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M. Collins: Florida Citizens Versus Party Insiders

M. Collins: Florida Citizens Versus Party Insiders

Future of Florida Democratic Party at Stake

Candidate for Congress John Russell with DNC Chair Dean, Summer 2006

Michael Collins
“Scoop” Independent News
Washington, D.C.

Karen Thurman is the current Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. Al Cardenas is the former Chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a major player in Republican politics in Florida. Al pays Karen $3,500 a month to lobby Democrats in Washington in behalf of Miami-Dade County.

Ms. Thurman gets $100,000 a year for the full time position of party chair. Apparently she’s giving 242% since the Cardenas contract and another extracurricular endeavor earn her an extra $142,000 beyond the cool $100,000 she gets from the Democrats.

The St. Petersburg Times quoted Rep. Dan Gelber, (D-Miami Beach) as saying: "Everybody in political life navigates the ironies of relationships and friendships. It's ironic, but it's not improper." This was typical of the tolerance shown by others in the Florida Democratic establishment to this apparent conflict.

It could have been more ironic. The other firm representing Miami-Dade in Washington is Greenberg Taurig of Miami where convicted felon and former Republican operative Jack Abramoff served as a partner.

Democratic fundraising efforts compared to Republicans in 2007

Citizen John Russell’s Major Problem with Florida Party Leadership

Former Democratic Congressional candidate John Russell has major concerns with Karen Thurman, Florida’s Democratic Committee Chairperson. The concerns focus on his party’s leadership and the larger issue of the non competitive nature of Florida Democrats.

Russell maintains that the Florida Democratic hierarchy shows a “… lack of focus and loyalty to what is supposed to be a shared cause, electing Democrats.” Russell points out that organized get out the vote (GOTV) and absentee ballot initiatives have been few and far between for years. Yet he recalls that in his 2006 Congressional campaign, “Chairperson Thurman promised my campaign a GOTV effort in my district of no less than four mailers. It never happened!” In the same campaign, Thurman’s son received contributions of $15,000 from the Florida Democratic Party for a state representative race.

Not Much Help for Fighting Florida Democrats from State Party

Dr. Bob Bowman (Lt. Col, Red). Another candidate with little party help. With a PhD from Cal Tech in Aeronautics, combat medals, and civilian awards, Bowman seemed like an ideal candidate for strong party support.

The only Democratic Congressional challengers well funded by the state party in 2006 were: Christine Jennings, Charlie Stuart, Phyllis Busansky, Ron Klein, and Republican turned Democrat Tim Mahoney (running against Foley in the 16th). Klein and Mahoney were the only party supported candidate to win. The rest received little to nothing. These Democratic Congressional candidates were largely or entirely neglected by the Florida Democratic Party: Dr. Bob Bowman, (Lt. Col, Ret) (15th), David Bruderly (6th), Clint Curtis (24th), Frank Gonzalez (21st), Samm Simpson (10th) and Russell (5th). However, four of the six did receive money from the progressive National Committee for an Effective Congress. Each of these candidates fought hard campaigns with little support and went down in defeat.

Prominent Florida Democrat Endorsed Republican Incumbent in Russell’s Race

Before the campaign in Florida’s 5th Congressional district ever got underway, one of Florida’s most prominent politicians seemed to endorse the Republican incumbent.

“The bottom line is that the voters, whether they’re in the most liberal or conservative or moderate districts, they like their elected officials to have the backbone of steel that Ginny Brown-Waite [Russell’s Republican opponent] has,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a liberal Democrat from Broward County who has worked with, and against, her since their days in the Florida Legislature.

“When constituents know they are represented by someone who is willing to vote her conscience and do the right thing and is independent and not a rubber-stamp, that’s going to be tough to beat.” St. Petersburg Times 27 May 2006

Russell said, “It is extremely tough to beat an incumbent representative when the people who should be working to elect Democratic candidate are instead working to insure Republican Ginny Brown-Waite’s re-election.”

Russell had worked hard for the party in 2004 delivering the 5th for Betty Castor in a tough election. His campaign issues were all within the mainstream of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In addition, he took thoughtful positions on election integrity issues that were more than justified by Florida’s election experiences since 2000.

With less than a month until Election Day 2006, another story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times 15 October 2006 in which Rep. Wasserman-Schultz again commented on Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite: "She's pretty independent-minded, she stands up for what she believes in, and if she changes her view, it's because she's carefully evaluated" the issue.

This inspired Russell’s question, “So why would an elected official from my party be actively working for my Republican opponent?”

John Russell’s Fight for Democracy in Florida’s 5th Congressional District

John Russell represents a real citizen candidate for public office. In 2006, he mounted his grassroots campaign for Congress in Florida’s 5th Congressional District. The district is north of the Tampa Bay area and looked like a good opportunity for Russell’s type of Democratic populism. Russell was encouraged by his successful delivery of the district in for the Democratic candidate for the Democratic Senate candidate Betty Castor, who lost statewide to Mel Martinez in 2004.

Russell’s campaign was under funded and received inconsistent attention from the major media. Florida Democratic Committee Chairperson Karen Thurman, the former Congressional representative from District 5, provided no help. She contributed a personal check for $50.00 to Russell’s campaign only after what Russell says was “much coaxing.”

Things looked good according to a Rasmussen Research poll near the end of the race showing John in striking distance. Oddly enough the supposedly liberal St. Petersburg Times (a media source for the 5th) ignored the Rasmussen poll and relied on polling from a source that consistently showed Russell 20 points behind.

Russell lost but he wasn’t finished by a long shot. He and others noticed voting irregularities and began amassing evidence. Again the Florida Democratic Committee ignored the citizen candidate’s cause. Russell’s investigative efforts were severely hampered by lack of funding. As Russell sought to verify the vote, he weathered the storm of assault by right wing newspaper columnists as a “sore loser.” In Florida, as in other places around the country, you need to pay several thousand dollars to even look at the ballots.

Russell’s campaign for election justice continues along with four other Florida Congressional candidates challenging the 2006 results all represented by Tampa attorney Mark Adams.

More of the Same in Store

The Miami Herald reported: “Cárdenas declined to talk about any clients that Thurman is working with besides Miami-Dade County, saying, “They’re still in the oven.”

While the oven is heating up, key questions emerge.

Will Florida’s Democrats continue to lag well behind the Republicans in fund raising efforts for 2008?

Will progressive Democrats choose to even campaign for House seats given the lack of party support in 2006?

If these progressives are nominated, will their party support them?

Will the Florida Democratic Party wake up and step into its role as Florida’s dominant party or will we see more of the same old thing?


Permission to reprint in part or whole with a link to the original article in “Scoop” and attribution of authorship.

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