option if you care at all about this country.

So there it is, friends and patriots. Do your thing.

UPDATE: Mike Cantone, who managed Heather Beaven’s Congressional campaign, has a post up at the Florida Progressive Coalition, in which he argues that only my third option is viable:

I think option 1 is a bad idea. There is no reason for Democrats to abandon the party and think that they should have any voice in shaping its future. The reason Independents grew in FL so much after 08 is because moderate Republicans did that – and the hard-right who stayed took control. If progressives leave the party, it will guarantee the party shifting more to the center. It will also weaken efforts around the state, make micro-targeting more difficult, cost more resources, and set us back at a time we need to buckle down and push forward.

Option 2 is a bad idea, if you do it alone. I wrote about my thoughts on OFA and its role in 2012 here, and believe the Reid Report is right that OFA should/likely will lead on the presidential campaign. If folks and Dems really care most about Obama and his re-election, that is what OFA was formed for. However, to shape the Florida Democrat and our party in-state we need more than OFA, more than Obama, and more than their unproven system.

Option 3 is very true to change this system. First of all, you should not have to be a DEC chair to become Chair of the FDP. Being a state committee member should be enough and broaden the pool of applicants and open the process. The only way to change these policies and bylaws is through the local DECs and getting involved. Plus, as futile as it is, it is the one channel to state party for the local level, and progressives should not close that off.

And he adds an Option #4:

In fact, today I’ll put forward a possible option 4 for Florida progressives: let’s Take Back Florida and hold the FL GOP accountable. It’s a growing liberal grassroots effort, so bookmark this page and when the Republicans are sworn in, progressives’ work truly begins.

Cantone has created a website for the purpose, although he doesn’t explain how that might be done. Ironically, the lack of a specific plan is also his biggest criticism of Smith (mine would be the continual losing, but moving on…)

So while we’re adding ideas for moving forward without the weight of the present makeup of the Florida Democratic Party, which pulled one hell of a coup by easing yet another insider into the spot being vacated in part because the former insider failed to inspire the troops; meaning the party doesn’t have to change at all, in any way that makes its current membership uncomfortable, how about an Option 5:

5. Build a separate organization for progressive campaign organizing outside of the FDP, DNC and OFA. To be successful, it would have to be an independent expenditure group or 527 that could raise significant money, but which is state-based and manageable, and flexible enough to focus on targeting the underutilized Democratic and progressive independent constituencies left hanging by the FDP.

Well, something along those lines is potentially coming together. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Charlie Crist may be seeking his own “third way,” and has apparently been seen hanging around with the centrist boosters at No Labels.

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6 Responses to Gillum concedes, Rod Smith to be next Florida Democratic chair **UPDATED**

  1. Andrew Lewis says:

    As a Black Progressive (& Immigrant to boot) ,I have always bled blue even through my vocal and sometimes bombastic strong-love criticisms of my Party. Recent events though have deeply disturbed me. The Party structure and regular Dems like me seem to reside on completely different planets. Does someone like me and my activists friends really believe that Rod Smith is going to listen to our concerns and move the Democratic Party in a new direction? Really??? But why should they when even our own president seems to regard his base as an annoyance.

    Thank you Joy for articulating the condition of the local and state Party and at least giving us options in the face of epic Fail.

  2. jreid says:

    I’m right there with you, Andrew.

  3. Pingback: Post of the Day » Florida Progressive Coalition Blog -

  4. Pingback: Rod Smith & the FDP…and next steps for FL Progressives » Florida Progressive Coalition Blog -

  5. Pingback: Florida follies: Rod Smith ‘unofficially’ (meaning officially) endorses in a primary : The Reid Report

  6. Fabian Jesse says:

    Nice!!! I just read this after read it . I know about Rod Smith Florida Democratic Party. I think he is a very intelligent person. Thanks for posting

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