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Florida Dems pass ‘unity’ resolution, face vocal dissent following 2018 debriefing

A transparency resolution did not pass at the state meeting.

Florida Democratic Party leaders did not pass a measure Saturday aimed at increasing transparency but supported a unity resolution.

That an overwhelming number of attendees supported the ‘unity’ measure was viewed widely as support for FDP chair Terrie Rizzo to continue leading the party.

Still, Democrats around the state remain frustrated at problems that contributed to losses in the Senate and gubernatorial elections in November remain unfixed.

“I’m not happy to sit in a room all day and chat three months after elections we had no business losing,” said Stacey Patel, Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee chair.

Patel made her remarks at a debriefing meeting for party leaders held in Orlando.

Florida Democratic Party officials say the meeting had intended to explore the lessons of losses (see Bill Nelson, Andrew Gillum) and wins (see Nikki Fried).

But after the meeting’s close, much of the discussion statewide centered around the transparency resolution and its sound defeat.

“Instead of the state party reaching deep and making the systemic changes that we need to in order to win elections,” wrote Jessica Vaughn, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Tampa on Facebook, “they want to scrap transparency and shove unity down our throats without supporting the concepts needed to foster real unity.”

Still, most in the room said the resolution put forward by the progressive wing lacked clarity and could expose Democratic strategies in coming campaigns.

State Rep. Anika Omphroy, who won a state House seat in District 95 last year, noted despite some disappointing statewide losses, state lawmakers increased their caucus size. But she said making public spending plans and field operation strategies would hinder efforts to elect more Democrats.

Likewise, state Sen. Gary Farmer said operating under existing campaign finance law meant Democrats couldn’t expose every campaign priority.

“We’re already at a gross disadvantage over Citizens United,” he said.

“We are all pushing for the same goals. Winning more Democratic seats and to flip Florida blue.”

Ultimately, the transparency resolution did not pass. Party leaders did approve a “unity” resolution stating leaders in all 67 Florida counties would work to elect more Democrats.

Many after the meeting, though, felt losing principal seats as the rest of the country experienced a “Blue Wave” hardly called for such a “kumbaya.”

Juan Cuba, who recently resigned as chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, has lamented a failure for state officials to run aggressive field operations in Florida’s six largest counties.

He did not attend the meeting in Orlando but felt discouraged by a lack of introspection, especially after reading a “unity” resolution he deemed Orwellian.

“Leadership sees any critique as an attack,” he said. “This attitude was made crystal clear by the poorly worded resolution that was designed to shut down criticism and portray a false sense of unity without doing the hard work of listening, reflecting and sharing power to develop strategy.”

Yet, other Democrats from rural parts of the state said FDP needs to provide more significant support in those areas where the blue team often loses.

Panhandle Democrats complained using resources in major cities wastes money and effort in places Nelson and Gillum won. Meanwhile, Nelson lost in a critical suburban county he knows well— Brevard.

And other leaders said focusing in on the resolutions intentionally ignored the focus of the meeting.

Even some of the attendees who supported the spirit of Patel’s resolution said the measure seemed hastily put together and released shortly before the meeting.

“There should be disclosures when conflicts of interests exist, but the financial disclosure the way it was worded was too intrusive,” said Wes Hodge, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party.

“Several of the other things are in progress, which is a good thing: annual calendar, budget, and staff tree.”

But the resolution also called for implementation in 10 days, a challenging time frame.

Officials considered referring the measure to a rule committee for further scrutiny before coming back in parts or as a whole in March or June. Instead, it was withdrawn.

Cynthia Chestnut, Alachua County Democratic Party chair, said the resolutions discussed were never the main priority of the election debriefing.

“This was to discuss strategies for going forward and that’s what we achieved,” she said.

But FDP leaders committed to getting more boots on the ground in 2020 and to improve grassroots activism, training and technology, Chestnut said.

Some in attendance said they expected more friction coming off painful losses. And whatever grousing occurred afterward, the maligned “unity” resolution won with 78 percent of the vote.

“The ‘Unity Resolution’ was just that,” Hodge said. “A statement to the state that no matter what we are dealing with internally, we are a diverse and unified party working to put the pieces in place for an even more successful 2020.”

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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