Op-Ed

Democrats out of step with their constituents

NORWOOD
NORWOOD

As a child playing Nintendo, I remember the ease with which I could simply remove the game from the console and press “reset” whenever the game spazzed out and froze up. These days control/alt/delete has the same effect. I press it and I wait — wait for the glorious fresh start. A do-over. A mulligan.

State Democrats should press control/alt/delete on 214 Bronough Street — Florida Democratic Party headquarters in Tallahassee — and clean out the halls of leadership. The experiment of anointing Charlies Crist, a life-long Republican, as the standard bearer for our party failed horribly.

Recently the FDP announced a new post-election task force chaired by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. His first order of business should be to overhaul the state party’s leadership.

Democrats soundly lost the Cabinet, lost six seats in the Florida House providing a super-majority for Republicans, while securing even more conservative policy-making for the next two years and untold long-term effects to the judiciary.

The scariest part is that Scott doubled his share of African-American voters from 2010, reaping 12 percent, up from 6 percent four years ago. Counter-intuitive, but still a fact. African Americans are the most loyal voting block in America. There is no other group of people in Florida that routinely votes by more than 90 percent for one political party. In an election that Scott won by 66,000 votes, exit polls indicate he received 61,000 more African-American votes than in his last election. Remarkable for a candidate who had no urban agenda, except for corporate scholarships for low-income students, an issue that’s overlooked by Democratic strategists who have been using the same African-American outreach strategy since the days of Martin Luther King.

The black church is way more sophisticated than the strategists can even begin to conceive. They haven’t figured out that the same churches they line up to visit before Election Day are also full-fledged social-service agencies serving the poor and providing education. Church buses used for Souls to the Polls on Sunday transport kids on Monday through Friday to and from the church’s day-care center (VPK vouchers) and their K-8 Christian school (tax-credit scholarship program vouchers).

The FDP should not become the ideologues that we claim right-wingers are, especially on core kitchen-table issues dear to African-American families. We are out of step with our base when the largest Democratic county in Florida, Miami-Dade, is the same county where more than half of its public-school students are in choice programs, meaning schools that families picked themselves.

Going forward, we should run candidates for governor and Cabinet that actually look like the Florida Democratic Party. If we want to bring out our base (crucial in non-presidential elections), let’s see its diversity in our candidates. Take a page out the Republican playbook where their Cabinet represents specific constituencies within their party. Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam is a fifth-generation cattle rancher and citrus grower from Polk County (representing the traditional agricultural community of his party). CFO Jeff Atwater is a former banker (finance industry). Attorney General Pam Bondi is a former state prosecutor (law enforcement and a woman, key constituencies for any party). Gov. Scott represents business — Big Business!

Our 2014 Democratic candidates for governor and the Cabinet, all men, were led by a former Republican governor. Our well-respected candidate for attorney general, George Sheldon, has not held elected office since 1982. Our candidates for agriculture commissioner and CFO were negligible. One ran as an independent four years ago. What Democratic constituencies did they represent?

Meanwhile, 58 percent of Florida Democrats are women, 30 percent are black and 20 percent are Hispanic. One-third are from South Florida. In no election should state Democrats not have viable candidates running for the Cabinet with at least two women, at least one Hispanic, one African-American, and most important, at least one from South Florida.

If we want to turn the tide in Florida, Democrats simply need to be ourselves.

Christopher M. Norwood is a member of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee and principal consultant with The Norwood Consulting Group.

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