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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rod Smith's prescriptions for Fla Democrats



rodsmith102911_1176792e.jpgFlorida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith will hand over the proverbial gavel to a new chairman Jan. 26 after party officials hold an election in Orlando. Having served as a state senator and run for statewide office, Smith has a good, big picture sense - from the local Democratic executive committee to the fundraising by legislative leaders - of how the minority party works, and how it doesn't.


Buzz asked Smith what he would do if he could single-handedly restructure the party.

"If we're going to turn the little engine that could into a freight train we've got to change some processes,'' said Smith, who advocates "massive charter and rules reform for the party." The bottom line? He would give future state party chairmen much much power.

In no particular order, here are Smith's recommendations:

1. Change the way party party chairs are elected, opening up eligibility to everyone rather than just to party activists who have been elected local state committeemen or state committeewoman and county chairs. The current system breeds "real subterfuge" where would-be chairs, himself included in 2010, at the last minute strike a deal to get elected to their local party leadership (as Annette Taddeo-Goldstein was elected Miami-Dade chairwoman Monday night).

"We eliminate lots of good candidates who might bring a special skill set to the chairmanship with a process that makes no sense to me," said Smith, noting that under current rules two-term governor and three-term Sen. Bob Graham would be ineligible to be state chairman unless he finagled his way onto his county's local party leadership.

Smith tried to get that system changed, but was shot down by state party leaders. Why? "It's about some people who are empowered and have disproportionate political attention because you have to go to them and get their support to be chair of the party...when they might not even have much influence in their own county," Smith said.

2. Restructure the way statewide and legislative fundraising and campaign planning is conducted. This one would be tricky: Smith would like to see the fundraising and campaign operations of so that state Senate and state House fundraising and campaign operations more centralized under the umbrella of the state party, rather than how they operate now - essentially three different efforts.
Legislative leaders by nature are mainly focused on how to grow their respective caucuses every cycle, while the state party chair should have a longer-term approach, said Smith, recounting how donors often don't even understand whether they've written a check for the state party or for the House or Senate "Victory" efforts.

"You do need to have a more powerful chair - not me - but that position ought to be one where people have more confidence in the process," said Smith.

3. A longer-term reapportionment effort. "You need to start years in advance planning for reapportionment," said Smith, who would like to see the party spend much more time and effort preparing and recruiting candidates for once-a-decade redistricting.

4. Aggressive efforts to continue/ramp up outreach and communication with key elements of the "Obama coalition," particularly African-American, Hispanic and young voters. In non-presidential elections, for instance, "student voters ought to be understanding that the state of Florida has a much greater and immediate impact on the quality and cost of their education than electing the president."

5. "Focus on becoming the more welcoming and broader-based party," said Smith, adding that while Democrats should be thrilled with this year's results they should fret that Obama lost 56 of Florida's 67 counties.

"We make a mistake if we make our party unwelcoming to people who may not agree with us on one subject,'' said Smith, citing abortion as one of many possible examples. "Go into some of the areas where we've not been as strong, and I promise you we'll find there are one or two subjects alone that are keeping them out of our party."

That's all the more important, Smith said, as the Florida GOP moves increasingly to the intolerant, and extreme right: "The Republicans must have watched what we did and decided we could do it even worse...If we continue this idea of having these litmus tests within the parties, you're going to find wider differences between the parties and less ability to compromise and make government work."

5. Continue and probably expand the concept of a board of trustees for the party (Orlando developer and mega donor Jim Pugh led the board of trustees put in place by Smith), not only as an important vehicle for raising money but also as a sounding board for ideas and initiative the chair may be looking at.

6. Reconsider the value of full-blown state Democratic conventions. Jefferson-Jackson dinners raise significant money for the party, but conventions "are enormously expensive to put on and they are enormously expensive in terms man hours that probably could be spent better (elsewhere)."

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 9:54pm]


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