Progress for Florida founder believes ‘Florida is blue.’ Can she prove it?
Millie Raphael, co-founder of the consulting firm Progress for Florida (P4FL).

Millie Raphael2 (Large)
Millie Raphael helped found the firm after working on Andrew Gillum's 2018 campaign.

Election forecasters see a tight presidential contest in Florida after Republican Donald Trump won the state in 2016. Florida has a Republican Governor thanks to Ron DeSantis‘ 2018 win, the Legislature is dominated by Republicans and Florida’s most recent U.S. Senate election — also in 2018 — went the GOP’s way as well.

But Millie Raphael, co-founder of the left-leaning consulting firm Progress for Florida (P4FL), thinks Democrats should be more successful in the state and are being underserved by those currently in charge.

“I believe that Florida is blue,” Raphael said during a conversation with Florida Politics. “And I tremendously believe that Florida doesn’t have to go to the margins. It shouldn’t go to the margins. It’s that we haven’t figured out how to have culturally and electorally specific and nuanced strategies.”

That’s the nub of Raphael’s argument: Democratically aligned groups, including the state party, have not done an effective job at consistently reaching and turning out minority populations across the state. Accomplish that, and no more November drama, argues Raphael.

“My mission is to show the blueness of the state of Florida and to do that through Hispanic, Black and African-American candidates and operatives who can begin to show the power that they have. This is about empowering these communities,” Raphael said.

“That’s the work that needs to be done. It needs to be done logically, intelligently and sensitively. And I believe that we’re the firm that can do that. We’re small but we’re mighty.”

The firm worked with Miami Shores mayoral candidate Crystal Wagar in 2019. Wagar won that contest, becoming the first Black woman to lead Miami Shores.

In this year’s General Election, the firm is looking to elect House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee as he pursues a spot on the Miami-Dade County Commission. Public school teacher Lucia Baez-Geller, another client of the firm, is seeking a spot on the Miami-Dade County School Board.

Both candidates emerged from the Aug. 18 election to secure a spot in a runoff for their respective races.

Like many Democratically aligned groups in the state, Raphael said her firm has prioritized electing Joe Biden as the next President.

“In addition to the work we’re doing within the firm, we’ve all either taken leaves of absence or done other things,” Raphael said.

“We are firing on all cylinders but with a main focus on getting out the vote for Joe Biden.”

That work has allowed Raphael to put some of her targeted organizing efforts to work.

“We started a grassroots initiative with Hispanics in South Florida where we didn’t lump Hispanics into one category,” Raphael explained.

“There are Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Cubans and Venezuelans and Colombians with different issues and different ways of speaking and being spoken to. And it’s those nuances that are going to win races and reflect communities.”

Raphael is an alumni of Andrew Gillum‘s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. She and co-founder Philip Jerez both worked on that campaign. They launched P4FL with activist Laurie Schecter.

Raphael said she started in politics about four years ago with the Women’s March. When she invited Gillum to a Women’s March event and heard him speak, Raphael said, she “fell in love” with his progressive ideals.

Subsequently, during Gillum’s 2018 run, Raphael came onto his campaign as a volunteer before taking over an expanded role. She even helped Gillum launch his voter registration organization, Bring It Home Florida, after his 2018 loss.

That experience of coming up short in the Governor’s race shaped Raphael’s current aim of improving outreach to Florida’s minority communities. Specifically, she argued the party proper had too much control after Gillum’s Democratic primary win.

That killed the momentum that had gotten us where we were,” Raphael said.

As to whether the party turned out left-leaning voters and minority groups effectively? Raphael argued the proof is in the results.

“I’m going to get in trouble for this but hell, the machine took over, and they went back to running campaigns the way that coordinated campaigns had been run, that frankly haven’t won elections in a very long time,” Raphael recalled.

“The campaign stopped listening to those that were on the ground with their ears and eyes and hands on the pulse of what was happening. In my opinion, that’s why we fell short.”

The loss prompted a fork in the road for Raphael’s professional life.

“I spent four days crying on the beach after that loss and then I said to myself, ‘what do I have left?’ And I realized that I had gained the experience of organizing grassroots and that’s what I had left,” Raphael explained.

“I created a 501(c)(3) to do voter engagement and voter registration, a 501(c)(4) to do training for operatives and candidates on how to run campaigns, and then Progress for Florida to actually run campaigns based on what I believed the Florida Democratic Party should have done and didn’t do.”

That starts with investing in minority candidates and operatives, Raphael argued.

“I don’t know how many political consulting firms out there are headed by a Puerto Rican woman. I don’t think that there are many,” she said.

“We are going to put our hat in the ring for Black and Brown candidates who might not have the resources to go out-of-pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars for consultants.”

P4FL did fall short in multiple races during the Aug. 18 Primary Election. In House District 101, West Park Vice Mayor Brian C. Johnson lost his bid for the Democratic nod to former Miami-Dade County Public Administrator Marie Woodson 37%-33%.

The firm also made a major play in the Broward County State Attorney’s race, pushing defense lawyer Joe Kimok in the eight-person Democratic primary. Kimok came up just short, losing out to former Assistant State Attorney Harold Pryor 21%-20%.

Though Kimok narrowly missed out on the nomination — and a likely November win in deep-blue Broward County — Raphael still sees that campaign as a success.

“We took someone who was unknown, got him endorsed by Bernie Sanders, got him funded by the George Soros PAC, and we got within thousands of votes of getting him elected as the State Attorney for Broward County.”

P4FL is looking to avoid any more close losses this November. The Rev. Robert Stephens, another client, has already been appointed to an open spot on the Miami Gardens City Council. Raphael said she’s working to ensure her efforts on the presidential race don’t distract from work aimed at making McGhee and Baez-Geller successful as well.

“Be data driven, micro-target, know your communities inside and out. It isn’t enough to drop into South Dade and work on a race with one set of mailers,” Raphael said.

“We took a look at the data and we recognized that issues Kionne aligns with are issues that are important to Hispanics in his district.”

Should those efforts be successful, Raphael said, they are small steps on an eventual path to seeing more progressive representation across the state.

“You’ve got young progressives that are running for school board seats that are going to make some really important decisions for their communities, and the same with some commission races,” Raphael argued.

“Yes, we have to flip the House, and that is an end goal. But you can’t throw up your hands and say: ‘There’s no power so therefore I won’t run for a House seat because I can’t get anything done.’ What you do is you run those candidates and, eventually, you do flip that House. But in the meantime, you’re making sure that there are progressives at every rung of elected office. I don’t care if it’s the dog catcher.”

As for the future? There’s a pretty big race topping the 2022 ballot, with Gov. Ron DeSantis set to run for a second term. While no Democrats have officially announced plans to challenge the Governor, Raphael has been working behind the scenes and expects to make a play in the race.

“I do have some candidates that I’ve got an eye on, that we’ve had some preliminary conversations,” Raphael noted.

“I am going to be very careful about the candidate that I pick to work with because I can deliver grassroots. I can deliver women. I can deliver Hispanics. It has to be the right candidate.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].

One comment


    November 3, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    This country does not have systemic racism, rather, is suffers from systemic race baiting. The left use people of color by promising them the moon and the stars every election cycle, always implementing the race weapon, but they never follow through with those promises. I hope folks will wake up to that. The Left are intolerable and racist. They bash old white men, white folks all the time. Since the days of Obama, our country has been divided by race, religion, class, gender. The real woke folks see right through it because we know who we are and that most white folks today are not racist.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn