Election Day's coast-to-coast drubbing of Democratic candidates may have party leaders reeling elsewhere, but Florida's blue brigade is at home with adversity, having endured minority status in the state Legislature for almost two decades.
Democrats had a legitimate shot at the governor's mansion this time, but that too went down in a blaze of negative ads. How did things go awry? And how to soldier on in such terrain? New Times put these questions to incoming House Minority Leader Mark Pafford.
New Times: Right up until the last day or two, you seemed to think Charlie was going to win.
Mark Pafford: Right up until 8:30 or 9 that night when some of the mathematicians in the room said otherwise. Where do you think Charlie and the Democratic Party could have done better?
Turnout is everything. And if you don't have turnout... Dade and Broward, I don't want to say the turnout was horrific, but it wasn't good. That's where the population is and where the votes are coming from.
It was such a horribly negative campaign. I can't remember when Charlie and the Democrats said what they were hoping to do. I don't recall Medicaid expansion being an issue.
There were a lot of those issues that didn't come through. A lot of the money was spent having to respond to the huge amount of cash Scott spent on negative ads. You do that and you don't spend as much time identifying yourself. You don't have time to do positive I.D.
How much was determined by the money?
We were massively outspent. Charlie probably raised more than any other Democratic candidate for governor ever did. But it just didn't matter. The Scott campaign was gonna spend upwards of $90 million. That's a ton of advertising. A ton of television and mail. And I think a lot of it was designed just to keep people home -- Democrats, specifically.
Looking ahead, the next legislative session begins when?
We go into organizational session on the 18th, so we'll be up there relatively soon. Notices should have gone out to members as to what they prefer in terms of committee assignments. After that, leadership posts will begin -- chairs and ranking members, that type of activity. Actual session starts in March and April.
The numbers are overwhelming. The GOP can pass whatever they agree on among themselves.
Nothing's changed in that regard. What we have is what we've had for years. You've got one party in control of Tallahassee.
So what can be done, by the party or by average people who object to GOP rule?
The Republican redistricting gave the Republicans tremendous power. The party can work hard to improve our game, get people out. Continue to improve our bench, locally. We need to elect people to the Legislature who will be really, really strong on the issues that relate to their districts. There's about 35 solidly Democratic [state house] districts out of 120. There are about ten that are highly competitive, and we brought back four of the ten. We were part of a wave this year, though there were bright spots -- Gwen Graham, obviously -- but there were not a whole lot.
Hispanic support for Democrats was down. How come?
I haven't yet seen a reasonable explanation of that. It's an odd year. I don't have answers to some things. At least we know where we need to improve. So we have half the problem figured out: What we need to do. We know that. Now we have to figure out how to do it. We've been here before. It's just part of the game.
You expect anyone in the GOP to make at least a show of reaching across the aisle?
You would hope so. You have to come into this optimistically. We have a new speaker. You have a Democratic caucus that is made up of people who supported a Negron bill that wasn't a perfect expansion of health care, but we took an official position to support that bill. So we have recent activity on our side of getting behind GOP bills, making them bipartisan when we think there's something there for the people. It could be a water issue, could be a children's issue. I was speaking to [incoming Speaker of the House] Steve Crisafulli just hours ago, and we're trying to get things moving.
Yes. There's a very clear playbook on that. Things will get exciting when we know the assignments, who all the players are going to be.
One knock on Democrats in this election was that they ran from Obama and weren't pushing their own label. Florida Dems being so outnumbered, you have nothing to lose by being who you are. Will Democratic legislators show some backbone and speak out?
We have legislators with opinions that vary depending on their district. But to me, it doesn't matter what the external influences are... Our caucus is a tight-knit group; most of us having already served together. That camaraderie can give you the courage to be yourself. That's what I'm hopeful for.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.