Last night the Florida Democratic Party held its annual Jefferson Jackson dinner at the Fountainbleau on Miami Beach. Thumbs up, for the billion dollar renovation.
In an anticipated development, State Senator Dan Gelber announced he will step aside (click 'read more')
-- possibly to run for Attorney General-- to help clear Congressman Kendrick Meek through the primary to the general election for US Senate in 2010. Florida's chief financial officer Alex Sink rolled out her stump speech to be the next Governor of Florida. But the big news, and difference from past year's events, was the palpable sense that the election of Barack Obama had eliminated, in one historic sweep of the state, factional tension between races and ethnicities within the party. It is hard to measure, because the tension itself has always been manifest below the platitudes of unity. It was interesting to watch Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz give a nod to Congressman Allen Boyd, from north Florida, and head of the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress; the conservative wing of the party. The small moment of telegraphing subtle messages was lost in the general hubub.
Whether this important transformation will translate into electoral progress for Democrats in Florida is an entirely different matter. In terms of state-wide elections, Democrats hold a growing advantage over Republicans; nearly 700,000 so far. Districts are a different matter. Although these political dinners are tedious affairs no matter where or for what party they are being held, and although optimism rules the evening in copious demonstrations for both red and blue, what is clear is that Democrats will have to win by articulating and making clear to Floridians the reasons to vote Democrat.
If this was a purpose of last night's dinner, Democrats have a long way to go. The speechifying was predictably tedious. If Republicans are largely identified as "the party of no", it is not clear what the Democrats represent judging from last night's performance. To listen, you would have missed that America and the State of Florida is mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. (I will give Tim Kaine, DNC chair and former governor of Virginia credit for sounding this note and as keynote speaker, providing the only breath of fresh air, but too late to rescue the evening from "all the great speeches." Recommendation: bring Kaine on first.)
Tim Kaine and the DNC can spend all the time and money in Florida, but if Florida's Democrats can't articulate for voters both how and why we have come to an economy shipwrecked on the reef, and what state Democrats will do to move the economy off the reef, then the outcome of 2010 elections is very much up in the air.
In that respect, last night did nothing to dispel the gloomy view that our major political parties both talk "change" but have not absorbed its meaning.
Along those lines-- that a powerful status quo has both political parties in its grip-- it is interesting to note the advertisers who announced their allegiance in last night's Jefferson Jackson program guide, "Florida Democratic Party: Leading Florida to Change". The big utilities-- but not Florida Power and Light-- were in the program. Disney, ATT, and the unions, fair enough. But a few others provide clues to the inertia of the Democratic Party in Florida and why change is so elusive. There was the Florida Association of Realtors, "the advice you can count on"; an integral part of the Growth Machine that sowed the seeds for overdevelopment that lead to the worst housing market crash in a century. Florida Crystals, owned by the billionaire Fanjul sugar barons: "At Florida Crystals, we take our responsibility to a sustainable environment ... seriously." The Fanjul entities represent the destructive corporate impacts on Everglades restoration; every year it is something different imposed on Florida through sugar wealth generated by US farm subsidies. This past year, in West Palm Beach, the Fanjuls pushed through a corrupt Palm Beach county commission their industrial plans, including local permitting for rock mining and an inland port, for the heart of the Everglades Agricultural Area and pressured nearly every aspect of the deal to put US Sugar lands into public ownership. It doesn't look good for the Everglades. There was Florida Phosphate: "Food supply for a Growing World", and one of the biggest polluters in the State of Florida. Last but not least, the law firm "Hopping, Green & Sams": the lobbyist arm of the Growth Machine in Tallahassee whose fingerprints are everywhere in the havoc of legislative sessions that further isolate voters of Florida from their state government. Enough.
Dan Gelber is seasoned, bright, and sharp as a tack. He is likely the best qualified to run against the Republican agenda in the state of Florida, and he will hopefully find the voice to do so. Hopefully other Democratic candidates will listen to him and heed his advice. I liked Alex Sink's stump speech: she's from a hard-working farming family and her love of numbers lead her to a very successful career in Florida banking, a working mom and now to public service. It will play in north Florida. But the part about her "holding the Republicans feet to the fire in Tallahassee" needs supporting detail. The biggest piece of evidence, the mismanagement by the Republican elite of the state's multi-billion dollar administration fund, should be front and center. Former Senator Bob Graham, arguably the most popular Democrat in the state, introduced CFO Sink.
When I was leading civic opposition against the conversion of the Homestead Air Force Base redevelopment into a major reliever airport for Miami International, through a no-bid lease awarded to powerful campaign contributors organized from the Latin Builders Association board of directors, Senator Graham was one of the behind-the-scene opponents of further study on environmental impacts. In the end, those impacts doomed the deal but at a huge cost to civic confidence in democracy. This was-- and still is-- surprising given the extent to which protecting Florida's environment has defined Graham's public service career.
Last week AP reported that Senator Graham is promoting civic activism in his new book, "America, The Owner's Manual". Graham says, "Many citizens don't know how to participate in the game of democracy," said Graham, who also briefly ran for president in 2004. "Therefore, they stay in the stands as spectators and never get down on the field." According to AP, "He (Senator Graham) was stunned by the students' lack of basic knowledge of civics and developed a curriculum to help them develop the essential skills to confront real-world problems they or their community were facing."
Perhaps another real world problem confronted by citizen activists Graham could use as an example, is the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade. In 2003, when the City of Hialeah was part of a group of applicants to move the UDB, citizens mobilized an intense effort that Citizen Graham might have supported but for hundreds of acres of Graham-owned land outside the UDB and adjacent to the applicants' site. At the last moment, The Graham Company came in and added their land to the application to move the Urban Development Boundary; knowing full well that the application had the political muscle to speed by citizens outgunned by lobbyists-- all Republican. There was one delicious moment at the County Commission when the de facto chair Natacha Seijas berated the Graham Company executive for letting others do all the "heavy lifting". Later, the Graham Companies would be big contributors to the Seijas effort to repel citizens who had successfully petitioned for a citizens recall.
For the Homestead Air Force Base battle, won by environmentalists, there were plenty of citizens down on the field who found themselves outgunned on the un-even playing field.
Sitting in the bleachers (ie. the public seats at the Miami-Dade county commission chamber), I remember shaking my head: it doesn't matter how engaged citizens are, with respect to land use and the environment-- money and power get there first. According to AP, ""America, The Owner's Manual" was written for college students, but Graham said he hopes it'll also help all ages become more engaged."
Maybe free copies should have been made available at last night's Jefferson Jackson dinner.
Former Fla. Senator: You can fight city hall
By BILL KACZOR – 1 day ago
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Bob Graham says you can fight city hall — and win.
The former Florida governor and U.S. senator said Thursday he wants to help people make government work for them with his new book: "America, The Owner's Manual."
"Many citizens don't know how to participate in the game of democracy," said Graham, who also briefly ran for president in 2004. "Therefore, they stay in the stands as spectators and never get down on the field."
Graham and co-author Chris Hand, a Jacksonville lawyer and former Graham speech writer, have included case studies such as efforts to save South Beach's historic buildings, crack down on drunken driving across the nation and reduce property insurance rates in the Florida Keys that all began with one citizen or a small group. There's also advice from a variety of experts.
The paperback published by CQ Press is designed to look like a car owner's manual.
Graham's frustration began three decades ago when he taught a civics class at a Miami high school for a semester. He was stunned by the students' lack of basic knowledge of civics and developed a curriculum to help them develop the essential skills to confront real-world problems they or their community were facing.
He decided to write the book after teaching a similar course three decades later at Harvard University.
"I, frankly, found the undergraduates at Harvard were about as illiterate in civic skills as the high school students," Graham said.
"America, The Owner's Manual" was written for college students, but Graham said he hopes it'll also help all ages become more engaged.
Graham said 2008, which saw the election of former community organizer Barack Obama as president, could mark a turnaround.
"There was an increase in voter participation, particularly among younger voters, and there seems to be increasing willingness of people to get actually involved in a political campaign," Graham said.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.