Deep, Dark Secret
by Derek Newton
All the talk over the last few weeks about Scott Maddox's fumble of the Party's tax bills has forced me to admit a deep, dark secret I've kept bottled up for years.
Tom Slade is my hero.
Since the Maddox fiasco broke, many people have asked me if I think Scott should abandon his campaign for governor. For what it's worth, I think he should.
But my opinion on Maddox's future is irrelevant. And that's the greater point.
Much more than wishing I had the personal power to decide who stayed and went in campaigns, I wish we had our own Tom Slade.
In case you don't know Tom Slade, he's the former Republican State Senator from Jacksonville who served as Chairman of the Florida Republican Party in the mid and late 1990s.
Slade, many will remember, ran the Florida Republican Party like a dictatorship. His word was the only word. And when it came to many issues, his was the only vote that was counted.
He not only directed the campaign battlefield of Republican candidates, he orchestrated legislative policy and raised money. Not coincidentally, Republicans won historic and implausible electoral gains during his reign.
Authoritarianism goes against some core belief we Democrats have. It's very hard for us to trust it.
But am I alone in thinking that Florida Democrats could use a Party leader who has the clout to settle issues such as the current Maddox dilemma - one way or the other?
Think of the time, money and energy we'd save by solving issues like our Maddox problem right away and without second-guessing. Quick resolution of these problems could also turn week-long press events into single day stories.
Not having such a person to make tough calls and enforce them has plagued the Party for years. In fact, as long as I've been involved in state politics, Democrats haven't had a leader like this. Terri Brady, Mitch Caesar, Charlie Whitehead, Bob Poe and Maddox all had strengths and weaknesses. But not one of them was respected and feared enough to give orders to elected leaders and candidates.
Well, they could give orders but none of them could expect much in the way of execution.
Aside from our genetic resistance to being told what to do, one of the reasons that few of our previous Democratic leaders had the clout to resolve these issues is that few of them were elected officials themselves. Maddox was. But he never got away from the perception that he was using the Chairmanship as a kind of rest area between statewide campaigns - making his motives suspect even if they weren't.
But Karen Thurman was an elected official. She served in the State Senate and Congress and knows personally how the right-wing attack machine works. She's raised millions. Thurman has been there and done that. So she when she speaks, candidates and policy makers should listen.
Republicans listened to Tom Slade when they needed help. Now we have Karen Thurman.
She handled the tax lien problem quickly and gracefully and has already taken the bite out of several of our Party's barking dogs. But she needs to speak up more - not by challenging Republicans (that will come later) but by challenging Democrats. Our Party is out of shape and we need a task-master.
We need a little more vision and a lot more discipline.
It's going to take a hard-fought miracle to take back Florida and miracles take leaders and followers.
The real test for our future won't be whether Karen Thurman is capable of leading. The real test will be if the varied interests, backgrounds and leaders in the Party are capable of following her - or anyone.