Florida’s Democrats still act like losers

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Joe Biden, former vice president, encouraged Democrats to connect with the working-class again.
Joe Biden, former vice president, encouraged Democrats to connect with the working-class again. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Former Vice President Joe Biden was in Florida last weekend to cheer on the state’s dysfunctional Democratic Party looking high and low for a message to woo voters.

As reported by the Herald’s Patricia Mazzei and Martin Vassolo, he noted to the attendees of Leadership Blue, the party’s annual fundraiser, that working people elected him again and again. Also, “They voted for a black man named Barack Obama!” he said. But, he said, those same voters fear losing jobs to automation and globalization.

“We didn’t talk much to those people lately,” Biden scolded. “We have to let them know we understand their fears, their concerns and that we have some real answers.”

He also told state Democrats: “We’re better than this.”

Maybe not. State party leaders are making increasingly clear that those are the very people for whom they have little use. In a rush to hurry the proceedings along at Leadership Blue so that a time-pressed Biden could get on the stage, state party chairman Stephen Bittel scuttled the introduction of lawmakers, who were already gathering. No one alerted them to the change of plan. State Sen. Oscar Braynon II, made his displeasure known, after which Bittel muttered: “They’re like children, these black lawmakers. They just don’t get it. I raised more money in this amount of time than they ever could.” Braynon said that Sen. Lauren Book, who rightly took offense, relayed Bittel’s words.

It was a tone-deaf, bigoted, and embarrassing remark, for which Bittel apologized in a tepid, boilerplate statement: “I respect all of our elected officials, especially our legislators who are on the front lines fighting for Democrats and our values,” Bittel wrote Sunday in a statement to the Herald. “My behavior did not reflect that. I sincerely apologize and I will do better.”

On Monday, the Editorial Board sought an interview with Bittel regarding his comments. Instead, a party spokeswoman emailed the board the exact same statement.

To be clear, Braynon, as the Senate Democratic leader, was angry on behalf of all the spurned lawmakers, diverse in race, ethnicity, and geography. So for Bittel to single out “these black lawmakers” is telling, and we don’t like the message, especially because it also dismisses the people whom some of them represent — African American Democrats.

But Bittel’s subtext dovetails neatly with another questionable statement by the state party’s executive director. Last month, Sally Boynton Brown told the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Broward County, among other inscrutable comments, that poor people don’t vote based on the policies that will affect them. “They’re emotional beings who are struggling to make a living, and they need to know that somebody’s going to be on their side and be able to help them.” Come on, they are not emotional, they are likely apathetic because, as Biden said, they are being ignored. Of course, Brown also apologized.

Brown was imported from Idaho, where she was executive director of that state’s Democratic Party. The population of Idaho is smaller than that of Miami-Dade County. Its governor, lieutentant governor, secretary of state, controller treasurer, attorney general and all four members of the congressional delegation are Republicans. So Brown has her work cut out for her in Florida.

Infantilizing what was a reliable base as childish and emotional is not a winning message. Candidates who don’t reflect the reality of the state’s diversity won’t help. African-American support for Florida Gov. Rick Scott doubled when he sought a second term.

Given the losses the Democrats continue to rack up in Florida, and across the nation, Bittel is the one who doesn’t get it. Big bucks always help, but not if the party and the people it’s pushing don’t bring a powerful vision and a persuasive message to draw back its base and to grow the party. Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump and still lost Florida — and the presidency. Right now, we’re still not convinced that the party is “better than this.”