Rod Smith elected to lead Florida Democrats
As a prosecutor, state senator, and two-time statewide candidate, Rod Smith has never blinked in the face of a tough challenge. But on Saturday afternoon, he accepted one of his biggest challenges yet: running the Florida Democratic Party at a time when Republicans are in a historically very dominant position in Florida.
The 60-year-old Gainesville-area Democrat won the chairmanship by a vote of acclamation by about 300 Democrats who met at the Gaylord Palms convention hotel near Walt Disney World. He succeeds former U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, who had held the post since 2005 and drew a resounding standing ovation from Democrats after her farewell speech.
"There is a lesson from this past election," said Smith, who was Alex Sink's running mate on the gubernatorial ticket that narrowly lost to Republican Rick Scott. "It doesn't take voters long to change their minds."
He cited three priorities as chairman: making sure President Obama and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are re-elected in 2012 and making sure that the Republican-controlled Legislature re-draws political districts in a fair way and in line with the two amendments approved by voters to Florida's Constitution in November.
The youthful Smith is known for his direct manner and fiery rhetoric, and he gave an acceptance speech in which he sounded more like a candidate than a party leader. As a senator from 2000-2006, Smith was known for his ability to work with Republicans. He appointed three vice-chairs of the party: U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami; Allison Morano, a Pasco County resident who chairs a statewide association of local county chairs; and Mark Alan Siegel, chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.
The party chairmanship is considered a part-time post and pays $100,000 a year.