May 27, 2016

In this age of political disruption, is the party as we know it over?

Political parties KRT Tim GoheenThis summer may be remembered not only for a blue moon and the welcome end to a bitter presidential primary, it may also mark the time America’s century-old political parties went on life support.

At the top of the ticket, both the Florida Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Florida have anointed presidential frontrunners who are seen by most voters more negatively than positively. Corporate donors, the bread and butter of the party diet, are circumventing the parties in large numbers by contributing directly to candidates’ committees.


In Florida, the often-reliable bellwether for the nation, party membership is steadily eroding as the majority of new voters don’t register with any party and fewer new voters are registering than have in previous presidential years.

Then there are the casualties.

Florida Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, has beentargeted for defeat from within by Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old Vermont senator who is the overwhelming favorite of the youth vote. Jeb Bush, Florida GOP’s favorite son, is so disgusted by Donald Trump and his message he has announced he won’t vote for his party’s nominee. And GOP candidates in Hispanic-rich South Florida are keeping their distance from the frontrunner.

With a battleground this bloodied, can political parties be saved?

It’s an uncomfortable question that could have serious implications for future statewide candidates like Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Congresswoman Gwen Graham. Each hopes to run for governor in 2018 relying on a durable, traditional, governing coalition.

But 2016 laid waste to durable traditions as Florida and the nation showed that its allegiance to political parties was over.

“I think we’ve got 20 more years of disruption ahead of us,” predicts Steve Schale, the Democratic consultant to who steered Obama’s victory in Florida in 2008. “You’ve got a generation of people who are growing up in a time when traditional organizations are not vital to the world. We have to figure out what do we look like in the next 20 years, and do we even exist?” 

The numbers tell just part of the story. Of the 2.1 million new registered voters in Florida since 2012, 28 percent have registered Republican, 31 percent Democrat and 42 percent registered anything else, according to data analyzed by Associated Industries of Florida.

David Johnson, former executive director of the Republican Party who worked on Bush’s Right to Rise political committee this election cycle, is among those who say his party has reached an existential crisis.

“The Republican Party is torn apart,” he said, and how it handles Trump’s divisive campaign will be the crucial test. “There is no question in my mind there is a path toward a viable third or fourth party in the future.” More here

Illustration: Tim Goheen, KRT


May 16, 2016

Rep. Wilson to chair hearing on helping young people of color


Rep. Frederica Wilson on Tuesday will bring together lawmakers and youth experts from Florida and beyond for a congressional forum on expanding opportunities for black and Latino young people.

Michael Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and head of the White House My Brother's Keeper program, will moderate the forum. Wilson will be joined by Arnaldo Gonzalez, Miami-Dade Schools chief of growth and development, and education leaders from North Carolina, Virginia and other states.

Also speaking will be Albert Dotson Jr., a board member of 100 Black Men of America who helps run the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

"As the founder of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an in-school dropout prevention and mentoring program, I have experienced firsthand the powerful influence that a caring adult can have on a young person's life," Wilson, a third-term Democrat from Miami Gardens, said.

In February, Wilson helped launch the Congressional My Brother's Keeper Caucus. It now has 18 members, among them Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar; South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat; and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

When he started the My Brother's Keeper mentoring program in 2014, Obama drew criticism from some advocacy groups for excluding young women and girls. Wilson's hearing Tuesday will focus on expanding opportunities for male and female people of color.





May 10, 2016

Payday lenders have given millions to Florida politicians

Payday lenders have donated about $2.5 million to Florida politicians and and both political parties in recent years, according to a new analysis by a liberal group.

Allied Progress has drawn attention to the issue of payday lending in Florida by attacking U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national committee chair, and other politicians who have taken money from the industry.

The group gave the Miami Herald an advanced copy of its new report, “A Florida Plan: How Payday lenders bought Florida’s political establishment.” The report lists donations given to federal and state candidates as well as the state’s Republican and Democratic parties since 2009.

Overall, Republicans received $1.6 million and Democrats received about $890,000, while $29,000 went to independents. But the top individual recipients were South Florida Democrats.

Keep reading from the Miami Herald.

March 24, 2016

Progressives blast Florida Democratic Party on behalf of Wasserman Schultz's challenger



A dispute over access to voter data in a South Florida congressional race is highlighting a divide between the Florida Democratic Party and its progressive caucus.

For the second time this month, leaders of the progressive caucus are openly criticizing their party leaders, this time on behalf of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's primary opponent.

But the caucus' complaints were immediately rendered moot, though, because -- unbeknownst to them and independent of their grievances -- Florida Democratic Party leaders already agreed to make a special exception that addresses critics' concerns.

The controversy stems from a decision by party leaders earlier this month to deny Wasserman Schultz's challenger, Democrat Tim Canova, access to its voter database.

In an "open letter" sent Wednesday and provided to the Herald/Times, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida asked Wasserman Schultz -- a Weston congresswoman and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee -- to intervene to ensure her challenger has a fair shot in the primary race.

Party voter files are a treasure trove of data and information that campaigns collect, curate and share between their state and national political parties, and they're especially valuable to political newcomers -- if they can get access to them.

It's been the policy of the Florida Democratic Party for the past six years to withhold access to candidates challenging incumbent Democratic members of Congress.

But the party has changed its mind this week -- in this single instance -- and will now give Canova access to the voter file "to avoid any appearance of favoritism," Scott Arceneaux, the state party's executive director, told the Herald/Times on Thursday.

"This is a truly unique set of circumstances where we have an incumbent member of our delegation who's also our DNC chair," Arceneaux said.

Continue reading "Progressives blast Florida Democratic Party on behalf of Wasserman Schultz's challenger" »

November 01, 2015

RECAP: Absent star power, Florida Democrats energize for 2016


LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Given Florida’s status as a swing state in the 2016 elections, the absence of the Democratic Party’s two major presidential candidates didn’t go unnoticed during the state party’s annual convention this weekend at Walt Disney World.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were campaigning in other states and missed out on what Florida Democratic Party officials called a record-breaking gathering of the party faithful.

The 2,000 attendees left with mixed emotions. Energized, certainly — but also somewhat disappointed.

“You had some who really thought it would signal Florida’s importance” if Clinton and Sanders were to attend, said Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “Others are happy that people seem engaged even without their presence, and they’re willing to be patient until the general election.”

Democrats know they have to mobilize both their base and moderate voters, if they’re going to have a chance at winning not only the presidency but also Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Both parties have a slate of candidates duking it out in the party primaries, hoping to put up the strongest candidate in a competitive race to replace Marco Rubio.

Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy, a Jupiter congressman, picked up several major endorsements during the weekend that propelled his status as the Democratic establishment’s favorite in the race.

Read the full story here.

October 30, 2015

McCaskill, Kobuchar and Senate candidates highlight Florida Democrats' Orlando line-up


Florida Democrats are gathering in Orlando this weekend for their annual convention, aiming to energize their base -- and Floridian voters -- into making the Sunshine State a bluer shade of purple after the 2016 elections.

There's a lot on the line next year, with Florida once again being a swing state in the presidential race and with the victor of Florida's open U.S. Senate race potentially deciding which party will control the chamber in 2017. The Florida Democratic Party is emphasizing those stakes with the convention's theme, "Florida's Future."

The convention line-up includes prominent Democrats from Florida and around the country, including Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who's scheduled to speak Saturday morning and is acting as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign since the former Secretary of State won't be in attendance.

The gathering kicks off today and runs through Sunday at Disney's Yacht & Beach Club convention center.

Saturday night, the two congressmen seeking to be the party's nominee in the race to replace Marco Rubio and join Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate -- U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, of Jupiter, and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, of Orlando -- will get their chance to address the party faithful. Murphy also has scheduled a Saturday afternoon press conference to make "an important announcement" with some yet-to-be-named special guests.

Other prominent Democrats attending this weekend include: Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, state legislative leaders and several mayors -- including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam.

Panels and seminars will also be held on topics such as LGBT equality issues, education, and the minimum wage.

October 28, 2015

Florida Democratic Party hires deputy political director


How important is the swing I-4 corridor in Central Florida to Sunshine State politics?

The Florida Democratic Party announced Wednesday the hiring of a deputy political director, Roosevelt Holmes III, and touted his Orlando roots.

"Roosevelt will bring his strong central Florida campaign experience and grassroots network to the team, and we can't wait for him to hit the ground running in Orlando," Chairwoman Allison Tant said in a statement. "With so much at stake in 2016, Florida Democrats are fired up and ready to win."

The party hold's its annual convention this weekend in Orlando. 

Here's his background, from the party's press release:

Roosevelt Holmes III is a Florida Democratic campaign staffer and legislative assistant. The 30 year-old Orlando native and UCF graduate has worked on successful Democratic campaigns at all levels of government, including President Obama’s 2008 campaign and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s 2012 reelection campaign. Most recently, he worked in Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s office, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce, and served in the Government Affairs and Public Policy Department of the UNCF. Roosevelt will work at the Party’s satellite office in Orlando this election cycle. 

September 16, 2015

Florida Democrats target Miami and Hispanic vote, hire new outreach coordinator in Miami office

With Miami being Florida's political battleground and the Hispanic vote the key, the Florida Democratic Party announced Wednesday that it is ramping up its outreach efforts and has hired Sheyla Asencios to serve as deputy political director in charge of Hispanic outreach based in Miami.

Asencio, 29, donor relations coordinator for the University of Miami’s School of Communications, served as the party's Central Florida's Hispanic outreach coordinator in 2013. She provided support to elected officials, launched voter registration efforts and helped with media relations with Hispanic media. She later worked for former Gov. Charlie Crist and Annette Taddeo's team as director of Hispanic media. 

“We absolutely are thrilled to have Sheyla join our team,” said Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. “Sheyla was a tremendous asset last cycle, and I look forward to her continued efforts energizing and empowering communities across Florida to help deliver victories to Democrats up and down the ballot. ”

The party's Hispanic outreach efforts this cycle "will dwarf anything in the past,'' said party spokesman Max Steele. Democrats in 2014 won 20 percent more of the Hispanic vote than Republicans and the party is determined to expand those numbers this cycle, he said.  

The effort will include year-round voter registration, hiring a director of Hispanic media, and developing a presence in Hispanic communities across the state, with a special focus on the Orlando and Miami areas.

"The RPOF chair said just the other day that they have the right message but have a “marketing problem” when talking to voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican,'' Steele said. "They still don’t get it. When you have folks like Donald Trump pulling the party to the hard right with racist, nativist rhetoric, and proposing mass deportation, they clearly have a message problem. I mean Trump got Jeb Bush to start using the term anchor baby, which he had previously condemned."

Steele said Florida's Hispanic community is rejecting the GOP message "by a large majority...But rather than sitting back while Trump puts at risk the millions they are spending in Hispanic outreach, we are working to run up the score and improve our performance,'' he said. 

Wadi Gaitan, Republican Party of Florida communications director, offered the opposite view.

"While Democrats attempt to spin the broken immigration and economic promises of a Democrat run White House, the reality is that Hispanic voters are eager for a change from the old, failed Democrat polices that have resulted in a stagnant economy, an unfixed immigration system, and less opportunity,'' he said in a statement. "That is why our party is committed to holding Democrats accountable and sharing our message of real leadership and greater opportunity for all Americans.”

July 17, 2015

Was Carlos Lopez-Cantera an enthusiastic supporter of bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida?

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera became the first Hispanic candidate to enter the Florida Senate race to replace U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on July 15.

Florida Democratic Party chair Allison Tant leveled a series of charges against the Republican, but the one that caught our attention was this one: that Lopez- Cantera "voiced enthusiastic support for bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida, calling the measure 'common sense.’ "

Lopez-Cantera, who was born in Spain to Cuban parents, is hoping to draw part of his support from Hispanic voters. Is it true that he was an enthusiastic supporter for an Arizona-style law, which some Hispanics feared would lead to racial profiling?

Tant has omitted the full story about what Lopez-Cantera said about bringing such a law to Florida. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for our fact-check.

June 10, 2015

Senate Democrats to continue with fundraiser in Tally on Monday

Senate Dem VictoryAs Florida legislators convene the third week of a three-week session with a budget vote pending, Senate Democrats have scheduled a fundraiser Monday night at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee. 

Senate rules prohibit fundraisers during session, including the special session, with one exception. If the fundraiser was previously planned before the special session was scheduled, an exemption is allowed. 

"The rules say it's allowed if it was planned before the call of the session,'' said Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa who is hosting the event with Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami.

Joyner, however, said Wednesday if the fundraiser was scheduled, she hasn't been thinking about it.

"Nothing rings a bell but the budget right now," she said.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, also took advantage of the exemption. He held a fundraiser on the first day of session June 1 at the Florida Association of Realtors in Tallahassee to raise money for his state Senate campaign.