BY BUDDY NEVINS
The four-year fight to fairly redistrict Florida ended with a Leon County court ruling a year ago.
What happened since is a stark illustration of why Democrats don’t count anymore in Florida politics.
The cost of the legal skirmishes and the special legislative sessions were estimated at more than $11 million.
A year ago, Democrats thought the cost was worth it. For the first time in a generation, the new districts gave Democrats a real chance to make real gains in the state Senate. Some Ds even predicted their party would win control of the Senate.
It didn’t work out that way. After all, these were Florida Democrats.
When the votes from the 2016 election were counted, Democrats ended up with one more Senate seat. The Ds now have 15 senators compared to the Republicans 25.
All that redistricting effort by Democrats was wasted.
All that money was squandered.
Florida Democrats once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
No surprise, since Florida Democratic Party has been moribund for decades.
Unable to win local elections. Unable to win the all-important off-year statewide elections for governor and the Cabinet.
It isn’t solely because of a feeble grass roots operation, although that’s a problem.
It isn’t really because of a lack of money, although that is surely true.
It isn’t because the Ds have never fashioned a solid message, a reason to vote Democratic.
No, those are not the key reasons Democrats are losing elections after election.
It’s the candidates.
The lousy, boring , inexperienced Democratic candidates.
The Democratic Party has no exciting, experienced candidates to energize statewide voters.
And sadly, the party has no strategy for building a bench of statewide candidates for the future.
The Republicans have scores of experienced candidates, young and old and in between.
It’s been like that for years. It has gotten so bad that the Democrats have been writing off important Cabinet races that they have no chance of winning.
An example is the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, a statewide post with considerable power and patronage, for an open seat in 2010.
The Republicans had Adam Putnam, who although was only 36 at the time had an impressive resume.
A veteran of ten years Congress, Putnam had also served four years in the Florida House. His family owned groves and the name was known in Central Florida and throughout the agriculture community.
The 2010 race was typical of the dismal effort Democrats have made in Florida statewide races. The party dredged up Scott Maddox, a Tallahassee pol who had been sniffing unsuccessfully around statewide office for years.
Putnam beat Maddox by roughly 1 million votes.
When Putnam ran for reelection in 2014, the Democrats didn’t even bother finding a retread like Maddox. The Ds phoned it in.
Holding the Democratic spot on the ballot was the unknown Thad Hamilton from that agricultural center of Florida – Broward County.
Thad, who? See what I mean.
Putnam raised $4.2 million easily. Hamilton raised $43,267.
Putnam won by a million votes…again.
Now Putnam is running for governor. He starts with a base in the multi-million dollars ag industry and has already been touching base with fund raisers in urban centers like Broward.
In March, Putnam is scheduled to be named Honorary Irish Person of the Year at the annual Emerald Society Breakfast, which is one of the premier events of the year for political and courthouse insiders. It will be Putnam’s introduction to a new group of urban Broward’s movers and shakers of all political stripes.
And the Democrats?
Democrats have again put their gubernatorial hopes in a blast from the past: Gwen Graham, whose biggest attraction appears to be that she is the daughter of the former U. S. Senator and Governor Bob Graham.
Deluded Democrats believe that the Graham name can still carry votes. Do they realize that Bob Graham was last in office in 2005 and last on the ballot in 1992? How many millions became voters since then?
Gwen Graham is also light on experience. A lawyer, Gwen Graham served one-term in Congress from North Florida, but didn’t run again this year because after redistricting it appeared that she would lose.
But the fact that she won in the area surrounding Tallahassee even once has Democrats’ mouths watering. It has been a long time since a white Democrat won anything major north of the Interstate 4 corridor.
Never mentioned is the paper-thin win Graham eked out in that one congressional race. She got 50.4 percent of the vote.
So as we close out the year, Putnam is already getting promises of big money. Meanwhile, Gwen Graham is still mulling over a race, her indecision complicated by her husband’s recent diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Florida Democrats needs to stop the handwringing about the past. Ds need to stop looking for excuses, whether it is hacked email or anything else. They need to forget about formulating a message and building a ground operation.
Democrats first need candidates. Candidates that can win. Candidates that electrify voters.
The Ds need to start in cities and legislative seats. They need to build a farm team for future statewide races. A farm team of future Democratic candidates from Pensacola to Key West.
Because without new, fresh candidates, nothing else matters.
Without candidates, the Ds will continue down the same road they have been traveling for so long and that road only ends in Palookaville. Without candidates, Florida Democrats will continue to be known by only one name: losers