Not counting the fact that he’s running from Gadsden County, little about Dwight Bullard is any mystery to many Florida Democrats who’ll be gathering in Orlando this weekend to consider electing him or one of four other candidates as the new state party chairman.
“People know exactly where I stand,” said Bullard, the former Florida senator and representative from South Florida, whose parents Edward and Larcenia also served in the house or senate, or both, in a family dynasty that lasted in South Florida from 1992 until Dwight Bullard’s defeat for election in a newly-drawn district last fall.
Bullard, the Gadsden County Democratic state committeeman, faces Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carvius, Miami-Dade County Democratic State Committeeman Stephen Bittel, Duval County Democratic Chair Lisa King, and Bradford County Democratic State Committeeman Alan Clendenin. The Florida Democratic Party leadership will gather in Orlando this weekend to pick one of them to be the new chair, to replace Allison Tant, who is stepping down.
“Most Democrats that I talk to will applaud me saying ‘You were great in the Legislature. You fought for what we need to fight for,'” Bullard said. “While my detractors will say, ‘Well, that’s not necessarily what we need in a DEP chair,’ while my supporters will say, ‘That’s exactly what we need in our DEP chair.'”
Bullard said he wants to stand with those he says the party has forgotten, the disaffected voters who don’t think the party talks to them, but rather at them. The ones who don’t go to Democratic executive committee party meetings, or Democratic club meetings, or events. They’re just out there, he said.
“It’s really best classified as the ignored Democrats, or the Democrats that don’t want to be caught up in the formal structure of the party,” Bullard said. “I know the party infrastructure and the mechanics in which we operate, working with the DECs and the clubs. But the reality is we often times talk about having more registered Democrats than our counterparts, but they are not the persons in the outcome of the elections. A lot of it has to do with us never having really outreached to those folks, showing them why they should spend that 20 minutes every two years voting for Democrats.”
The bottom line, he said is, Democrats have held a solid edge in voter registrations yet lose time and time again in statewide races. He said it is an embarrassment for the party, and the party hasn’t seemed to recognize it. The problem he said, is that party insiders decide on the “prototypical candidate” without finding out what ordinary Democrats want or don’t want. That has created a chasm between the voters and the party, he said.
“You’ve got a grand canyon or sinkhole opening in your back yard but you’re still having a cocktail party like nothing’s going on back there,” he said. “The key for the party is: stand for something. It doesn’t have to be one single, central message, but be aware of people out there in the everyday. We know things like the environment are important. We know things like income inequality and the environment are important. But when it comes to key issues, we’re not affectively at the forefront of addressing those issues as a party.”
In many ways, Bullard’s failure this fall to stay in the Florida Senate reflected the divide in the party. Ultimately he lost Florida’s newly-drawn Senate District 40 [not really the district he and his mother had represented] to Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles, a veteran state representative with a lot of support and money. But Bullard didn’t get to the general election until he’d survived a bloody Democratic primary fight with Andrew Korge, who pounded him with advertising painting Bullard as being out of step with some fundament issues, most notably with his less-than-absolute support for Israel. [Bullard says he’s a strong supporter of Israel but also feels support must be offered for displaced Palestinians] Ultimately that primary battle was characterized as a classic progressive Democrat, Bullard, versus a more moderate, more establishment Democrat, and Bullard won the primary.
Then there is that Gadsden representation. Bullard is from Miami-Dade. It has been his home and his base his whole career. But he lost a contentious battle for that county’s state committeeman post to Bittel. So Bullard, who has a home in Gadsden, moved there, ran there, and won that county’s post, earning the necessary credential to run statewide. He’s not alone. Clendenin did the same thing, moving from Hillsborough County to Bradford when he couldn’t win a hometown post. And others in the past, including Tant, have done the same.
“The rules are antiquated,” he said. “I think all five of us have talked about that has been the case… the system needs to end.”