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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.


7/04/2005 6:29 PM, by Anonymous Anonymous

Ouch. Derek. Tom Slade of all people.



7/05/2005 5:14 AM, by Anonymous Redneck Democrat

Good post, Derek. Have to agree with Anon on choice of examples...haha. Truth is, our Party isn't a Party - we're a loose coalition of interest groups.

For too long, Dem Party organizations (state and local) have been more about satisfying this or that constituency rather than winning elections - which is really the only thing that matters.

So, good luck Madam Chairwoman - kick ass and take names. Lord knows we need it.



7/05/2005 7:48 AM, by Anonymous Mr. C

Unfortunately the very nature of the Democratic Party with it's focus on special interest and group identities demands a leader who must cater to all sides. As long as the Party favors the individual over the group, or a specific group over society, then they will conitnue to have the same problems regardless of chosen leaders.

The GOP may be more dictatorial in nature, but not autocratic. Most GOP leaders view their role as service to the group, to the community, rather than raw ambition for power.

Intersting read. If The Dem's ever find that magic combination of power, strategy and ability they may win a seat or two. But, I wouldn't look for it in 2006.



7/05/2005 5:02 PM, by Anonymous Anonymous

Mr. C, I could not disagree more with your characterization of the Dem party. To be sure, the Dems have been captured by certain interest groups, but so too have the Republicans.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, consider these dichotomies:

Big Business - Labor
Polluters (big business) - Greens
Religious Right - Pro-Choice
Anti-Gay - Pro-Gay
Wealthy - Poor
Anti-tax - Willing to be taxed more
Religious right - moderates

I could go on, but you understand the point I am trying to make. In any event, it is spurious to claim that Republicans are somehow motivated by a sense of "service" to the "community" or society generally".

That is simply untrue. Just as it is untrue that Dems are majestically devoted to society. Rather, both parties are devoted to their perspectives of what society should be.

Me, I want to be on the side of the line that is pro-enviroment, pro-labor, pro-choice, willing to pay higher taxes to help the less fortunate, etc.

If you want to be on the other side of the line, I respect it: there is nothing wrong with saying I want to pay fewer taxes (though it could be argued that it is selfish and/or anti-communitarian), and if your religious convictions compel you to be anti-abortion or anti-gay, hey those are your beliefs, and more power to you.

Bottom line, though, both parties are captured by their respective "special interests".

Which brings us back to Derek's original point: the GOP will do pretty much whatever it takes to stay in power. And hey, you gotta - and I do - give 'em credit for that.

Dems, are ... well, less organized, looking too hard for consensus, and otherwise wanting everybody to just get along.



7/05/2005 7:22 PM, by Anonymous tdog

I kind of agree with Mr. C. Both parties have become coalitions of special interest groups, but the Dems are the only ones that are REQUIRED to pay lip service to theirs all the time. For years, the religious right has expected the Republicans to deliver when elected, but they never required that the Republican candidates continue to state publicly that they were on their side. Of course, that is changing. Terri Schiavo was a disaster for the Republicans, because they were forced to show their hand. They showed the world who was really pulling their strings.

But for one Terri Schiavo incident, the Dems have five. How often do you hear Dems pandering to this group or that group? And "pandering" is the right word? The best example is the debates from last year. Every debate was held before a special interest group - pro-abortion groups, Black Caucus, labor, etc. Don't get me wrong - it's good to be on the side of these groups, but do the Dems have to pander over and over and over.

The Democrats need to be able to sit down with their supporters/groups and tell them "Hey we're with you, but let us campaign to the middle for a while. We'll get you once we're elected."

That's the big difference between the parties and who influences them.



7/06/2005 10:48 AM, by Anonymous Michael Hussey

I was thinking about Maddox. First and foremost - he was a horrible Florida DNC Chairman. Bragging that he got an office and few extra computers is nothing to be proud of.

Truth is, our Party isn't a Party - we're a loose coalition of interest groups.

The classic complaint. Remember the Will Rogers quote:

"I belong to no organized political party -- I am a Democrat."

There needs to be a Florida DNC Chairman who isn't incompetent. Maddox certainly was. He certainly isn't going to become governor. I have a hard time believing he can run a campaign.



7/06/2005 11:21 AM, by Blogger Kartik

Excellent anlysis, Derek. We have essentialy become a coalition of disperse interest groups over the last 10 years. Tom Slade took a GOP that was almost as beset with infighting and made it the force in Florida Politics that it is today. Tom Slade also made the GOP a statewide party, which was just as comfortable going after rural voters as it was going after suburban, urban, exurban voters.



7/07/2005 12:48 PM, by Anonymous RRorapaugh

Dereck- you are so right.

Political parties, in a perfect world, are vehicles to elect candidates who will then affect policy. They are not vehicles for policy discussions or debates. They are the vehicles to assist candidates to communicate policy.

Political Parties are campaigns. Winning campaigns have discipline in message and a campaign plan that is deviated from only at the beheast of the candidate or manager.

Karen is the campaing manager for the Democrats and her leadership and decisions should be the final word. The buck does stops somewhere in the Republican world, it should stop with Karen in the Democratic party world. It will be refreshing and lead to success if all the various partners in Democratic politics will allow Karen to take the reins and run.



7/11/2005 4:23 AM, by Anonymous Anonymous


You suggest that the Dems fail because they "pander" to various "special interest" groups (how I hate that phrase).

My question for you is how, exactly, do Dems pander to special interests. Other than the occasional call for minimum wages increases (at the national level), they really haven't tried much.

Whereas the GOP delivers to their special interests day in, day out (intangibles tax cuts, eliminating medical research the religious nuts don't like, etc.)

I think it is a matter of spin - the GOP succeeds in characterizing their agenda as benefiting everyone (look at Mr. C's comments), and the media buys into it, rarely - Schiavo being the exception - pointing out the narrow special interests that motivate the GOP.



7/11/2005 2:25 PM, by Anonymous medcom01

Great piece Derek. And if I might add, the fact is that Republicans seem to be better team players. They will "sacrifice fly" when they are asked and we don't. Bottom line.



1/11/2006 8:03 PM, by Anonymous Anonymous

what are you all drinking the "Derek" kool-aide. We have known this for sometime. How can we have truly effective Chairs and no majority we control. this is not a new theory nor one that hasn't been said to the press before. The R's aren't smarter than we are when it comes to dicipline, they just have the juice and can dangle committe assignments and legislation over their members and donors. They are much more transactional in nature that we are, it's a good lesson to be learned.

We must act more tactical in our approach to recruiting good D and keeping primaries open. I call it elbow to the fore-head politics.



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