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Can the Florida Democratic Party Be Fixed?

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We all know that Florida is a political disaster right now, a state that seems to be lost. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with that. I do want to note that native Floridian Hamilton Nolan very much blames the state’s Democratic Party, long seen as one of the most dysfunctional in the nation. And he has some possible solutions.

Labor and the environment: that is the coalition that the Florida Democratic Party should represent. It is a winning coalition. Democrats should be the party that will raise wages and protect worker rights and push for universal healthcare and fight climate change. For every DeSantis-loving boat owner, there are 50 people who hate them, because they are the obnoxious boss. They are the people who build McMansions on the beach dunes and run over the neighborhood cats in their gargantuan, pristine pickup trucks.

The Democratic Party should not scrape and mewl and try to cater to those people softly — it should tell them to fuck off, loudly. To watch the Democrats run a former Republican and a former police chief in a purple state two years after the largest racial justice protests in American history is pathetic. No wonder potential Democratic voters in the state aren’t energized. For what? Give them a genuine vision. To represent working people in Florida does not mean confining yourself to some red-baited electoral socialist prison. It means representing the people working at the gas station and the grocery store and the cafe. They need help, and Republicans aren’t helping them! To represent the environment in Florida does not mean catering to some tiny sliver of college educated Greenpeace members. You know who has a direct interest in environmental preservation? People who go fishing. That’s a lot of people. Some of them even have boats. 

I do not want to just harangue the state party with a vague prescription for change. I can tell them who to call: Unite Here. The hospitality workers union has thousands of members in Florida, particularly in Orlando and in South Florida. I spent time in Miami earlier this year reporting on the union’s efforts there, where they are carrying out their well-honed formula of organizing workers in hotels and airports and stadiums, building those workers into a militant and well-disciplined force, and using that force to sway local elections, creating a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle that can bend an entire region’s politics to become more worker-friendly, which then feeds more union organizing, which feeds more political power for workers, and so on. It works. Unite Here knows how to do it. The union’s massive door-knocking campaign was a major difference in the close midterm victories for Senate Democrats in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona. The Democratic Party of Florida should be knocking on the union’s door with a home-baked pie right now, asking them how to win. 

Earlier this week I spoke to Gwen Mills, the secretary-treasure and former national political director of Unite Here. She points to the union’s successful efforts to elect pro-labor Democrat Daniella Levine Cava as mayor of Miami in 2020 as proof that opportunities abound in Florida. In South Florida, a perpetual problem for Democrats — that has worsened in recent elections — has been conservative Latino voters. But Mills emphasizes that the work of investing in labor organizing before pure political organizing works there too. ​“We’re trying to drive organizing campaigns with an economic message, so we can build a level of organization around economics. Because if we just try to build in South Florida around Republican / Democrat lines, we’re not gonna get there,” she says. ​“It’s a multi-year thing at the county level around economics.” 

Here you have an organization that knows how to organize workers to improve both their own lives, and the awful politics that keep them down. Only 5.2% of Florida workers were union members in 2021. That has to change. The state is run by a party that hates unions, wants wages low, and is determined to do nothing to stop the scientific process that will see the state swallowed by the sea. That has to change. The Democratic Party needs to be bold. Call Unite Here. Yell at the damn selfish boaters. And try running an actual leftist next time. There is nowhere to go but up. 

I should say that everyone thinks they have a solution to the problems of the Democratic Party and it’s whatever they thought about the Democratic Party before they gave the solution. And I’m skeptical that there really is a serious path forward in the near future for Democrats in Florida. But at the same time, running a former Republican against Ron DeSantis obviously was a total failure. Could Florida Democrats win by going to the left? I don’t really know. I doubt it. I also hardly see how it hurts to try given what is going on there. At least the theory could be disproven and it’s not as if the moderates have earned another shot at another blowout loss. There pretty much is indeed nowhere to go but up.

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