by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
October 28, 2007
FLORIDA DEMOCRATS WANT THEIR VOTES COUNTED
ORLANDO, Oct. 27, 2007 -- Gathered here for their biennial meeting on a rare rainy weekend in one of the world's sunniest resorts, Florida Democratic Party activists didn't let the gloomy weather get them down. They cheered two new members of the state's Congressional delegation, coughed up hefty campaign contributions for local and state candidates, and partied into the wee hours Sunday morning with all the confidence in the world about the state's chances of reversing its 2-for-2 record of electing Republican governors and Presidents.
Meanwhile, though, in talks with The American Reporter, more than a dozen local, state and federal elected officials and activists said they remain unhappy - if not downright angry and a tad rebellious - about a decision in Denver last month that will mean voters' choices in the Jan. 29 Democratic presidential primary will not be counted, at least until after those of states that vote later, and their delegation won't be seated at the 2008 party convention - at least until there is a clear nominee - as a penalty for allowing the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature to move Florida's presidential primary to Jan. 29, ahead of the Feb. 5 date sanctioned by the national party's rules committee.
[Update, 12/5/07: A Federal District Court Judge ruled Friday that the State Legislature did not violate the constitution when it moved up Florida's primary to Jan., 29, and that the Democratic National Committee was within its rights to penalize the state party. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings brought the case (see below). As a result, Florida's will lose its delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver and the party's presidential candidates will continue their boycott of the state.]
In interviews with The American Reporter, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called it "unfortunate," and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said he is suing the national party so "four and a half million Florida voters will have their votes counted and counted as they intended."
But those were among the most mild reactions to the party ruling that kept all the presidential candidates away from the convention in Disney World and has prevented any of them from campaigning in person here. Only former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) has broken with the unanimity of the other eight candidates in crossing the party's rules committee, which critics say is dominated by Clinton supporters like Gore's 2000 campaign chairman, Donna Brazile, and reflects concern about a possible strong showing in the state by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton's chief rival for the party's nomination, who has found favor with diverse minority and older white voters who together can deliver elections in cities like Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa.
At county executive committee monthly meetings around the state, many county Democratic chairs have been telling the faithful that the shunning of Florida delegates and voters will only continue until a nominee has emerged either in the early Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, or on the Feb. 5 20-state megaprimary. But party Chairman Howard Dean told the American Reporter in Denver on Aug. 22 that there is a possibility that the race will go all the way to the convention.
"One of two things is going to happen," Dean told AR Correspondent Ted Manna at the convention kickoff in Denver. "Either someone will sweep the first three or four caucuses, in which case we will know the nominee by February or March, or there will be no frontrunner and then we will pick the nominee here in Denver."
Given the large number of popular candidates who can make big gains in small states without competing so directly with Sen. Clinton's well-funded machine in the larger ones, that seems reasonable.
If, for instance, Sen. Joe Biden carries Delaware and Gov. Bill Richardson carries New Mexico, Sen. Chris Dodd carries his native Connecticut and former Sen. John Edwards takes North and South Carolina, Obama takes Florida and Edwards also wins Iowa while Clinton's early strength is limited to New Hampshire, or if she uncharacteristically stumbles badly before Feb. 5 and blows her current lead in California, New York and Illinois, Dean's caveat could become a reality. In that case, Florida's voters would be wholly disenfranchised, and their delegates would have little hope of getting seated in Denver.
Most observers, though, like Hoyer, believe the matter is likely to be settled many months before the party's quadrennial meeting in August 2008. Will Florida's votes get counted? "I think it's possible," Hoyer said. After a significant pause, he added, "Not now. Later." As House Majority Leader Hoyer is second only to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House leadership and one of the most powerful men in the party. [We also caught up with Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist, a popular Republican who said his main concern is that votes get counted on Jan. 29, not later on next summer when the candidate selections may be set in stone.
Meanwhile, voters like delegate Mark Esche, were even more succinct. "No go? No dough," he said firmly. Many Florida contributors, including Esche, have turned off the tap for national candidates who won't come to Florida, and the national Democratic Party, too. Esche and other activists wore a yellow button with the words "Howard Dean" in bold capitals, superimposed over a large screw. "We're going to vote. Screw Howard Dean!" said Alba Vosburgh, displaying her button.
"Florida and the DNC got themselves into a situation in which both thought the other was going to blink. It's unfortunate," Hoyer told AR.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Melbourne, Fla., native whose family has been in the state for centuries, addressed the issue at length in a major speech to the delegates at the Disney Yacht Club, a New England-themed resort near Epcot Center in Kissimee, about 20 miles west of Orlando. He has taken the bull by the horns and brought a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee to force it to seat Florida's delegates to the national convention.
"The purpose of it is that four and a half million Florida voters will have their votes counted and counted in the way they intended," he told AR during a brief interview after Hoyer's speech to 450 delegates and others at a $175-a-seat dinner Saturday night.
In his speech, Hoyer mistakenly referred to Nelson as "Ben," apparently confused by the similarity of the names of Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Republican, and that of Florida's senator, one of the more conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate.
Hoyer quickly corrected himself, however, erring only the first time. Yet party leaders must feel some chagrin at being sued by a senior senator from Florida, a state that has suffered much since the vote-counting snafu that let the U.S, Supreme Court decide the outcome of the 2000 election. The bold move has certainly boosted the marathon-running, four-term Senator's popularity among Democratic voters in his home state, though.
The winner of that contest, President George W. Bush, made an ersatz appearance at the convention and was a huge, though much-booed, hit with delegates. The President was actually a well-known impostor, John Morgan, who has appeared on many stages and made the circuit of television talk shows. He promised, when asked by The American Reporter, to bring the troops home soon - "as soon as we're done.
That irony was an undercurrent during Hoyer's speech as he talked of the real President's new war appropriations request for $46 billion and future funding. "Say no!" dozens of delegates shouted from tables scattered around the ballroom each time the new requests were mentioned. The war was much on delegates' minds and most Members of Congress who spoke Saturday addressed it. At least seven women marched outside the dinner in the adjacent corridor calling for impeachment of the President and Vice President Dick Cheney, while there was a vigorous group of survey-takers trying to get a handle on delegates presidential favorites.
The House Majority Leader took special care to single out a party icon, Sarasota banker Christine Jennings, who lost a heartbreaking race to Rep. Vern Buchanan, a wealthy car salesman, when voting machines in Florida failed to tally some 18,000 votes. Hoyer called her to the stage to huge applause and urged delegates to give Jennings their enthusiastic backing when she faces Buchanan again in 2008. Jennings told AR that 115 machines have been seized by a Federal watchdog agency that will conduct a comprehensive review of the machines to determine if the machines were flawed.
At caucus meetings of black, Hispanic, progressive, women and children's health activists, and gay and lesbian Democrats, Florida's diverse activists cheered the notion of vanquishing the Republicans and getting their most important issues addressed by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President in 2009. But across that very wide demographic, one issue gnaws at all of them: Will their vote be counted on January 29? Their expressions gave added meaning to the eloquent invocation offered at the offical start of the convention on Saturday morning by Rev. William Golden of Bradenton, who reflected on American losses in Iraq and other national ills, and in a heartfelt voice prayed, "Help us. Help us. Help us."
Rev. Golden's interview is among some 15 interviews The American Reporter conducted with a diverse group of Floridians, including Karen Thurman, chair of the state party and newly-elected Congressman Allen Boyd at the convention Saturday, where those questions, doubts, anger, denial and even a determination to change the national party's leadership surfaced again and again. Most will be posted in video format at this site on Monday.
Additional Resources: The Nation: Are the Democrats Fumbling Florida? (Dec. 2, 2007)