For Florida Democrats, Failure Can No Longer Be an Option (OPINION)

Jan 4, 2021
1:22 PM

MIAMI — Florida Democrats are still reeling from the November 3 electoral shellacking that resulted in not only Joe Biden losing the state by four points, but also down ballot losses—including two Congressional seats, a relatively safe state Senate seat, and five state House seats.

The Florida Democratic Party is having its reorganizational meeting and elections on January 9, following a power vacuum left when current chair Terrie Rizzo declined to seek re-election after her tenure overseeing two disastrous election cycles.

The next chair will have a lot of work to do if Florida Democrats hope to unseat Marco Rubio and Ron DeSantis in 2022. The current situation for the state party is dire, resembling a money laundering operation operated by a consultant cartel for the purpose of enriching themselves while losing elections for two decades straight.

We cannot afford more failure. We cannot afford a continuation of the Republican trifecta that has controlled both chambers of the Florida Legislature and Governor’s mansion for 20 years.

After speaking to all candidates running for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party in my podcast and reviewing their platforms and records, I believe that Hillsborough Party Chair Ione Townsend is the right person for the job.

Just like she has led the Hillsborough county Democratic Party to success, we can count on her to do the same statewide and to lead on important reforms necessary to accomplish this, from building organizing infrastructure, holding the consultant cartel accountable, and democratizing our governance structure and rules.

I recently co-wrote an op ed calling on three reforms to be adapted if we are going to fix the Florida Democratic Party. First, a complete audit of expenses needs to be conducted to determine what has been an efficient use of resources and which consultants need to not be hired again based on their performance and results.

Second, the party’s arcane rules need to be reformed and the structure democratized to allow grassroots voices and leaders to participate and step into leadership roles, particularly its “weighted vote” system, which gives disproportionate power to certain party officers in decision-making and to elect its leadership.

Third, actual organizational infrastructure needs to be developed in-house rather than relying on firms, consultants and vendors. This will allow the party to begin competing year-round against Republicans and actually have a lasting impact in communities across the state.

We need to stop hiring consultants like Scott Arceneaux, the disastrous former executive director of the FDP, whose eight-year tenure was marked by consistent losses, or Jackie Lee, the recent Biden state director who lost the state by four points. Both of them were on the board of Floridians for Affordable Reliable Energy (FARE), a front group for Florida Power & Light, which sought to trick voters and block a constitutional amendment aimed at breaking up Florida’s investor-owned utilities.

Another election cycle loss for Florida Democrats is not acceptable in 2022. Townsend succeeded in Hillsborough County by increasing the membership of that county party by 350%, raising more than $1.5 million, flipping both the county commission and school board, winning six out of seven constitutional offices, and flipping two state House seats, a state Senate seat and turned the Temple Terrace city council blue.

That’s the track record of success that we need to succeed, and with her clear, reform centered platform and vision, we can begin to rebuild the Florida Democratic Party and position ourselves for statewide wins in 2022. Failure is not an option.


Thomas Kennedy is a co-founder and former chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Progressive Caucus.