Jeff Clemens, a candidate for the Florida senate, Patrick Murphy, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and Gwen Graham, a likely future candidate for governor, represent the future to many Florida Democrats, a party that desperately needs a future.
But as often happens among Democrats, little is done to groom the new kids. Instead, Florida Democrats would rather squabble among themselves as sometimes aging politicians decide elected office is better than golf.
A little history.
Florida’s Democratic Party died in 1998. It remained on life support for a few years but voters in subsequent elections pulled the plug. Today, the party is a mess of parochial interests with much chatter about returning to its old glory but little idea how to get there.
During the 20th Century, Floridians elected just three Republicans to be governor – Claude Kirk (1967-71), Bob Martinez (1987-1991) and Jeb Bush who would end the 20th Century taking the keys to the mansion in January 1999.
The only other interruption to Democratic reign was Prohibition Party governor Sidney Catts who ran a hateful anti-Catholic campaign and described African-Americans as being part of an “inferior race.” He was governor from 1917 to 1921.
Democrats, who also ruled most of 19th Century Florida politics, controlled Tallahassee during the period of 1900 to 1999 for 87 years. Today, Florida Democrats are largely irrelevant. They have little influence in Tallahassee and even less in Washington.
During its 20th Century reign, the Florida Democratic Party fought it out in the primaries and took a nap during the general election when often hapless Republicans were slaughtered. Conservatives, liberals, moderates all found a fraction of the party they could call their own. It was a party where North Florida Democrats looked with great suspicion on South Florida Democrats – and it was equally true in the reverse.
It was a party of personality – Napoleon Broward, Doyle Carlton, Spessard Holland, Claude Pepper, Bill Gunter, LeRoy Collins, Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, and others.
Today, the party is one of petty fiefdoms, petty rivalries, and petty politics. It is often hapless in its attempts to confront Republicans who brush them aside like pesky gnats. So desperate for political success, the party rented it soul to Charlie Crist when the former Republican governor got kicked out his party and decided to run for governor as a Democrat. Now, he is running for Congress in Democratically favored St. Petersburg district.
Florida Democrats, rightly so, get love and attention during presidential election years when the state’s otherwise red glow begins to get a purple hue.
What they don’t notice is that national Democrats are lavishing even more love on independents who really decide where Florida’s 29 electoral votes will go.
So while Democratic activists can get all giddy about Hillary Clinton, they may want to save some energy for what really matters to the future of the party – the down ballot races. Here, Democrats have some interesting choices to make on August 30.