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Stephen Bittel for Florida Democrats, what do you have to lose?

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Over the weekend, Florida Democrats elected Miami rich guy Stephen Bittel to lead their party. The choice was controversial and left many members screaming that Bittel is the wrong man at the wrong time.

They have their reasons, I guess.

But, let me ask a simple question:  Whom would be the right person?

The political cosmos has been trying to send a message for years to Florida Democrats. They haven’t been listening.

They have lost five consecutive races for governor (or, put another way, they haven’t been in control of the governor’s mansion in this century). Republicans also control both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans pass whatever laws they want, many of which trample on Democratic ideals. All the Dems have been able to say is, “May I have another?”

This has happened despite the fact Democrats have long held the lead in the number of registered voters in Florida (that number, by the way, is shrinking).

It takes a special something to have turned such an advantage into what is essentially political irrelevance in Tallahassee. Democrats used to console themselves because they delivered the state’s electoral votes to Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns, but they couldn’t even keep that trend going last November against Donald Trump.

So, to borrow Trump’s own slogan and apply it to Bittel: What have you got to lose? At least the guy seems to have some energy a willingness to engage in the fight.

“Contentious elections are reflective that there are Democrats all over Florida that are passionate, committed to coming together, moving forward together to win elections. So contentious is good. It means you care,” Bittel said after beating four other candidates with more established track records.

He has a point there. Florida Democrats have “contentious” down to a science. What they haven’t shown is any evidence that they have a realistic game plan for returning some political balance to the state.

Bittel made his mark by donating and raising large amounts of money for Democratic candidates. While he told reporters Saturday at the Democratic gathering in Orlando that he is not a billionaire, as was reported, he obviously is a person of substantial wealth and energy.

Democrats? Listen up: You need energy. You need passion. You need a sense of purpose. And most of all you need to explain, in clear words, why you’re better for the state than Republicans.

Democrats deluded themselves into believing voters would never elect Rick Scott, but they didn’t understand the beautiful simplicity of his “Let’s Get To Work” message. They talked themselves again into believing that surely voters wouldn’t re-elect Scott.

Now, Scott likely is coming for Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in a couple of years, and in Adam Putnam Republicans appear to have a strong gubernatorial candidate ready to make his run. This kind of ballot box domination should send a message that doing things the same ol’ way is a losing strategy for Democrats.

So when Bittel talks about greatly expanding the staff at the state Democratic headquarters in Tallahassee and, as reported in FloridaPolitics.com, promising to “ …  grow this party to a size and strength that has never been seen before,” Democrats should be at least a little invigorated.

That is, assuming they still remember what that feels like.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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