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Dwight Bullard’s victory: A liberal triumph that sends a strong message to party elites
After years and years of Florida Democrats forcing moderate candidates down our throats, progressive voters made a statement in last week’s primary. While the swing voter myth has died a long slow death with Democratic insiders and political consultants throughout Florida, it has become more and more apparent according to pollsters in 2012 that the vast majority of likely voters are dug into their respective ideological camps. A friend of mine, a former DC based political consultant told me this weekend that the only moderates left in the country are non-voters, lobbyists and political insiders. I concur with this sentiment and while elites decry the growing nastiness of politics and the ideological schisms in our country, politics need to be about big ideas not two parties that are positioned closely in terms of issues, temperament and policy. Democratic activists are fed up with a party in Florida that is driven by elites whose business interests dictate the direction of campaigns instead of the true issues of the day.
Last week, three key Senate Primaries matched true progressives against mushy, special interest driven moderates. Geraldine Thompson, Jeff Clemens and Dwight Bullard all defeated more conservative, big business oriented opposition and sent a strong message across the bow to the elites of our party who have continued to push a phony message of needing to appear pro business and “moderate” on public schools, gun control, and bread and butter economic issues to be successful electorally.
The Florida Senate Democratic Caucus while led ably by Nan Rich the past two years has become dominated by deal cutting Democrats from liberal areas. The likes of Jeremy Ring, Gwen Margolis and Gary Siplin have represented urban areas in a way that has irritated and angered activists and constituents alike and has moved the pendulum of the Democratic caucus towards the middle. Tuesday’s elections will help swing the caucus back to the left and give Florida’s citizens a voice of opposition to the monolithic conservative control of state government imposed by the GOP majority, corporate lobbyists and their Democratic allies in the legislature and the state party.
It is the responsibility of the GOP to govern. Democrats need to create a clear distinction with the majority party and advocate an agenda that the 51% of Floridians that supported Barack Obama in 2008 can coalesce around. This agenda does not need to be written by lobbyists, and other Tallahassee based elites. It needs to be developed in the urban and suburban centers of the new Florida: Orlando, Tampa/St Petersburg, Daytona Beach, and in the corridor between West Palm Beach and Port St Lucie. An eye also needs to be cast on the interests in areas such as Jacksonville and Sarasota/Bradenton with large numbers of new residents more aligned with the national Democratic philosophy than that of the GOP of FDP. The Democrats must continue to inspire and turn out base voters in the heavily Democratic corridor between North Miami and Lake Worth which is the most supportive area for national Democrats in the entire southeast USA.
The Florida Democratic Party has in the last decade largely become an instrument to protect incumbents, many of whom are “moderates” tied to the political class in Tallahassee and special interest lobbyists and a mechanism to dispense patronage when the Democrats win the White House.
While demographic changes have heavily favored the Democratic Party in the three major Metropolitan areas of the state, the FDP has been led for 17 of the past 20 years and each of the last ten by chairs from north of Orlando. With the party staff in Tallahassee seemingly unaware of the opportunities that are abound in the medium sized counties and suburban areas maybe the change can come from the elected officials whose priorities should reflect that of their districts and general areas.
In the era of single member districts Florida’s Democratic legislators seemingly have become less and less aware of the broader picture across the state. Until recently, the Republicans were more aware of statewide attitudes and changes than the Democrats. However, the GOP has since become an arrogant out of touch majority giving the Democrats newly emboldened by fresh progressive blood in our upper chamber the opportunity to turn the tables statewide. The big question is do the elites in the Democratic Party really care to turn the tables on the GOP?