Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Florida Is One Weird State... And Then There's The Politics

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Fatally-flawed Florida Democratic Party boss Gary Farmer

Florida's 27th senatorial district-- most of Lee County and all of Fort Myers and Cape Coral-- is safely red. There are 197,866 registered Republicans, 128,204 registered Democrats and 139,293 others (mostly independents). In 2016 Lee County voters backed Trump over Hillary, 58.7% to 38.3%. The "blue wave" two years later didn't make it to southwest Florida and Lee County voters voted heavily for Rick Scott for Senate (60.3%) and Ron DeSantis for governor (60.1%).

Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto is a sleazy career politician who won the 27th senatorial district in the 2010 Republican wave election when the district went from Lee County clear across the state into the Gold Coast and the Sun Coast. She has been in the Senate ever since, served as Majority Leader from 2012-14 and is termed out of office this year. State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (also incredibly sleazy) was expected to ascend to the senate seat without opposition. And then last week, another Republican state Rep., Heather Fitzenhagen, termed out of the state House, and running for the area's open congressional seat, withdrew from the crowded congressional race and filed to run for the SD-27 seat.

On occassion, she has been cooperative with the Democratic minority, voting, for example, for the Parkland gun safety bill and against an extreme right anti-abortion provision and backing a Lee County COVID-19 lockdown. [Lee County, the 8th most populous county, reports the 6th most coronavirus cases in the state-- and 202 new cases on Sunday, the third most of any county in Florida. So far only Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach have had more COVID deaths than Lee.]

SD-27 candidate-- not Rodrigues and not Fitzenhagen


Rodrigues had expected a coronation and now he has a primary AND a Democratic opponent. Democrats don't normally bother to run there. The Florida Democratic Party is so moribund, useless and bankrupt that a decade of loser party bosses has come to believe not running candidates in dozens of state legislative districts is somehow a smart strategy-- as they've watched the party continue to shrink. Florida is a 50/50 purple state-- with a state House that has 73 Republicans and 46 Democrats. That summarizes the Florida Democratic Party's grand strategy. You'd almost think the GOP pays top party Democrats to keep it in place. If you want to contribute to Rachel's campaign, you can do it here.

I spoke with the courageous, Democratic candidate, Rachel Brown, who refused to be bullied, yesterday. She's amazing. "Yes," she told me, "a man told me he would fund millions to other candidates but not me because I 'can't win' and even tried to bargain with me, saying he would submit a Green New Deal bill in exchange for me not running so his career politician friend can have my votes. The reason I don't want to say his name is not because I care about his career. I don't care about anyone's career. I just don't want to give people one person to pin point for something that a network of people are doing. It's not just him. It's not that easy. I was recruited to run for office by the President of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, Janelle Christensen. I am in cahoots with them and I am proud. AOC was recruited by the White Heads and she is proud. This man who called me two days before the filing deadline begging me not to run so that votes that will go to me could instead to go his fellow establishment politician who has not brought justice for the people, is in cahoots with someone. Who? He wouldn't tell me, and so I don't trust him and whoever is in his network. He also voted against a legislation that would allow people to get more affordable prescription drugs. I don't trust that."

She continued-- in her own words "Before he called me he even had his attorneys which he so graciously gave me free access to, attempt to sabotage my filing documents. If his goal was for this story to come out so republicans can see what a fantastic saboteur of democracy he can be and then receive funding from the "bottomless pit of money" he says they have... he's a genius. If he truly is just terrified of Ray Rodrigues winning... I understand. Ray Rodrigues will allow developers to destroy our beaches because they fund his campaign. He in fact was part of a preemptive legislation that prevents local governments from establishing a legal right to clean air and clean water for their citizens. That legislation, deceptively titled 'SB712 Cean Water Says Act,' is currently waiting to be signed by Governor DeSantis and if not vetoed within 15 days, will automatically become law. It's not fair. The people should have a legal right to clean air and clean water and they don't even know this is happening.

"I understand the fear of someone who signs legislation like these getting into power. My tactic however is not to bend over and allow an easier loss, not to be intimidated by the bottomless pit of money my opponents have, but to fight back. I believe there are enough genuine people who are tired of politics and want to vote in genuine people. I believe taxpayer money should go to taxpayers and not to corporate handouts. A true public servant finds their network in the public, not in whoever and whatever company can give them the largest donations. I am not intimidated that this man will not help me, the same way he did not help Cathy Lewis who got 46% of the vote and only spent 1/12 of what her opponent spent. No. We cannot allow ourselves to rely on the establishment, because they and their dishonesty are exactly what the new wave of Democrats, that I am apart of, are working to eradicate."

A grassroots movement to ensure Democrats fighting in every one of Florida's 120 state House and 40 state Senate districts has been successful-- much to the chagrin of the state party, which has fought the effort every step of the way. Progressive activist Rachel Brown filed to run for the Lee County Senate seat. The state Party didn't welcome her.

A longtime reliable source inside the office of a top Democratic elected official in Broward County told me that incoming Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer personally called Brown-- more than once-- to dissuade her from running. The word "strong-armed" was used to describe Farmer's discussion. A married man (separated and notorious for his relationship with a Republican Tallahassee lobbyist, Andreina Figueroa) with two children, Farmer has a "close" relationship with Republican Fitzenhagen, who is known to be in "an open marriage," and is eager to see her beat Rodrigues. (Who knew being a member of the Florida legislature was more productive than being on Tinder?)

In any case, how does this make any sense, at least politically-speaking? Does he expect Democrats to vote in the GOP primary if there's no Democrat running and pick his girlfriend the less far right Republican? Or is Farmer just paying back the state Republican Party for not running anyone against him in 2018? Republicans failed to field a Democrat in 22 House districts and 2 Senate districts.

After the fact-- and after not lifting a finger to help anyone-- the corrupt state party claims to be happy to have so many candidates running for the legislature. (Only one district is uncontested.) Party executive director Juan Peñalosa said the effort shows "no seat is safe." No free rides for Republicans this time-- and down-ballot candidates turning out Democratic voters who can also be expected to vote for Democrats running for president and for congressional candidates. I asked millennial congressional candidate Adam Christesen how this strategy plays into his own race in north central Florida's 3rd congressional district race. He told me that "It’s a game changer. Not only will it help boost Democratic turnout in every district but it makes the Republican party have to contest and spend money, time and resources in places they don’t want to. It stops them from shifting resources to contested races and double or triple teaming Democratic candidates at the state and congressional level. To use a sports analogy, before this year the Democratic party has attempted to play a football game, using only 8 players while the other team has 11. Democrats in Florida may score an occasional touchdown but no matter how well they do or how good they are, they were outnumbered and at a severe disadvantage."

Dr. Janelle Christensen-- no relation to Adam, beyond both being progressive Democrats-- is, as Rachel mentioned, president of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida. She told me that "in April 2020 there were 33 seats that did not yet have a Democrat running. The Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida (DECF) recruited 27 candidates from our membership and the remaining candidates from our network (like College Democrats). I think Juan Peñalosa is correct: most in the party really are glad we have more candidates running in 2020. Democratic Executive Committees (DECs) who had trouble with recruitment were usually receptive to having more people stepping up. Until recently, FDP just didn't have the resources to back candidates in deep red areas, which meant we had to make a grassroots effort to find the funding for filing fees. But, there is a new initiative that we hope will provide resources (like access to data) to candidates (who otherwise had to pay for it). Hopefully that will empower candidates all over Florida." Such an optimist!


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