Leah Carius said she knows something about being in a medium- or small county and feeling largely ignored by Democratic Party leaders Tallahassee, yet she also knows more than a little about strengthening a Democratic powerhouse.
Carius, the chair of the Osceola County Democratic Party, is one of the dark horses seeking election as chair of the Florida Democratic Party on Saturday. Among counties with between 100,000 and 500,000 voters, hers is one of very few that Democrats control, or that supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and it’s the medium-sized counties that largely gave Donald Trump and the Republicans their victory.
Yet she’s not feeling the love.
“Being from a medium-sized county, I found our requests fell on dear ears,” she said of her efforts to get state party help. “I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for the small counties.”
Two of the other four candidates for the Democrats’ top leadership post are campaigning from small counties of their own, but they’re not really from there. Stephen Bittel is running representing Miami-Dade County, where he just won a state committeeman post in December, and has been busy locking up endorsements from coast to coast. Lisa King is running from Duval County, where she is state committee woman. Meanwhile, Dwight Bullard, who lost the committeeman election to Bittel in Miami-Dade, has moved to Gadsden County, where he became a state committeeman, to run for the state post. And Alan Clendenin did the same thing, moving from Hillsborough County, where he lost, to become a state committeeman from Bradford County, his base to run for the state job.
If she has a shot, it likely will come from cobbling votes from Central Florida together with those of representatives of other medium- and small-counties sympathetic with her frustration.
Carius is in her second term as Osceola’s party chair. She’s a Florida native [though she’s lived some of her life in Alabama] who said she grew up in an active Democratic family, and has always been involved in Democratic politics, but really got going a few years ago as a PTA mom frustrated with what she saw the state doing to public schools.
Registered Democrats nearly outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin in Osceola County. They have a super majority on the county commission and all the constitutional offices, plus a majority on the Kissimmee City Commission. Two of the three state representatives, the state senator and the U.S. congressman representing Osceola all are Democrats. Clinton got 61 percent there. Much of that dominance predated her leadership, but it has been strengthened since she took charge.
Carius’s platform focuses on shifting the party’s power back to the local Democratic executive committees, and focusing on building benches there.
She decries that for a decade or more Democrats have continued to try to push candidates from the top, only to lose. She refers to her opponents as the usual suspects. She sarcastically says that the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party is trying to dictate decisions to the state party, including who should be chair.
“I thought this was the perfect time to refocus our party,” she said. “It’s time to focus on what works. It’s time to bring back to the elections those in the local DECs. Instead of having a state party that dictates down to the local DECs, we need a state party that supports them, and helps the build our bench of wonderful local candidates, and build upward. That’s how we take the state back.”
She’s also convinced it’s time for the Democratic Party to develop new tactics on fundraising, putting less focus on pursuing those big checks that often dictate what the party will do, and focusing instead on the Bernie Sanders model of convincing huge numbers of ordinary people to send in small checks. Those small checks are personal commitments, and those people will also vote, she said.
As for policy platforms, Carius wants to see a focus on basic, mainstream, fairly moderate issues.
“Specifically, an inclusive platform that emphasizes what Americans care about most: economic security. We can achieve this by focusing on what we in Osceola County refer to as the Four E’s: Education, Employment, Energy, and Environment,” she declares on her campaign website. “This platform is broad enough for each county to emphasize issues that are most relevant to their communities.”