Time for Change: Democratic Disaster in Orange County Elections Beyond Fiasco

ocdec logo 4Election Day 2014 was nothing short of a complete local disaster for the Orange County Democratic Party, with major losses and a lack of leadership that signals significant change is not only needed, it will be required. It is clear the “clique politics” in Orlando, implemented by Scott Randolph and followed by Randolph pawn Carlos Smith, will not cut it. Local Democratic Party Chair Carlos Smith must step aside and pave the way for new blood, new party building and a totally new approach. He now needs to look for a job anyway as his current boss lost his election, unless there’s an opening in Randolph’s Orange County Tax Collector office of course.

It is time to rethink local leadership and party strategy. To be clear, there is no party, just a clique. There is no brand and no local identity, outside of some special interests, which are always directly connected to the Randolph-Smith clique. In Orange County, Democratic voter registration outnumbers Republican voter registration by nearly 100,000 voters! Even in a midterm, Democrats should not be losing races in Orange County – in fact, with the registration numbers it shouldn’t be close even in a midterm. Orange County is a “blue” county. This situation cannot continue.

Despite all the party “leadership” schemes and plotting, which also isolated and turned off many Democratic activists and volunteers, it looks like a complete Democratic failure in Orange County with major losses on top of the fact the party didn’t even field candidates in major races, like Orange County Mayor or School Board Chair. Randolph and Smith attempted to convince local DEC members that the County Mayor’s race would be the most important race in 2014, yet they came up with no name on the ballot to challenge Teresa Jacobs.

The fall-off in voters from 44% in 2010 to 42% this year is another sign of troubles ahead. And, given increases in voter registration, Charlie Crist, who got subtle local primary support from party “leaders” actually did less well than Alex Sink in garnering votes in Orange.

Even Carlos Smith’s boss, now former state representative Joe Saunders, lost his race in a Democratic district against reputable and personable Republican Rene “Coach P” Plasencia in spite of near complete control of the coordinated efforts focusing on protecting Saunders. Linda Stewart was ousted, yet just weeks before Election Day, Carlos Smith tried to coerce Stewart to fund more of the “coordinated efforts.” However it would have meant Smith and his clique would have determined where the canvassers went, what they would have said and what they would have distributed. That didn’t sit well with Stewart and thus, no late ground support was sent from the local party.

Let’s recap the 2014 Elections. Before Election Day, Democrats defaulted on two of the biggest races in Orange County, Mayor and School Board Chair. No candidates, no challenge, yet both Republicans who breezed through will likely continue on to at least run for higher offices. Local Democrats lost three state house seats (Saunders, Stewart and Karen Castor Dentel). Local Democrats lost a critical School Board race in August by not providing extra resources and support to Joshua Katz (in fact, Carlos Smith’s boss Joe Saunders was attending events with the Republican incumbent). And the party lost another School Board race with a Democrat yesterday, as Regina Hellinger came up just short. The party failed to put Democrat Alvin Moore on the County Commission over a former Republican state house member. And in the other County Commission district, Victoria Siplin defeated Derrick Wallace, even after the state party campaigned against Siplin’s husband in his August primary for state senate.

Question C also failed, while the County Mayor’s response for term limits and nonpartisan campaigns won big. Randolph was the puppet master behind the attempt for partisan campaigns, but voters rejected the effort. Meanwhile, Randolph’s scheme backfired as Mayor Jacobs’ Question D passed overwhelmingly. This should definitely upset Randolph’s fellow Democratic Constitutional Officers like Sheriff Jerry Demings and Property Appraiser Rick Singh. Brilliant idea for Randolph to rock the boat and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as all of the paid workers, right?

Question C was also being pushed and financed by outside money connected to Stephanie Porta and Organize Now, who also claimed they knocked on more than 275,000 doors. But turnout in minority districts, where Organize Now is supposed to focus their work and education, was very low. All they can claim is that “it would have been even lower.” Almost 72% of the electorate supported Mayor Jacobs’ term limits and nonpartisan elections as they rejected Question C. Data is not in yet, but it seems to have failed even in the most Democratic precincts.

Embarrassingly, Scott Randolph’s wife, Alan Grayson staffer Susannah Randolph tweeted the day before “Orlando FL Dems exceed 2010 by 20k votes; GOP barely at 2010. I-4 becoming Dem stronghold, not battleground.”

Yet, despite all of this, Chair Carlos Smith said on Channel 13 News last night that the party would “move forward proudly.” What? So are we supposed to believe Democrats should be proud about these election results? Or can we all finally admit this “clique leadership” style isn’t what we need?

Former Democratic Party Chair Doug Head says, “We have to rebuild a volunteer party from the ground with fewer consultants, fewer outsider funded schemes and a big educational component for our community. We have to live by the principles we claim.”

Democrats must build a real party. A party that involves citizens and members, not consultants and cliques who want their cut of the money. While Carlos Smith must step aside, it is possible the party should consider a three-month transition with an “open enrollment” to allow time to recruit true representation from Democrats and minorities across Orange County. The current membership and numbers are lethargic and near death, considering there are more than 300,000 registered Democrats in Orange County and only around 120 Democratic Party members. While we are at it, the state committeeman and committeewoman, Jimmy Auffant and Nancy Jacobson, are also too connected to the inner clique and entirely focused on their personal perks and influence of their positions.

We need a fresh start from top to bottom in the party leadership.

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