After years of fielding complaints that its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was interminably long, the Florida Democratic Party had a solution: Make it shorter by having fewer speakers.
Now it has a new complaint: It's blocking former state Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich, a gubernatorial candidate, from speaking.
"I think it's inappropriate, given the amount of attention the governor's race will draw," said Rich, a Weston resident. "I've been a candidate for a year, I've traveled the state and built a significant infrastructure and grassroots support. And I'm just asking for five minutes."
But it's five minutes too long in the eyes of the Democratic Party's chairwoman, Allison Tant, who decided along with party leaders to keep the June 15 fundraiser at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood limited to three speakers: Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and featured speaker Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio.
"The decision for our JJ program was to have a streamlined event where we have a national speaker. And this year we’re excited to have Julian who spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Committee,” said Christian Ulvert, the state party’s political director.
“In years past, we’ve heard from the attendees that the program goes too long," he said. "We want a shorter program."
Party leaders are adamant: No extra time for Rich or anyone. Letting Rich speak, they say, would lead other Democrats to want to do the same. And that would weigh down the program.
"The program does not feature any candidates," Ulvert said. "This year we have a state convention a more candidate focused event. She’ll have great opportunity to showcase her candidacy and share her message."
Rich learned of the decision last week when she called Tant and was denied a speaking slot. Soon, the liberal Florida Squeeze blog, which opposed Tant for Democratic chair, began complaining about the treatment of Rich.
Rich said she understands the decision to limit the length of the program. She said she remembers one year in which now-Vice President Joe Biden had to wait until about midnight to speak and no one was there.
"It was embarrassing," she said.
But she's not asking for much, Rich siad. And she points out that the governor's race is different from other campaigns; so there should be special consideration.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott is widely disliked and seen as beatable, although he'll be well-funded. Still, Rich isn't the only Democratic candidate. Unknowns Ryan Adam Lipner and Jessica Lana Stewart have filed. Neither has raised any money
Rich's campaign has raised about $121,000 and spent about $26,000 and her political committee has raised an additional $136,000 and spent about $62,000.
By contrast, Scott is ready to spend as much as $100 million by November 2014.
Rich's relatively weak fundraising has Democrats casting about for another candidate. Some are trying to recruit Sen. Nelson, but the Democrat isn't inclined to leave the seat he just retained in Washington. Former Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to announce sometime this summer. But the Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat isn't trusted by many grassroots Democrats.
"They want a true Democrat," Rich said. "They want someone who has consistent core values and principles. They don't see that in Charlie Crist."
But beyond the grassroots, Crist enjoys a major advantage. He has statewide name-identification, he's well-liked by President Obama's Florida team, and he'd be an instant frontrunner who has the best chance of beating Scott, most polls show. Like Castro, Crist spoke at the DNC.
Rich said she'll have the money and the organization to beat Crist. But she also would like a shot to make her case at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. She said she'll still attend, but she doesn't like the new rules.
"This runs contrary to the spirit of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner," Rich said.