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Monday
Jan022017

The Florida Democratic Party

As the FDP gets ready to pick a new Chair, I have a few thoughts.

This isn't going to be a "what should the party do" blog. If you care what my thoughts are, I offered them a couple years ago to the outgoing Chair's 2015 "what should the party do now" committee, and you can read them here. Hell, I wrote a memo in 2005 that probably is still useful, if I could find it.

In a nutshell, if I was Democratic king for a day, the state party would be an organization that focused on just three things: maintaining a robust voter file, down ballot candidate recruitment & support, and statewide voter registration/organizing. Until they raise a lot more money, that's it. End of that blog.

That being said, throughout the Holiday party circuit, I was asked my opinion on who should be the state party chair. My response, with all due respect those running: I don't have one. I haven't spoken to any of the candidates, nor do I have a vote, or do work for the party. It isn't my fight -- and I am quite glad to be out of that game.

I am grateful there are people who want to run state parties, because it is an utterly thankless job. You get to wake up every single day, calling people who don't want to take your call for money, and taking calls/answering emails/reading blogs from people who think you are horrible at your job.  Doesn't that sound fun?

And even when you do a good job, people still think you failed.  Case in point, my friend Blaise Ingoglia, who Chairs the Florida Republican Party, is in a fight for his job after a winning election cycle.  In 2006, after we picked up a record number of state house seats, most of my emails were from angry activists who thought we should have done more. The very nature of the job -- and of politics itself, make "success" as a state party chair virtually unattainable.  I honestly have no idea why people want the job. 

But back to the FDP.

The Chair race has devolved into the usual: a fight between party activists over personalities. This is the nature of these things. On its best day, these races are adult-versions of high school elections. On their worst, they are pure circular firing squads. 

To me, what is less important than who occupies the Chair, is that the people running, the activists voting, and those observing, understand what that job is, and isn't.

I worked at the state party for almost four years. I am really proud of our record there: we picked up nine seats in the state house, one in the senate, picked up four seatsin the Congress, elected a statewide democrat to the cabinet, re-elected a US Senator, and elected a President.

Except in those cases, we actually didn't. We did good work there, and I am proud of it, but candidates and campaigns win races. Parties build organization, and provide support, and hopefully make smart decisions with the limited money they have. That is their role.

In 2006, I spent just about 2.1 million on directly supporting candidates for the Florida House of Representatives. That isn't a lot now -- and it wasn't a lot then. I used to have Democratic members of he Florida House suggest that we had a budget of 8-10-12 million, and we were making all kinds of people rich (all while, like most young party hacks, I was sleeping on people's couches on the road). When i went to work for Senator Obama in 2008, my buddy and former boss Dan Gelber said to me "Schale, you've been playing with toy trains, now you will get an actual train."

The Florida Democratic Party isn't a behemoth cash cow, raising a ton of money to line the pockets of well connected consultants. No, most of the time, it is an office with a handful of truly dedicated staff grinding every day to make payroll every month. And that is the work of most state parties -- on both sides of the aisle. Big donors don't line up to give money to the FDP -- they give money to candidates and causes. Small donors do the same. A friend of mine once called his donations to the party "political charity." In this Presidential campaign, the amount of money they two state parties actually had under their control to impact the outcome was a fraction of what the two sides spent here. So have perspective on the party's impact.

Nor does the FDP set the policy agenda -- nor should it. In Florida, Democratic state policy these days is set by legislators, and when we have Gubernatorial candidates, their message will also help drive it. Same on the GOP side. And it should be -- these are people either selected by, or running for, the votes of actual Democrats. I honestly wouldn't be upset if the next party chair only rarely opined on a policy issue.

Every Chair who I've known has come into that job with one big set of goals, and quickly realized their goals were completely unachievable. The party chair in my days, Karen Thurman, spent most of her tenure just cleaning up the party from a decade of financial bad decisions. There was never time to do all the things everyone said she should do, because for two years, she was hoping the light bill check wouldn't bounce.

So here is my suggestion for all who are voting. And honestly, I would say it applies to both parties.

This isn't a race about who has the best ideology, or who supported who in the primary. it is about basic management.

You are hiring a CEO. Find someone who is realistic about the job, capable of putting together the resources, and laser focused on the things they can actually control, namely candidate recruitment and organizing. There is nothing symbolic about who holds the job -- no regular voter actually casts a vote based on who sits in the party chair, or has any idea who chairs their state party.

As President Barack Obama told his staff at the 2013 inauguration: "America only works when you make it work..you have the power to move this country and, as a consequence, the world." 

So it boils down to this: if you want the party to do more, pick up a shovel. God knows political parties and candidates don't need more opinions, they need more doers. I banged on doors in 2016, did you? And if you don't like the party, go find a candidate or issue to support, or pick up Bob Graham and Chris Hand's new book on ways you can be more civically engaged. Just do something. 

I've got some thoughts on the bigger question of where the national movement goes from here that I'll publish on this blog sometime in the next few weeks.  

 

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