January 26, 2013

It's Tant. Allison Tant wins FL Dem Chair race, beats Clendenin 587-507

Allison Tant beat Alan Clendin in a hard-fought race for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Tant won 587 votes to Clendenin's 448 507. UPDATE NOTE: the original count didn't include at least one ballot that wasn't initially counted.

"Thank you, Alan Clendenin, for making me a better candidate," Tant said.

Tant's win spared Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson a measure of embarrassment. Both pushed hard for Tant. They wanted her to lead the party because she knows how to fundraise. And they need money, truckloads of it, to unseat Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

"We are going to have to work to out-raise, out-organize and out-work the GOP," Tant said. "We’ve done it before. We’re going to do it again."

But they haven’t done it during a governor’s race since 1994, when incumbent Gov. Lawton Chiles beat challenger Jeb Bush.

Ever since that election, though, Republicans took over the entire Legislature. Bush then won the governor's mansion in 1998 and Republicans now control every statewide elected seat based in Tallahassee. Nelson is the only Democrat elected statewide.

But President Obama's re-election in Florida and nationwide has Democrats feeling stronger than ever in recent years. He's the first Democrat to carry Florida twice since 1936. Also, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has terrible poll numbers.

Democrats know they have a problem: Their voters show up in outsized numbers in presidential election years, but often get out-voted during governors' races.

"Can we get them to show up in off year elections? Can we get that same energy in off year elections?" Rod Smith, presiding over the election in his last act as chair, asked the crowded room of Democrats.

"I don’t know about you all, but I wouldn’t mind attending something I’ve not been to in a long, long time – and that would be the inauguration of a Democratic governor in this state," Smith said. "Rick Scott has done his part for us. His work alone won’t be sufficient to get us elected. But it should give us a running start.”

Annette Taddeo, Miami-Dade County's Democratic chairwoman who nominated Tant pointed out that Scott also has prodigious personal wealth.

"One number should worry you: $70m," she said. "That's how much Rick Scott spent in 2010."

Actually, Scott spent millions more of his own money.

The Democratic chair race was unusually bitter – not between Tant and Clendenin, but between their supporters.

Democrat attacked Democrat behind each other’s back and on blogs. Some tried to block others from voting in the chair race.

Smith refused to block Democrats from voting if they had been certified previously.

“I will not tolerate any effort at voter suppression," he said in a letter.

On the final day, Friday, liberal activist Susannah Randolph rebuked another Democrat by email when he accused another of fraud. Randolph, a backer of Tant along with husband and Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said that tensions were so high that someone taped a sign on her office door that said “Beware of Bitches.”

Clendenin had widespread and early grassroots support. But it wasn't enough to overcome the institutional support of Tant.

Before the vote, Clendenin sought to make the race a contest between the rank-and-file and the elite.

"Does our party belong to a group of Tallahassee insiders, consultants and lobbyists or does it belong to us?" he asked.

After he lost, Clendenin was elected vice chair and took the loss with grace. He hugged Tant and then held her hand high.

"Make no mistake, GOP, this team's coming to get you," Clendenin said.


January 10, 2013

Bill Nelson, Wasserman Schultz could get embarrassed in Dem party chair race

Democratic National Committee Chairmwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has the ear and the loyalty of president Barack Obama, and loads of influence among Democrats in Washington and across the country. Democratic activists in her home state of Florida, however, are poised to deliver an embarrassing snub to Wasserman Schultz with the heated race to lead the state Democratic party.

The congresswoman from Weston recruited longtime friend Allison Tant of Tallahassee to run for chairwoman of the Florida Democratic party, and in recent weeks has aggressively lobbied elected officials and party activists to get behind her anointed choice to lead the Democratic party in America’s biggest battleground state.

But it looks increasingly likely that those activists may ignore the entreaties by Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson and instead elect Tampa activist Alan Clendenin to succeed outgoing party chairman Rod Smith.  A tally of announced support compiled Wednesday night by Leon county Democratic activist Jon showed Clendenin with 390 votes, 68.4 percent of what's needed to win, and Tant with 183, or 32 percent of what's needed.

Continue reading "Bill Nelson, Wasserman Schultz could get embarrassed in Dem party chair race" »

January 09, 2013

Alex Sink backs Alan Clendenin in FL Dem Party chair race

Interesting high-profile endorsement for Alan Clendenin in his bid to lead the Florida Democratic Party: Alex Sink, the 2010 and possibly 2014 candidate for governor. To date, Clendenin opponent Allison Tant has soaked up all the establishment help, namely Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The press release:

Continue reading "Alex Sink backs Alan Clendenin in FL Dem Party chair race" »

December 19, 2012

Bill Nelson, DWS pick to lead FL Dems lobbied for firm tied to notorious 2000 voter purge

This could be a bombshell from The Political Hurricane blog:

Allison Tant, the insider's pick to be Democratic Party chair, was a lobbyist in 2000 for ChoicePoint, the parent company of a database firm hired by the state of Florida to purge its voter rolls of felons, many of whom happened to be Democrats and minorities.

Reached by phone, Tant tells us she didn't actually lobby for the subsidiary involved in the felon-purge work, called DBT. Instead, she said, she lobbied for ChoicePoint, a data-mining company. The company sought to ensure that the financial-services industry had adequate identity-theft protections in place so that the personal data was misused, she said.

Even though she didn't work for DBT (another lobbyist handled that line of work, she said) the mere association with the company can be politically toxic in some liberal circles.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lawful voters might have been unfairly removed and blocked from voting in an election that George W. Bush won by just 537 votes. The voter purge has been part of Democratic lore ever since.

"Allison Tant was lobbyist for firm that purged African-Americans from voter rolls before, during and after 2000 recount," says The Political Hurricane blog headline.


The felon purge is still fresh in the mind of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson as well. He mentioned it during testimony at the Senate's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as an example of how Republicans allegedly game the election system. Turns out, Nelson also is the driving force behind Tant, who's also backed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair.

ChoicePoint was recently hired by the Obama administration to conduct criminal background checks on possible hires. So it might not be that anathema any longer.

Tant withdrew from representing ChoicePoint in late January of 2001 -- about two months after the famed recount was halted by the Supreme Court in the Bush v. Gore decision.

One of Bush's lawyers: Barry Richard, a Democrat and longtime Obama supporter, who's married to Tant.

Tant's opponent, Alan Clendenin, and his backers have long noted the Richard tie. And they've resented the way party leaders have thrown their weight behind one candidate -- especially after Clendenin spent the last eight months collecting votes for the job. His supporters say he still has enough grassroots votes to pull it off.

The story by the Political Hurricane, which backs Clendenin, probably doesn't hurt his chances.

December 14, 2012

FL Dems shredding each other over party chair race. Will Taddeo-Goldstein drop out?

Fresh off the president’s big win, Florida Democrats are starting to tear each other up over who will lead the state party.

In one camp: Allison Tant, a Tallahassee fundraiser for President Obama who was urged to run by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Broward Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman.

On the other side: Alan Clendenin, a Hillsborough County retiree, and Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, a Miami-Dade business woman recently elected to chair the county party.

Some insiders expect Taddeo-Goldstein to drop out of the state chair race soon, but she couldn’t be reached for comment on the speculation. The backers of Taddeo-Goldstein and Clendenin deeply resent the involvement of party leaders in the race.

“This is a slap in the face,” said Victor DiMaio, a Tampa Bay consultant and backer of Clendenin. “He has run for this office for months and now higher-ups in the hierarchy are trying to shove him aside."

Continue reading "FL Dems shredding each other over party chair race. Will Taddeo-Goldstein drop out?" »

November 26, 2012

Broward Sheriff Elect Israel will announce new hires within two weeks

Broward Sheriff Elect Scott Israel said today that he expects to announce new hires within a couple of weeks after he returns from sheriffs' school in Tallahassee where he is headed on Sunday. Israel, a Democrat, beat Republican Al Lamberti in November.

We also asked Israel about a report on the Republican blog The Shark Tank that suggested when Israel takes over BSO won't provide the same security to DNC chair U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston.) Lamberti and Wasserman Schultz have had a friendly working relationship and have both appeared at Relay for Life events (both are cancer survivors).

We're not going to delve into the details about when Wasserman Schultz does or doesn't get security while in Florida. But Israel said that it is "ludicrous" to suggest that BSO won't provide security to Wasserman Schultz.

"She is a Congresswoman in the United States of America," Israel said.  "Of course we will be protecting her."

Israel said that he asked Wasserman Schultz to endorse him and she didn't respond. But he said that isn't a factor in any security decisions.

November 16, 2012

Dems to Scott: Stop meddling

Democrats charged Friday that Gov. Rick Scott is meddling in the U.S. Congressional race between Patrick Murphy and Republican Allen West.

 A judge denied a demand by West, the tea party-based incumbent, for a recount of early voting ballots in St. Lucie County, which makes up the 19th Congressional District along with parts of Palm Beach and Martin counties. Murphy led West by 1,907 votes. Earlier in the week, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent a three-member team to audit the results, according to news reports.

That prompted Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, to issue a statement.

“In a clear effort to overturn an election result after having lost at the ballot box, Allen West has now run to Governor Rick Scott to needlessly interfere with and politicize a non-partisan election process.

"All votes in this election were counted fairly and accurately, and Allen West has lost beyond the mandatory recount range. Having Governor Scott intervene is outrageous and inappropriate. After disenfranchising Florida voters by cutting down early voting days and creating extraordinarily long lines at the polls, Governor Scott is now trying to blatantly overturn an election result he disagreed with and undermine Gertrude Walker, a three-decade veteran of the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office. Governor Scott needs to remove himself from this process immediately."

That led Chris Cate, the spokesman for Detzner, to issue a response.

Claims that there is any interference by the state in this election are wholly inaccurate and unhelpful to the voters who need to know their votes have been counted accurately. We have a responsibility to ensure Florida’s election laws are interpreted and enforced properly, and our involvement in St. Lucie County has only been observational with the purpose of protecting the voice of the voters and ensuring fair elections were conducted in all of the St. Lucie County races, not just the highest profile contests.


September 06, 2012

Wasserman Schultz focuses on health care, her own breast cancer battle, in DNC speech

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, whose duties include opening the Democratic convention on Tuesday, had a short speaking slot early Thursday evening. It's been a rocky convention for Wasserman Schultz, who was dogged by squabbling within the Obama campaign that's she too partisan of a spokesperson for the president, and who got caught up in the debate over whether the party's platform should assert Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state.

Her speech focuses on her battle with breast cancer and her belief in affordable health care. "No family
should go broke just because a mom gets sick," she said. "So when President Obama passed healthcare
reform, it was personal!" In it, she exhorts fellow Democrats to work as hard as they can to re-elect President Barack Obama.

"So, when you feel too drained to register one more voter, too tired to make one more phone call or too exhausted to knock on one more door, dig just a little bit deeper," she said. "Work just a little bit harder. And don't get weary!"

Continue reading "Wasserman Schultz focuses on health care, her own breast cancer battle, in DNC speech" »

September 05, 2012

Where's Bill Nelson? And where's Florida at Democrats' convention?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill who? Nelson where?

The embattled senior senator from the nation’s biggest battleground state has almost no profile at the Democratic National Convention.

Bill Nelson neither asked for nor was offered a speaking role. He held no big public events. He didn’t appear at the Florida delegation breakfast.

But he did stop by and visit delegates on the floor, grant a handful of news-media interviews, attend a fundraiser and then hustle out of Charlotte N.C. after less than a day on the ground.

It’s vintage Nelson: low key and averse to overt partisanship — the essence of a political convention. Nelson, who has shied away from President Barack Obama while backing much of his agenda, didn’t have a speaking role in the 2000 convention, when he first successfully ran for Senate, in 2004 or in 2008.

“The campaign’s in Florida, not in Charlotte,” Nelson explained. “I start in Panama City and start working back from the Panhandle out east on Thursday. That’s where the campaign is.”

Nelson just isn’t the type of speaker a convention would feature anyway, according to those who know him.

“His style is more tailored to small groups, speaking with voters one-on-one,” said David Beattie, a pollster who works for Nelson.

“I don’t know all of the inner workings of how a convention is put together,” Beattie said, “but it all depends on who fits their messaging, what’s right for the hall.”

By that standard: Florida isn’t right for the Democratic National Convention.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/05/2986450/sen-bill-nelson-prefers-campaign.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

Damage control: Obama gets DNC to change course, recognize Israel-capital Jerusalem; Arab-American delegates vote no

In damage control over Israel, the Democratic Party abruptly reversed course Wednesday and reinstated language that asserts Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. The party also reinstated language affirming the God-given potential of Americans.

The changes were made by a voice vote as the convention opened at 5 p.m. and were done at the direct request of President Obama, said Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“The president intervened out of a personal opinion that Jerusalem should be recognized as the state of Israel, recognizing that this was in the 2008 platform,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“We already had a 100 percent pro-Israel platform,” she said, “but the president wanted to make sure there was even more clarity in it.”

But the changes didn’t come easy. Few knew they were happening. None of the rank-and-file Democrats had a clue about Obama’s involvement.

Some delegates, many of whom held "Arab American Democrats" signs on the convention floor, loudly opposed the changes as they yelled “no.”

Those delegates said they opposed the language about Jerusalem specifically. And they didn’t like the last-minute procedural move that caught them off-guard.

“Obviously, it makes me feel a little frustrated that this is not being truly discussed in a fair just way,” said Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim-American woman elected to the Michigan state Legislature.

The last-minute decision followed a day of Democrats defending the policy — and marred an otherwise triumphant convention opener where they showcased minorities.

In drafting the platform, the committee left out language that asserts Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and will remain it — a position that had been in the party’s 2008 document.

The language was stripped this year by a vote of the platform committee, Tlaib said, who’s on the rules committee for the convention. She said the reversal was made because of “pushback from the Jewish community.”

Early Wednesday, before the language changed, Republicans pounced. Democrats went on defense as they realized they’d caused problems with a key constituency: Jewish voters.

“No one has been stronger on Israel than President Obama,” Schultz, the Broward County lawmaker who is Jewish told a gaggle of reporters Wednesday morning.

Explaining the foreign-policy nuances of the party’s posture and goals wasn’t how Wasserman Schultz had planned to spend the morning after First Lady Michelle Obama gave a much-heralded speech at the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But the issue of Israel and Jewish voters – a key Democratic interest group in swing-state Florida – dominated the discussion. Just days before, at his party’s convention in Tampa, Republican Mitt Romney had accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus.”

The Jerusalem omission was a sign, Republicans said, that Romney was right.

Wasserman Schultz, who represents one of the most-Jewish districts in Congress, had to grapple with another flap: The accusation from a conservative newspaper columnist that she had quoted U.S. ambassador to Israel Michael Oren saying that Republicans were dangerous to Israel.

She disputed the account in the Examiner newspaper, and warned not to put "love of party before love of Israel." Support for Israel is one area where both parties have traditionally been in solidarity, she said.

"They ripped one line out of what I said and left the rest so it appeared as though I was saying something that I wasn't," she said. "In fact, that line is the opposite of what I always say, and I will say it again: It is dangerous to turn Israel into a political football, as the Republicans are trying to do. It is dangerous for Israel."

Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats say Republicans are having it both ways when it comes to party platforms.

After all, the Republican platform didn’t explicitly call for the reversal of Obama-era changes concerning another foreign-policy touchstone for Florida voters: Cuba. Obama loosened travel restrictions, but Republicans never called for reversing them.

What’s more, Romney’s running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, repeatedly voted against the Cuban embargo in his early years in Congress. Wasserman Schultz, a Cuba hardliner, helped muster enough Democratic votes to kill one anti-embargo measure supported by Ryan.

“Paul Ryan has had no purifying vote on Cuba,” Wasserman Schultz said. “He’s squishy when it comes to Cuba.”

Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen, the House foreign-relations chairwoman, said Ryan had come to support the embargo. And, she said, it wasn’t fair to hold Romney accountable to a party platform that few people read.

Romney had promised to take a hardline stance on Cuba and, like many Republican and Democratic candidates before, said he’ll support recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a touchy subject with Palestinians and the Arab world.

The United States has maintained that Jerusalem’s status as Israel's capital is a matter of negotiation; the U.S. embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

When the Democratic party-plank omitted references to Jerusalem, a Romney campaign spokesman said the Democratic Party was signaling "a radical shift in its orientation, away from Israel."

The Republican Jewish Coalition announced Wednesday it would run a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer to "send a special message to President Obama and the Democratic Party during the Democratic National Convention."

"Does the document accurately mirror Barack Obama’s views?" asked former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, Romney's liaison to the Jewish community. "Given that his top aides have said that the platform reflects his policies, and given that his official White House spokesman has also refused to name Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that is now an urgent question to which the American people deserve an immediate and unequivocal response."

Democrats worked to mend fences with their Jewish voters -- although the first night of the convention also featured a speech about Israel from former Florida congressman Robert Wexler, the Obama campaign's liaison to the Jewish community and one of the people who helped craft the platform.

Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had a strained relationship since Obama took office with a tough stance against Israel's building of settlements in the West Bank.

Wexler argued Wednesday that the Democratic platform addresses Israel's chief security concerns, particularly the threat of a nuclear Iran. It has been the policy of every administration since 1967 that Jerusalem's status should be determined in final negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Wexler said. He also said that Republicans, too, had changed their platform on Israel, too.

"It's a totally false issue," Wexler said. "The language that is in the Democratic platform this year is 100 percent pro-Israel language."

But Democrats had a change of heart at day's end, making it even more "pro-Israel."

The issue dogged top Democrats, who don't want to see their lead narrow among Jewish voters.

Jewish voters traditionally vote heavily for Democratic presidential candidates, but Republicans have been pushing hard for their support, particularly in Florida. Obama received about 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and polls suggest support is just as strong this year.

One reason for the strong support: Most Jewish voters don’t see Israel as their top concern and tend to be among the most-socially liberal constituencies.

"I am confident that because of words and deeds from President Obama and Democrats across this country, that we have a stellar record on Israel," said Wasserman Schultz. "Jewish voters know that, and I'm proud to support this president, and I'm proud that Israeli leaders have acknowledged that Israel has never had a greater friend than President Obama."

Lesley Clark and David Lightman of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.