Frank Artiles’ forced resignation last Friday from the state Senate provides the first real test for Democrats to show they have finally learned they can’t keep offering up the same ol’, same ol’ and expect to win enough seats in the Legislature to make a difference.
No one articulated that better than Dwight Bullard, the former state senator from District 40 in southwest Miami-Dade County. Bullard is the Democrat who lost by about 20,000 votes (out of 200,000 cast) as an incumbent last November to Artiles.
It was a bitterly disappointing rebuke in what is considered a Democrat-leaning district. Now that the seat will up for grabs again in a special election to replace Artiles, Bullard gave the Miami Herald an honest assessment of the landscape.
“I have a lot of folks that were supporters that would like to see me back in the Legislature, but at the same time you have a lot of considerations,” he said. “I’m a pragmatist in the sense that sometimes you need new energy, new ideas.”
Part of the problem for both major parties is that court-ordered redistricting introduced unpredictability into the mix. Bullard, who served as chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, was an icon in local politics.
After his district was redrawn though, it put him face-to-face with a lot of new voters who weren’t in the mood to endorse the status quo. Name recognition wasn’t the asset it used to be.
Artiles, who ran an aggressive (and borderline smear) campaign against Bullard, appeared to benefit from the fact the new district had an influx of Hispanic voters. I would imagine many of those same voters felt betrayed following the sexist, racist and any other “ist” you want to add rant that rendered him doomed in Tallahassee.
Democrats have a chance to get back an important seat now, but that isn’t the biggest opportunity here. With so many eyeballs watching the outcome of the election to replace Artiles, it gives Dems a rare chance to hog the spotlight and show off the “new energy and new ideas” Bullard was talking about.
They have been relegated to little more than an afterthought in statewide politics. Republicans have won the last five governor’s races and have controlled both legislative chambers since 1996.
Winning back a single Senate seat won’t change that, but you take victories where you can get them and, wow, do Democrats need one.