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Florida Democratic Party Continues to Alienate Progressives, Risking Entire Ticket

July 2, 2018 - 8:30am
Alex Sink and Alan Clendenin
Alex Sink and Alan Clendenin

The Florida Democratic Party is going all-in on marginalization of its progressive wing, risking its only statewide officeholder, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, any chance of recapturing the governorship, and pickup opportunities in the Florida Legislature.

Ramifications of what are known in state Democratic circles as “the corporatist agenda” can easily filter down to the courthouse.

Progressives are roiling in several counties including Broward, Duval, Orange, and Hillsborough. All are populous, all have significant communities of progressive Democrats and left-leaning NPAs, all are vital to keeping Nelson in the Senate and being competitive in the other four statewide races, including the governorship.

In Duval, the county executive committee is feuding with progressives over how the county votes and is represented on the state executive committee.

Ill feelings in Broward still revolve around the divisive Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tim Canova, her erstwhile opponent for Congress.

Canova lost to Wasserman Schultz two years ago in the Democratic primary. This year he is running as an independent with a slew of Democrats defecting to support his campaign. Vote counting and the ballot trail were issues in 2014.

Two congressional battles in Orange-Osceola pit progressive challengers Chardo Richardson and Alan Grayson against a pair of incumbents, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy, who are perceived to be too far right and corporatist.

In Hillsborough and statewide, there are racist overtones in the Democratic schism.  Democratic National Committee member Alan Clendenin has attacked the party’s only black gubernatorial candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and the PAC of black businesspeople who support him.

Clendenin called The Collective Super PAC a “Republican front,” a patent falsehood that was interpreted to mean that black candidates and contributors cannot function within the same parameters as white Democratic candidates. The Collective, like nearly every other political action committee, does not list its individual donors.

Gillum is the only non-millionaire running on the Democratic side and is not self-funding like primary opponents Chris King, Jeff Greene, and Philip Levine.

The PAC’s television ads criticize Gwen Graham for supporting the Republican agenda on 50 percent of her votes during her one term as a congressional backbencher. Graham’s father, former Sen. Bob Graham, sits on the board of the Poynter Foundation, parent of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Times has jumped all over Gillum, describing his campaign with half truths, innuendo, and racist imagery.

Gillum had made headway in the campaign with the most recent poll from Gravis Marketing showing him in the lead. The winner will face either Congressman Ron DeSantis or Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

Elsewhere in Hillsborough, former state CFO Alex Sink fancies herself a queenmaker despite losing two straight elections to political novices. With the help of State Committee Chair Terrie Rizzo, Sink forced Bob Buesing, a popular progressive, out of the race to challenge state Sen. Dana Young.

Progressives are furious at Sink and her cronies, with many promising to withhold their votes from Sink’s choice, Janet Cruz, the career corporatist politico who was termed out of her Florida House seat. An attempt to unify progressives behind Cruz failed miserably.

Hillsborough Democrats have other problems. A proposed citizens petition for referendum promoted by the development community is circulating. If 49,000 valid signatures are submitted by July 27, a 1 percent sales tax increase will appear on the November ballot.

The sales tax is being peddled under the guise of a transportation initiative, but it is designed to mitigate development impact fees  and to save a $3 billion downtown project that is behind schedule and underwater.

Victims of the regressive sales tax would be low-income families, many people of color, and retirees on fixed incomes. The local Democratic Party and its candidates for public office have remained silent on the issue.

Tampa’s black community is fuming and threatening to disengage from the Democratic Party if it doesn’t oppose the regressive tax, which would make Hillsborough, along with tiny Liberty County, sport the highest sales tax in Florida.

As in Broward County, the impartiality and competence of the local elections supervisor have come into question. Craig Latimer, the supervisor and a Democrat, declared he will not allow independent observers to be present during the validation process or the counting of ballots in November, should it come to that.

With four months until the general election, time is running out for Florida Democrats.

Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.

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