After mixed results in the 2018 midterms, the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) has set up a new panel of lawmakers and party members to work up a plan of attack for 2020.
The FDP announced Thursday the creation of a “Path to Power” Commission to both review the previous election and strategize for next year.
The party saw some successes, flipping several GOP seats at both the state and national level. But there were major losses as well. Outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott ousted longtime U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. And Andrew Gillum will be spending 2019 on CNN panels rather than in the Governor’s Mansion.
That’s led to some tension in the party, with several Democrats openly questioning the leadership’s 2018 efforts and preparedness for 2020.
FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo cited those shortcomings, along with some successes, in a statement summarizing Democrats’ goals for the commission.
“Democrats had a lot of bright spots in this election: record turnout for a midterm including African Americans and young people, two Congressional seats flipped, flipping 8 legislative seats, Democratic control of the five largest counties in the state and we elected our first cabinet member in more than a decade,” Rizzo said.
“We also had some tough losses and as a Party and we need to examine and assess the 2018 outcomes. We have put together a group of Florida’s most experienced and talented leaders who will be crucial in our efforts to forge a ‘Path to Power’ in 2020.”
Former state Rep. Sean Shaw, who lost a November race for attorney general, will serve as chair. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to win at a statewide level last fall, will serve as honorary chair.
State Sen. Audrey Gibson and state Rep. Kionne McGhee will serve as honorary co-chairs. Former state Reps. Cynthia Chestnut will be joined by former state Sen. Jeremy Ring as chairs of the committee.
“We need to have an honest discussion about why our electoral record is so poor statewide and why some activists and other groups feel disconnected from the party,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Ring both ran unsuccessful campaigns in 2018. Shaw lost out in the Attorney General’s race, and Ring was defeated in the contest for Chief Financial Officer.
Since falling short in many of the big races in November, Florida Democrats have not gathered for a statewide party meeting. But they are scheduled to meet Feb. 9, a date that was added after 25 Democratic county chairs and party committee members signed a petition and called on Rizzo to move to Feb. 2 a meeting scheduled for March 1 to March 3.
Instead of moving up the date, Rizzo offered two events for Democrats to meet.
The perception that party leaders were slow to respond to requests to meet brewed tension among some Democrats. Juan Cuba, who this week resigned as Miami-Dade County party chairman, said party leaders were “alarmingly silent” in the two months after the election when asked about dissecting the 2018 outcomes.
Further evidence that morale was low came when the party’s treasurer, Francesca Menes, resigned. In a hand-delivered resignation letter submitted Jan. 15, she said she was uncomfortable with how party leaders dealt with the midterm election losses.
“This is a decision that I do not make lightly,” Menes wrote, “but a decision that I have wrestled with for the past three months. There is a lot going on in the party, a lot that I am very uncomfortable with and very disappointed to see unfolding.”
When she left her party post, Menes made leaders aware that she believed there was a “lack of fundamental structure of accountability and engagement” and urged them to not run the “same plays from the same playbook.”
National Democratic leaders will depend on the state party’s infrastructure to try to help block Republican President Donald Trump from winning in Florida next year, and at least one state senator said this month that she worried the party was acting slowly.
“We have a lot of work to do, and frankly, we are already late,” said Miami Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is serving on the “Path to Power” commission.
“The pace at which we are moving is non-existent, and it is not OK,” Taddeo added.
Since facing the mounting criticism, party leaders have been more responsive to requests from activists. In addition to creating the “Path to Power” commission, Rizzo is circulating a statewide survey to get feedback from Democrats about how to do better in 2020.
“What we need is an unbiased, hard look at how we are going to win elections,” said Casmore Shaw, the secretary of the statewide party. “Like any organization, we can’t stay stagnant, we have to be evolving — and that is what we are doing at FDP.”
A copy of the survey obtained by The News Service of Florida shows questions that focus on how the party communicated with volunteers and staffers to provide information about programs, the election recounts, whether technology the party invested in was useful and what efforts should receive further investment.
In an effort to assuage those critical of the party’s direction, the panel will also reach out to Democratic leaders across the state and hold multiple regional meetings. Whether that will be enough to put the criticism to rest remains to be seen.
Several members of Congress, the state legislature and other Democratic activists will also serve as members of the commission. A full list of those individuals is below.