This will be the last part of my Rebuilding the Florida Democratic Party series. I do have more that I could write, but I think I will end it on this note. Tomorrow, I will write a conclusion about my overall take on basically everything which I have observed over the last week.
While there is obviously some major restructuring that we need to do in the Democratic Party, both on the state and local levels, the most important entity to any Democratic Party success is the candidate. If you don’t have a good candidate, then you don’t have a chance in hell.
After reading that last line, you might say to me “Dave, look at Michelle Bachmann.” Yes, I know. Still, while she might be batshit crazy (which I have no idea where that term came from, but I like it and am sticking to it), she is a good candidate. Somehow, someway she can convince thousands of Minnesotans to vote for her and her crazy ideas.
Still, should we stoop down to that level. I say no, and will always say no.
While writing this post, most of my observations will be coming from a Central Florida point of view. Since I started my political career in Orlando, I will pretty much look at it from that angle.
With that being said, since I started politics in 1992, I can count only a handful of good candidates that the Democratic Party as run in this region. While some have been successful in their political endeavors, like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, some suffered shocking losses, like Linda Chapin. But still, in 18 years, I have seen less than 10 quality candidates run in Orange County.
So, what do we need to do to compete with the GOP as far as candidate recruitment?
Yesterday, Kenneth Quinnell wrote a post on his blog explaining what Democrats should look for in a Democratic Party chairperson. It was a very good article, touching many of the subjects that I could talk about. But in this post, I will concentrate on our youth.
Years ago, I remembered when the GOP was considered the party of the “old white men”. On the national scene, they are still looked at in that way. But in the state of Florida, it can sometimes be hard to know who is the Democratic Party and the Republican Party if you were to just look at photos of our elected officials.
Marco Rubio, Adam Putnam, Jennifer Carroll, Chris Dorworth, John Legg, Marcelo Llorente, Anitere Flores, Erik Fresen, Mike Horner, Kim Berfield, Will Weatherford, Eric Eisnaugle, Rachel Burgin, Robert Schenck, Steve Crisafulli, John Tobia, Matt Gaetz, Rene Garcia. And, I am sure, the list goes on. This is a list of their diverse, and youthful, new generation of politicians that the GOP is wheeling out against the Democrats.
If the Democrats want to engage the youth vote, maybe they need to start investing in youthful candidates.
Almost all, if not all, of these Republicans got their political careers started through their local Young Republican or College Republican chapters. From there, they built a network which, over time, made them well connected within both the GOP and Tallahassee. And, before all is said and done, all of the people mentioned above were elected to public office.
Two very important tools that we have, but don’t use effectively, are the Florida Young Democrats and the College Democrats. Yes, they do help us with the elections, GOTV, putting up signs and other campaign stuff. But in these organizations, we never identify who is interested in holding political office at some point in their lives. But on the Republican side, they do.
When I first was involved in the Democratic Party in 1991 in Orange County, I had ambitions to become an elected official. And, honestly, I think I still have that ambition, and wouldn’t be surprised if I still pursue that route.
But if in 1991, when I was 17 years old, I was identified by both the Young Democrats (which I was the VP of Community Affairs) and the local DEC as a possible candidate in the future, maybe they could have helped me out to become a strong candidate. Maybe they could have given me a mentor. Maybe they could have introduced me to the movers and shakers in both the Democratic Party and local politics. Maybe they could have done a lot of things.
Yet they didn’t. And I am sure that there are many other former FYD members that had ambitions to run for office, but lost the interest because they were tired of only putting in yard signs and licking envelopes.
On the Republican side, their youth organizations are already doing this. Back in 1994, I switched to the GOP for a whopping two months. During that time, I attended the Federation of Young Republicans’ State Convention in Jacksonville. But after sitting there during their Saturday night dinner, watching a film about how great Ronald Reagan was, I asked myself “what the f*ck am I doing here.” The next week, I informed the Pinellas chapter (which I was actually treasurer at the time) that I had no interest in being a Republican anymore. And, honestly,they were nice about it.
Outside of watching that film, I learned a lot about how the youth movement within the Republican Party works. I learned that they stick together. I learned that they have a vast connection of people who help one another out. I learned that there was a community whose main goal was to get their fellow Young Republicans elected. In addition, I met a number of people there that weren’t Young Republicans, but lobbyists, GOP big-wigs and other movers and shakers in Florida government.
Therefore, they had this vast machine within their youth system which helped breed some of the people I mentioned above. Hell, I might have even met Marco Rubio at this event! I have no clue. But the event was nothing like anything I had ever seen at a Florida Young Democrats event. Honestly, is was breathtaking.
Another thing that I learned at this event was that the 11th Commandment (at least in 1994) was alive and well. If you don’t know what that commandment is, here you go…”“Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
During the platform adoption at the FYR Convention, there was a huge debate on abortion. And, honestly, the pro-life people just squeaked out a narrow victory, and their view on the issue was adopted. Still, the debate on the issue was constructive and without insult.
At one point in the debate, someone behind be stood up to speak. He said “in the Democratic Party, about 45% of Democrats are pro-life.” Knowing that was bullcrap, I decided to make my presence known in the room. I stood up and told the crowd that just two months before, I was a Democrat. And, speaking from experience, I know that this 45% “stuff” is crap. I said a few more things afterward, but don’t remember what they were. But, obviously it must have hit a chord with the people there, because half of them gave me a standing ovation. Yeah, didn’t see that one coming.
Anyway, after the debate, I had a number of people come up to me and were extremely cordial. They welcomed me to the Republican Party and we talked for hours about everything under the sun, from Gators Basketball (BTW, I hate the Gators) to, of course, politics.
Afterward, I started getting calls on my answering machine at home from FYR leaders, some people in the Pinellas County REC and even someone in the state party. They all wanted to talk to me about “opportunities”. To their displeasure, I had to break the news that I was no longer going to be a member of the Republican Party. Again, they were very nice about it.
Therefore, if it wasn’t for Ronald Reagan, I might have been an elected Republican in the late 1990s. Yeah, that even makes me puke a little inside my mouth as well.
Now, lets look at the Young Democrats in our state. Again, when being involved with many of the Young Democrats’ events, I felt like it was more about trying to get warm bodies for campaign work than it was to promote and teach a new generation of Democratic leaders.
At many FYD events (again, speaking from a person that experienced it in the mid 1990s, not today), there was debate about issues. These debates were rarely friendly. In addition, there was no excitement at these events. Yes, we would all go to the “hospitality suites” afterward and usually get plastered. But otherwise, all the FDY Conventions and events that I had attended were, basically, a waste of time and money.
In addition, I always knew that there was going to be some “issue” at these events. Nothing ever went smoothly. Everything had controversy. Also, it was the same people, time after time, who brought up the same points, time after time. And, I must admit, I somewhat got sucked up into that vacuum as well.
But comparing how the two youth organizations conduct themselves, it is night and day. The Federation of Young Republicans run their organization like a professional business organization. They do treat you with both respect and with kindness. They are also looking for the next “new leaders” to lead Florida. Honestly, if there were no “issues” in politics, I would be very comfortable in the Federation of Young Republicans.
The Florida Young Democrats, on the other hand, had disorganized meetings that were mostly about just drinking. They also thrived on fighting within the organization. There was no system in place to look for the “next Democratic leaders” in Florida. Also, it seems like the Young Democrats were more of an organization to look for warm bodies to man the telephones and to walk the precincts than it was anything else. While I have met some good people in the FYD throughout the years, I can easily say that they are a long way off from being anywhere near the quality of the Federation of Young Republicans.
Yes, the present might be lost, but the future might not be. If we use the Florida Young Democrats and the College Democrats in a way that will seek out youth that are interested in a political career as an elected politician, we really need to get them on the right track. These organizations can be used for that.
The future could look bright, but we need to make the changes…now.