Florida Democrats packed a downtown Tallahassee hall Tuesday night to raise money, rip Gov. Rick Scott and fondly remember their former two-time chairman, Charles Whitehead, who died last weekend.
The party's annual legislative appreciation reception was named in memory of Whitehead, a gregarious Panama City car dealer who led the party during the 1980s and returned in 1999-2000 when the party was adrift and struggling to raise money. Services for Whitehead will be Friday in Panama City.
Most Democratic lawmakers attended the reception, sponsored by a variety of influential interests including unions representing teachers, police and firefighters; Disney; Bright House; Calder Race Course; Realtors; Seminole Tribe; Walgreens; Walmart and Florida Blue, whose long-time lobbyist, Mike Hightower, a Republican and leading Scott fund-raiser, was on hand.
"Thank you for being there for us. Know that we always have an open door, and we're committed to making sure we hear all sides," said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. "So before we get to the session, keep writing those checks. We need those checks to keep coming in."
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, the incoming House minority leader, predicted victories next fall, including delivering "a Democratic governor" and gains in House and Senate seats that will create an "override-proof" Legislature.
Party chairwoman Allison Tant said the event raised just over $200,000 for the party. On Wednesday, party leaders planned to review a new poll by David Beattie of Hamilton Campaigns that Democratic sources say shows some improvement in Scott's poll numbers including a drop in his unfavorable rating. Said Tant: "We expected the race to tighten. This is not unexpected. We assumed that this was coming."
She said Scott will spend millions in an effort to "erase the memories" Floridians have of him. "It's up to us to combat that, and we will," Tant said.