MICHAEL DOBSON-TALKING FLORIDA POLITICS BLOG We Know Florida Politics

20Feb/180

Andrew Gillum Secures A Permanent Place on Florida’s Statewide Stage, Nearly Cracking The Black Code Illusive To Others

By Michael Dobson

Gillum DEC

Andrew Gillum

 

With some  excerpts from “Seeing Our Difference” a memoir  by Michael Dobson to be published in August 2018

Gillum_1375_ccWatching Andrew Gillum campaign for governor has (for me) been akin to watching someone draw a map by artistically  stringing together the deep footprints of those who came before them. It's a map for a future trip in a future time, while the mapmaker adds his own footprints.  In America, only a handful of black political candidates (in recent memory) have been able to convince  voters in their respective states to elect them statewide. There was U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke ,a U.S. Sen Corey Booker of New Jersey, Deval Patrick Gov Massachusetts, Ken Blackwell of Ohio, U.S. Sen Tim Scott of South Carolina, there was also U.S. Sen Carol Mosely Braun  of Illinois, Gov Douglas Wilder of Virginia, U.S Senator Kamala Harris,   U.S. Senator and President Barack Obama; and while not as the lead candidate...most recently, Justin Fairfax on ticket as Lt Governor of Virginia (as did another former client,  Jennifer Carroll of Florida before him). Not mentioned, but lest not forget,  some statewide offices of lessor clout ( not Governor or U.S. Senate) which blacks have been elected to over the years.

In 2002,  I had a front row seat  to some of the reasons why, as a statewide manager (Campaign Coordinator)  for  Florida Gubernatorial Candidate Daryl Jones.  In that experience, I  saw first hand the challenges black  candidates face in Florida when campaigning  statewide. In that particular year (2002) Janet Reno, Bill McBride and Daryl Jones were the Democratic candidates for Governor. The perch from which I viewed that event was up close and personal. That experience also  led to my being contacted by the congressman Jim Davis in 2006, when he was  campaigning for governor. His campaign  needed  my input as they pondered who to add unto the ticket as his running mate. Ultimately,   Daryl Jones  was added to the ticket and  my advise became of some value to that  statewide campaign. Consequently,  Daryl Jones predated Jennifer Carroll as a black on a Florida statewide gubernatorial ticket ( as Lt. Governor).  Later, I observed from a distance  Kendrick Meeks 2012 statewide campaign. Doing the analysis, and in my experience talking to voters from coast to coast, I’ve learned that the reasons black candidates in Florida don’t win statewide are deep-seated  and painful to acknowledge. But at the same time, what I learned  underscores a clear-eyed reality about  the largest swing  state... mired in the history of its racial past.

Before we get into  the first person feedback I received  during the campaign of Daryl Jones in 2002, please remember who he was.  Daryl Jones was a  State Senator from Miami, a distinguished lawyer, fighter pilot, and  President Bill Clintons  nominee for  Secretary of the Air Force in 1998. Considered one of the smartest guys in the Florida Senate, Daryl was respected by both sides. Additionally, newspapers often described him as having movie star good looks.  But both the blessing and course was that Daryl Jones, as a candidate, was not neatly packaged into a stereotypical black box. He grew up in Jackson Mississippi  and is Catholic. Now, while that should not matter, the latter  did. For some, he did not seem in his element at a rollicking and soulful black church, a place a black man was expected to be at ease.   I guess we can say that the black community simply  did not “feel” him.. as one of theirs, along with some other black centric political baggage to be discussed.  Meaning, he found himself at odds with some members of the Black Caucus. The fatal error, which created  distrust among some key black legislators, resulted from a mistake he made while representing the Black Caucus as its chair in unilateral negotiations with Gov Bush over the governors  controversial "One Florida" initiative. As Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, in unilateral discussions with Gov Bush, Daryl  entered into an agreement with the Governor, which essentially committed the caucus to  a position which portrayed it  as giving into the governor. He did so without  consulting the caucus. His acquiescing to chair an advisory committee ( created by the Governor) to assist with the Governors "One Florida" scheme, as Chair of the Black Caucus was found to have  misrepresented the caucus. While, he back peddled and admitted to the mistake, it did not prevent a  severe backlash from other black legislators, whose disdain led to the  infamous “One Florida” march and statewide  political event of the day. It was a protest of what was being reported as Governor Bush's proposal to eliminate minority contracting in state government,  under pressure from an outsider by the name of Ward Connelly who nationalized the  issue. Truthfully, “One Florida” was Governor Bush's attempt to temper what  Mr. Connelly was pushing with  Florida in his cross-hairs. When  I found myself entering the state capitol with Mr. Connelly making a beeline to the Governor’s office, it was clear to me that the earth was about to shake in Florida.  Gillum has better political instinct to have made that error, but he could benefit from some of Daryls prodding, maturity and understanding of the long game. Regarding the political instinct, consider this, by pure serendipity or coincidence, Andrew Gillum entered the statewide stage in Florida as the FAMU  student body president who led a student march to the State capitol and organized a sit in  to protest the 2000 elections  and protest  Jeb Bushes "One Florida"  .  He also protested the  Governor being the FAMU commencement speaker .  At the same time Daryl Jones was plotting a run for Governor.

Michael and Daryl Jones0001

Michael Dobson and Daryl Jones

On the campaign trail in 2002, I also witnessed the  depths of a   psychological oppression  inextricably in-bedded in the deep south post Jim Crow. The latter showed itself  when talking to black voters like myself, who often voiced  lament by saying  “ Florida is not  going to elect a black for governor”, and/or  “he does not have a chance in this racist state”.   These comments came about  as I made rounds throughout the state at countless DEC meetings, NAACP Banquets, churches, Urban League Dinners  and etc. Oddly,  whites  (at least to my face)  would say, “ he is so smart and would be a good governor”;  and would ask,why are blacks not supporting him. Then they would ask  if Kendrick Meek or Tony Hill was supporting him. Their support was important since both were considered heroes to the black cause after their sit in at the Governors Office, which led to the “One Florida” March of Tallahassee;  then led to the first “get your souls to the polls” GOTV program. But, given the mistake Daryl made earlier with respect to One Florida, there was no forgiving him from some.  The story has never been told before, but the Daryl Jones campaign faced a  conundrum that was all about race. When whites did not see blacks supporting Daryl, disregarding the fact that blacks only represented about 13 percent of the voting populace, it made whites also see it as a fools  errand to support him. For some of them, it made little sense to support a black candidate for whom his own people (and their key leaders) did not wholeheartedly support.

Fast forward to today, clearly Andrew Gillum is no Daryl Jones.  For instance,  the current Chair of the legislative Black Caucus, Perry Thurston  as have most African American leaders endorsed Andrew Gillum. There was never such a public endorsement for Daryl from the Black Caucus, which was disappointing. To his credit, the one black lawmaker who enthusiastically supported Daryl was then State Senator, and now Congressman Al Lawson, a true friend and servant. It can be said that Mr Lawson  has never turned his back on a friend. The conventional wisdom then (and less so now)  is that a white electorate in Florida will not elect a black statewide.  We  saw this phenomena play out before Daryl Jones, when in 1994 an appointed Commissioner of Education, the late Doug Jameson  launched a statewide campaign to win the position outright. He was toppled by a popular  educator from Martin County Florida by the name of Frank Brogan, although he was new to the statewide stage.   Donald Trump has shown us why that seems to be the case, while on his watch, bigotry no longer hides . With clarity, today we better know that there are  good people who would never vote for a black for Governor or U.S. Senator, nor will they vote for a women for Governor, U.S. Senate or President. Yes, Barack Obama won two presidential elections. But,  there is a reason for that…mainly that once in a life time there can be an instance where a candidate comes along who transcends race. The latter is a fact that no one wants to blurt out, but its true. A good chunk of the electorate saw Obama as mix race and ivory league educated …. therefore acceptable.   That will never happen again.

In 2002,  blacks  did not believe it to be possible in Florida, and it therefore became  a foregone conclusion. No disrespect , but Daryl did not have the political skill of an Barack Obama.   The belief  that a black can't win will never be  explicitly communicated  to the candidates face. It will be communicated through surrogates and campaign consultants. The consultants  will rarely  share such base racist conversations  with the candidate, who is giving their all. It defeats the purpose.   Doubling as Daryls body man on occasion, after a day of legislative meetings,   Steve Bousquet of the Saint Pete Times contacted Daryl and wanted to accompany us on a trip to a little black church about 45 minutes from Tallahassee. He wanted to interview Daryl and write  about the campaign. I drove while Steve and Daryl talked. In the story,  Steve described  Daryl’s discomfort, stiffness and unease in  keeping up with the rhythm  of the gospel music at that church.… as a catholic boy trying to fit in at this black church. The article while skirting the "One Florida" controversy also lets the reader know that Daryl Jones was a very qualified and worthy candidate for governor.   Over many months, we   traversed the state, having our share of what I coined rubber chicken events (the menu of baked chicken) , which were usually banquets where Daryl would be allowed to speak.  Looking back at those days, I often think of a conversation I had with my dad some years ago, who had moved back to Florida after spending most of his adult life in San Diego. He talked about the relationship between blacks and white in the south, as he see it now, after being away for so long.  He said, the good thing about the south is that blacks and whites had an actual relationship.. a dysfunctional relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. A part of that relationship is that we can get along and be cordial, but we're to know that the white population  will not allow you (a black) to be governor of our state. The way the thinking goes is that, those who still have a firm grip on power, wont have that. Normally  and unfortunately some blacks  in  the south understand that to be fact, and dutifully accept it as such, as some also cow towed to Jim Crow.  And therefore, vote accordingly. But today is different. There is a new swagger amongst our youth, which is spreading,  and Gillum emulates it.

When blacks (in 2002) said to me that a black could never become governor of Florida, my rejoinder was often, “ well he could, if you would vote for him”, it meant nothing. Many black voters were so concerned with being on the wrong side of the winning vote, that they would not chance it. .. as if there would be some unknown punishment for supporting the black candidate. Again, that is no more.

On election day in 2002, I remember as if it was yesterday sitting in the campaign office in Miami(Doral) monitoring the outcome, and calling our supporters from around the state. A lady from North Florida was aghast at the returns she was seeing and lamented that she did not understand why Blacks did not support Daryl in large numbers in the large urban areas. She saw him as the best candidate ever, and one blacks should be proud of. She couldn’t understand the depths of a collective psychological trauma that remained from slavery to Jim crow and beyond, and the trauma coupled with racial infighting that allowed that to occur.

Be it the lack of the ability for black candidates to compete financially with their white counterparts or other issues of programmed assumed inferiority in  the electorate , whatever the reason, while today is different and better, most believe Florida is still not ready to elect a black statewide. But to his credit,  Mr.  Gillum   has indeed pieced together a formidable coalition, albeit a a very liberal one.... while Florida general election voters are far from liberal or progressive. To that end, if a swarm of locust take Gwen Graham and all others away, leaving Gillum standing, there is still no way he wins a general election. And, it will not be because of race. Deviating from race a bit... or emotions... but clinging unto pragmatism,  let's consider what a great campaign consultant and a treasure chest of money can do on television all day.… everyday with the FBI investigations into Tallahassee, coupled with a  Mayor who has not even completed his first term. The media campaign against him in a general election will be insurmountable. Moreover, Mr. Gillum does not have the superior experience his contemporaries like Edward Brooke and Doug Wilder suggest in interviews in a research writing by Judsen F. Jeffries. In it , they suggest that a black statewide candidate needs twice as much experience than a white candidate. On that score, unfortunately,  Mr Gillum experience starts and finishes here: He has been student body president at FAMU , and a city commissioner and Mayor of a mid-sized town, for  which he did not finish his first term. he also held positions as mostly an organizer for People for the American way and other more liberal leaning organizations

But to be sure, Mr. Gillum is a skillful politician, and is  still young. He entered the statewide stage as a charismatic college leader in 2000, has firmly planted himself in our political consciousnesses with his current juggernaut of a campaign, broadening his footprint on that stage, and his feet are firmly planted to never leave that stage which beckons and where he belongs. He is now learning what the bit map is for electoral victory for a black candidate in Florida, and will likely be the first to crack the code. Blessedly, he has the time to do so. More importantly, while Mr. Gillums fundraising has not kept pace with some of the other candidates, he has shown that as  a black candidate he can indeed generate respectable fundraising numbers; unlike Daryl Jones, Newell Daughtrey for CFO, Willie Logan in his independent statewide run for U. S. Senate, or for Perry Thurston; with an exception  of  Kendrick Meek in his run for U. S. Senate.. who ran a credible and admirable campaign .  It would be  hard to deny that Mr. Gillum has outpaced all other African American candidates for Governor in Florida.

With Gillum, blacks see a new possibility.. a possibility that was missing in 2002 with Mr. Jones… not out of personal deficit, but because of an evolution in how we engage, how we now see ourselves, and a new national swagger. There is an awoken giant in America today far greater than what existed in 2002.  The self-defeating post slavery nature that manifested itself in self defeating psychological oppression  has largely waned, perhaps as a result of Obama. As brave men like Daryl Jones, Kendrick Meek and  Andrew Gillum fan around the state.... further developing the bit map for the victory, which  will one day occur for an African-American candidate in Florida, our gift in the interim, is a closer look in the mirror of who we are as a collective electorate and how we understand each other. If Mr Gillums victory is not at the polls in 2018, it will  instead be his permanent place on the statewide stage.. as a place holder for a sure future victory.

 

Michael Dobson, is a long time Tallahassee based  lobbyist,Founder/ President of Dobson, Craig and Associates (aka Dobson and Associates), Publisher of Talking Florida Politics, Founder of the Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association (FREPA), President of The Dream Foundation,Inc and a writer/blogger on politics and public policy. Michael@dobsonandcraig.com, Michael@michaeldobson.org or Michael@talkingfloridapolitics.com

 

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