Florida Democrats setting themselves up to lose — again

From 2010 to 2014, Republican Gov. Rick Scott doubled his votes among African Americans in Florida, making inroads into a key constituency of the state’s Democratic Party.
From 2010 to 2014, Republican Gov. Rick Scott doubled his votes among African Americans in Florida, making inroads into a key constituency of the state’s Democratic Party. Miami Herald

Grandma Geneva used to tell me that, “If you don’t tell it like it was, it can never be as it ought to be.”

Now is the time to plain speak to the Florida Democratic establishment. The Florida Democratic Party (FDP) has been a minstrel show for well over 30 years. It shucks and jives, surviving off the votes of African Americans while never yielding leadership to this constituency, which makes up 32 percent of all Florida Democrats. The comedy within the tragedy, is that the FDP still expects African Americans to be in lock step with its politics and priorities.

President Obama won Florida twice, but not Hillary Clinton in 2016 or Democrat Charlie Crist for governor in 2014, or any of the litany of past Democratic nominees for Cabinet. Why? Because Obama had the unequivocal support of 32 percent of Democrats in the state. Not simply because he was black, but because he spoke about issues affecting the black community with authenticity. You don’t have to be black to do that — Robert Kennedy proved this more than 50 years ago.

The Florida Democratic Party should be dominant. Democrats have outnumbered Republicans since the 1870s for almost 150 years. So one should ask why every statewide elected official isn’t a Democrat in 2017. The answer is really simple and mathematical: The Florida Democratic Party doesn’t represent Florida Democrats.

This trend began in the 1990s and went full throttle in 1998. The watershed moment came when the Florida House Democrats ousted Rep. Willie Logan from the position of Speaker-Designate. Yes, the potential first black Speaker of the Florida House was removed by his own party. Then the roof fell in — as it should have. On Election Day 1998, Democrats lost the governorship, Florida House and Florida Senate to the Republicans in quick succession.

Now, here we are in 2017. Why would the Florida Democratic Party be so arrogant to think that it could stop the political progress of African Americans and still expect their support?

The only way the party can regain its former dominance is to embrace Florida Democrats, half of whom are black and Hispanic, and they don’t care about half of the issues the FDP is fighting for today. Florida Democrats are hardworking people, but the party is run by big donors, corporations and unions who have their own agendas that don’t always run parallel to rank-and-file Democrats.

The vote to elect the chair of the Florida Democratic party is scheduled for Jan. 14. Yet again, the Democratic establishment, with the support of several unions, are rallying behind a prominent and respected major donor and, in so doing, ignoring Dwight Bullard — an African-American former Florida senator, teacher, union member and former chair of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade.

We’ve seen this movie before: Allison Tant, our current Democratic leader, played the same role three years ago as the establishment candidate of big donors. The result? With Tant as party chairwoman, Democrats have lost every single statewide election in Florida. So why is the Democratic establishment preparing for a sequel?

The Democratic Party should focus on maintaining its base and staying in step with its constituencies. Gov. Rick Scott doubled his black vote from 2010 in 2014; the situation is even worse in 2017 when you consider that one in four black men in Florida, 48 percent of Hispanics and 17 percent African Americans voted for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who even carried a majority-black Jacksonville precinct.

Unfortunately, the FDP and its donors are too busy one-upping each other to host the Clintons, Obamas or Cory Booker at their homes for a fundraiser.

For the record, lack of money didn’t lose Florida to Trump. Clinton outspent him two to one. Money doesn’t win elections, people do. The idea that only a major donor is fit to lead the Florida Democratic Party is not only a form of benign classism, it has been proven over and over to be a failed strategy.

Will Rogers, the early 20th-century social commentator, claimed that he was not a member of any organized political party — “I’m a Democrat.” We must embrace this notion by forming a movement of Independent Democrats for Florida — I.D. for short — for voters who identify with the Democratic Party platform but do not want to be associated with its apparatus or corporate machinery. They should have a home, one that’s a parallel political movement to ensure that, in 2018, the candidates for the Florida Cabinet actually look like Florida Democrats. When the numbers are on your side, it’s really just that easy to win.

Christopher M. Norwood is a member of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida and the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee.