Today’s Florida Democratic Party Likely Not Racist, Just Tone Death

restore right to vote


As leader of the Florida Democratic Party, Is Mr. Stephen Bittel  a racist? I doubt it.

Was Mr. Bittels suggestion that members of the legislative Black Caucus were acting “childish”, a racist statement? No, of course not. Does the fact that Mr. Bittel suggested that the Black caucus members were the only legislators upset about being snubbed, when Rep.  Janet Cruz and others felt the same way confirm that Mr. Bittel is a racist? No.

Does the party have a racist recent past? Yes.  Recent history and plenty of evidence show there to be a pattern of disrespect when it comes to black legislators and voters within their own ranks. For instance, in 1998 Rep. Willie Logan ( Opa Locka) was slated to become the first Black Democratic House Minority leader . Then a racist thing happen. Certain legislators suggested he would be the wrong public face or image of the party, that he would be the wrong image to face Democratic voters and donors in North Florida. To save face, the public case against what they saw was Mr. Logan’s unsuitability, was the idea that he would be an ineffective fundraiser.  Mind you, all of this was done to Mr. Logan by well meaning white Democrats, who then replaced him with a white Democrat.

Prior to that ,  during the 1992 redistricting fight, in order to have more black members in congress  the legislative black caucus developed their own redistricting plan,  splitting with Democratic Party Leadership. The Black caucus plan gave them four Black US congressional seats, while the Florida Democratic Party allowed for only one.  Historically, there are many instances whereby white Democratic leaders have given scant respect to the wishes of black voters beyond mere words.

For instance, the Democratic Party is fully aware that in Florida nearly 1.5 million taxpayers (who are disproportionately black) cannot vote because of a past felony. And the party knows that there is a chance to have that issue on the November 2018 ballot.  The Democratic Party knows this is an important issue for black voters. But, has the Democratic Party written a check to the organization seeking to secure the petitions needed to make the ballot? No.. not a red penny. Here’s why. The Democratic Party has made a “business” decision that putting resources in that initiative would be a waste of resources. That is because, as the reasoning goes, the initiative will only get the voters out to the polls that are going to vote Democrat anyway. Therefore, there is no reason to spend money on that… as their thinking goes.

For those of you sleeping, the current policy regarding restoration of voting rights is rooted in racism and has as a goal to maintain parts of Jim Crow law.  This base racism and bigotry stems from the late 18th century and early 19th century , when as a response to increased black voting after reconstruction , southern political leaders began disenfranchising voters with felony records, knowing that most would be black… as blacks get prosecuted more than whites( not necessary transgressing the law more), to reduce the black vote. So, while the Florida Democratic Party will not provide any resources into the effort, to their credit, the local Democratic Executive committees are helping, but with no money… nada from Stephen Bittel and the gang… the gang who “says” this is an important issue. Is it racist? No, but it is certainly tone death and will be regretted.

It is tone death because by not putting skin in the game on this initiative, the party is simply doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In each of the last few gubernatorial elections in Florida, when the dust settles, Democratic pundits and strategist blame the close loss on African Americans. They say Africa Americans didn’t turn out to vote as needed or anticipated. What they don’t say is that the Democratic candidate was uninspiring, which gets us back to November 2018.

The party must ask itself the hard question. Will a Chris  King or a Gwen Graham fire up the black community enough to have black voter enthusiasm at an all time high? More than likely not. The Democratic Party will then wish it had the restoration of voting rights amendment on the ballot to energize those voters, if it doesn’t make the ballot.  Disrespecting and taking the black vote for granted has come back to haunt the Democratic Party year after year. Mr. Bittel, please study your history and act accordingly. Do you   remember 1998 when a large swath of the black vote went to Jeb Bush? Well, it could happen again if the Democratic Party forgets to show the black voters some love.

Michael  Dobson, is a long time Tallahassee based governmental relations professional and columnist; President/CEO of Dobson, Craig and Associates (aka Dobson and Associates),Chairman of Florida Voters Campaign PAC and renewable energy policy leader as founder of Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association. Can be reached at michael@michaeldobson.org or Michael@dobsonandcraig.com

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