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2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 1

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

The 2007 Florida Democratic Party Convention, Part 1

“You smell nice,” says the SuperShuttle driver to the Condi Doll we’ve just picked up from a swank apartment building in the very early hours of a DC morning. Immaculately coiffed, dressed in a business suit and carrying a leather briefcase. She replies that she hopes the judge thinks so too. A recent graduate from law school, our new passenger immediately landed a job in a prestigious New York law firm that encourages their new graduates to go and work on the prosecutorial side of the law before coming back to defend clients, so she’s applying for a job as a law clerk for a judge in an appeals court in Boston. She’s so forceful and confident, I wonder if I’m not in the presence of the first African-American woman president of the United States.

I’m on my way to Orlando to report on the Florida Democratic Party’s state convention, which is being held at a faux New England yacht club on the fake Lake Buena Vista in Disney World. The brief from my editor is “gonzo journalism”, which I assume means I must dress up in a Muppet outfit and poke my question mark nose into everything. Are Muppets even allowed in Disney World, I wonder. Surely they’re outlawed because they refused—unlike Pixar’s characters—to sell out and be turned into a Disney attraction. While googling for XXXXL camo and a specially made balaclava to disguise my “otherness” I learn just in time that The Ed wants something along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson’s report on the Kentucky Derby.

Across the aisle from me on the plane, a mother with two young children uses a fluorescent blue marker to write “We’re going to Disney” on a notepad and gives it to her daughter to hold up. The girl is hugging a giant white teddy bear and wearing a pink baker boy hat. Her brother has the window seat but is engrossed in his handheld video game. Mom takes a photo with her bright pink cellphone. “We’re going to Disney. “ Disney, verb: To willingly, and at great expense, believe that something fake is real.

::The where, when, and whyfor::

There are rumours there will be a palace coup at the convention. My contact pulls out of going at the last minute, alarmed by the number of people who are asking him to get them a media credential so they can get into and disrupt some of the events. He gives them my name and phone number as a contact instead and I find myself wondering if Trojan horseflies also are made of wood. I’m prepared to go as far as letting one of the people share my hotel room, but she decides she’ll just drive up and back from her hometown on the same day instead.

The convention is being held at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort, one of a squazillion accommodation choices within Disney World. The World is a huge property that was developed so Disney family vacation or convention experiences can take place within the boundaries of a municipal entity with its own police force and emergency services and laws--the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Within those boundaries are the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and Downtown Disney. Oh, did I mention the license to print money?

Even the discounted convention hotel rate was expensive, but probably seemed worthwhile considering attendees would be getting to meet and have their photo taken with the Democratic presidential candidates. All that changed when the Republican-dominated Florida legislature voted in May to hold primary elections on January 29 next year. That put the Florida Democratic Party in an awkward position. By law in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire, their respective caucus and primary have to be the first in the nation by a set number of weeks.

Back in September, I had watched in my motel room in New Hampshire the C-SPAN live broadcast of Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman argue with the Democratic National Committee that Florida should be able to go ahead with a primary on January 29. The FDP had been given 30 days in which to change its date or suffer the consequences. But if the primary was scheduled at any other time, the FDP would have to pick up the tab for holding the election instead of the state paying for it. The alternative of holding caucuses would disenfranchise many voters, Thurman argued. The FDP also refused to make any primary held on January 29 non-binding.

The DNC retaliated by saying that none of Florida’s delegates would be seated at the Democratic Convention in Denver in August, 2008, which ostensibly is where the party’s presidential candidate will be chosen. (In reality, the choice of candidate becomes clear long before the national convention, which has become just an extremely lengthy advertisement for each of the major parties, aired for free by the networks.) And then came the Four-State Pledge—“the attempt by the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to maintain their positions of influence in the presidential primary nominating process by keeping presidential candidates from campaigning in states with a primary date before February 5,” according to the Florida convention website.

::But, enough of the background already::

I check into my off-World—and slightly off-planet—hotel, which looks like it’s in the process of morphing from a building into a cross between a pineapple and a rainforest parrot , catch some shut-eye and then head over to the convention hotel to pick up my media credential. The event schedule I’m given has all the usual convention things, and I’m told I can attend and report on any of the events listed. In the United States, conventions--for any organization or group—are basically cheerleading run amok but wearing business casual instead of a skimpy skirt, and with more backstabbing than high kicks. There are usually opportunities for different interest groups to meet as well as general sessions that all attend, and at some stage there’ll be business meetings of some kind at which committee members and/or official delegates make decisions.

Day One of my schedule lists Registration, and Trainings, Caucuses and Standing Committee Meetings followed by Chairwoman Karen L. Thurman’s Opening Reception. In keeping with my journo status, I immediately head for any room from which the smell of food emanates and on the way discover there will be a 60th birthday party for Hillary Clinton in absentia at 6pm. There is no video hook-up with her someplace else, because that would be tantamount to campaigning, but a small crowd gathers around a local ABC news reporter and by their rowdy presence campaign for her.

I poke my head in at the crowded “Changes to Election Law” training session and pick up an 8-page table of all the changes that went down in May, many of them shoved into a bill that had originally been only about using hand-counted optical scan paper ballots as the record of voter intent. Later in the convention, in the unreal surroundings of a beach-side snack shack, I get to interview Bill Faulkner, one of the activists who got Florida law changed so that direct recording electronic voting machines (DREs) are banned except for use by voters with disabilities.

In the interview he explains what deals were made between Republicans and Democrats at both the state and federal level, and hints at the discontent that had built up for a number of reasons with the Florida Democratic Party chair, discontent that led to some dramatic moments in the next two days of the convention.







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To round out my first day at the convention, I poke my head in at Chairwoman Thurman’s Opening Reception just as the speechifying ends and the convention mascot/party favor is being given out. Is it just me, or are this Demo Donkey’s ears morphing into Dumbo’s ears? And Dumbo being an elephant and all, isn’t he a Republican?

(To be continued…)

*************

rosalea.barker@gmail.com

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