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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Changes to Political Party Organization in Florida

A couple weeks ago I wrote up a summary of Florida HB 537 on Daily Kos detailing how we may have gotten a few things we didn't bargain for in addition to paper ballots. One of the things I left out of that summary are the changes that were made to the organization of political parties in the state. I'll go through those now.

Section 103.081 of the Florida Statutes dealing with the use of a party's name was amended to include this additional subsection:

(3) A political party may file with the Department of State names of groups or committees associated with the political party. Such filed names may not be used without first obtaining the written permission of the chair of the state executive committee of the party.

Section 103.091 of the Florida Statutes deals with the organization of political parties, particularly their executive committees at the both the state and county level.

Subsection (1) was amended to add:

Each state committeeman or committeewoman must be a member in good standing of the county executive committee for the county in which the state committeeman or committeewoman is a registered voter.

Subsection (4) was amended to provide an additional two weeks for those seeking to qualify for elected positions in the state or county executive committee.

Subsection (6)(b) concerns the composition of each state executive committee and adds that it shall include:

10 Florida registered voters who are members of the party as appointed by the Governor if the Governor is a member of the party

Section 103.161 is the real meat of the changes. It deals with the removal county executive committee members. It completely removes all the previous legislation that left it up to the state or county executive committee to take legal action to remove a county executive committee member and puts that soles in the hands of the chair of the state executive committee.

(1) The chairman of the state executive committee is empowered to remove or suspend from an office within the chairman's political party any officer, state committeeman, state committeewoman, county committeeman, county committeewoman, precinct committeeman, precinct committeewoman, or other member of a state executive committee, county executive committee, political party club, or other organization using the political party name as provided in s. 103.081 for a violation of the oath of office taken by such individual or for engaging in other activities described in this section.

(2) Such violation may include engaging in activities that have or could have injured the name or status of the political party or interfered with the activities of the political party. The chairman has sole discretion to determine if a violation occurred.

(3) Upon the chairman's determination that a violation of the oath of office occurred or that an individual engaged in other activities described in this section, the chairman may remove or suspend the individual from his or her office. If the chairman removes the individual from office, the office shall be deemed vacant upon the delivery of the chairman's written order of removal to the individual. When a vacancy in office is created, the chairman shall appoint an individual to serve through the end of the term of the office. If the chairman suspends the individual, the chairman shall determine the length of the suspension.

(4) An individual removed from office by the chairman shall not be eligible to serve on the state executive committee or any county executive committee of the political party for a period of no less than 4 years from the effective date of the removal.

As someone who wishes to help reform the party and encourage more grassroots involvement, I'm a little concerned about the shift to a more centralized authority structure where the chair can seemingly remove anyone at will or vanquish any group or club from using the party name.

It makes sense for Republicans where it is expected for members to be automatons who move in lock-step, but it doesn't seem very Democratic. We are a party in which members often disagree and I would hate to see those disagreements escalate into opportunites to oust people who are dedicated to the party, but may not share everything in common with the establishment.

What do you think of these changes?

20 comments:

Ray Seaman said...

I must admit there have been times throughout the state when I wish the chairman had this kind of direct, unhampered authority to remove problem precinct captains who were truly hurting the party with their selfish antics.

However, DEC chairpersons are human, too - and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe this legislation puts WAY too much power in the hands of local chairman. I say that with my father being one. There needs to be some kind of check on the chairman's decision to remove someone. Either a 2/3rds vote of the DEC membership and/or Steering Committee should do that trick.

Of course, with such a check, the chairman would be hesitant (some may argue too hesitant) to effectively prosecute a wrong doer as they would try to avoid a potentially debilitating floor fight.

Nonetheless, I go back to my original recommendation - there needs to be checks on such unchecked power.

Jennifer said...

My understanding of the legislation is that it gives all the power to remove or suspend people to the State Chairperson - not the Chairperson of the individual county executive committees.

Jennifer said...

A county executive committee member can be removed for violating their oath by two-thirds majority of the committee as per the original law which is still intact.

Eddie said...

I definitely disagree with the legislation. Karen Thurman is a great FDP Chairwoman, but what if her successor isn't so palatable? The membership of the parties should have the option of removing party leaders or other members; we shouldn't be handing control of the entire party apparatus to one person. Like you said, that works for Republicans (let their party membership continue to dwindle), but not for grassroots Democrats.

Ray Seaman said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jennifer. The state party chair certainly shouldn't have this kind of power.

www.impactpolitics.net said...

Wouldn't the county/local chairpeople retain their right to remove members as stated within their bylaws? It doesn't seem to remove any pre-existing power, just expand the power of the state party. Is that correct?

It was nice to meet many of you yesterday!

gatordem said...

If this power had been available to the state chair last year, we may have elected more Democrats in Pinellas County. We certainly would have avoided a terrific amount of unecessary turmoil and wasted energy.

I believe that this is a power that is useful for the state chair to have. I, for one, am willing to trust the chair to use this power judisciously.

Eddie said...

Gatordem, but which chair? Do you trust every FDP chair now and forever into the future to use this power correctly?

You're quick to point out that some county chairs can be ineffective and counterproductive, but doesn't that very same argument apply to the STATE chair?! If the chairmanship of the DECs are fallible, doesn't it follow that the chairmanship of the FDP is fallible as well?

You're right that the power to remove county chairs can be useful, and may be necessary in certain circumstances, but that power should not be vested in only one person. That is neither a democratic or Democratic thing to do.

Jennifer said...

The county level DECs are established in accordance with the rules of the state executive committee, so I would assume that whatever powers are conferred to the county executive committee in their bylaws has to be approved at the state executive committee level.

In the existing Florida Statutes, as I mentioned earlier, county executive committees can announce a meeting and if there's a quorum, they can remove a member with a 2/3rds vote - that ability hasn't changed, although it only applies to violation of your oath and I'm not sure it pertains to the removal of a county chair or just other executive committee members.

Ray Seaman said...

This is actually where I believe the main inefficiency is with state law and DEC bylaws.

The only way a motion can be made to remove a member is if they've violated their loyalty oath. That is, they've worked for a Democrat over a Democrat, or they've endorsed a Republican. This makes sense.

But what about those members, as we saw in Hillsborough (I think), Hernando, and Pinellas, were actively undermining the chairperson and the party as a whole. So long as they didn't violate the narrow provisions of the loyalty oath - the danger of any real consequence was removed.

I had a conversation with a state party official about this issue a while back, and he said that in the situation in Pinellas, they were virtually powerless to do anything because of this very narrowly drawn provision.

Ray Seaman said...

Also, I should add, that the FDP official said this is why he was "a DEC dropout." There was no real consequence for people who clearly put their interests above the party's.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

"That is, they've worked for a Democrat over a Democrat ..."

You can't work for one Democrat over another? I can understand why the DEC as an organization doesn't want to endorse one Democrat over another, but does that really mean that individual members of the DEC can't work on a campaign until after the primary? As long as I actively support the Democrat in the general, I'm not sure what difference it makes who I supported in the primary. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding.

I've attended DEC meetings and there's all these references to weird committees and odd sounding bylaws -- my eyes glaze over until some actual issue comes up and there's finally some lively discussion of policy or strategy. Your unnamed FDP official may be a "DEC drop-up" - I'm one who's reluctant to "enlist" in the first place.

Ray Seaman said...

Poor wording on my end, Jennifer. Here's the text of the loyalty oath Marion Dems have to sign:

"I _____, having been duly sowrn, say, that I am a member of the Democratic Party; that I am a qualified elector of Marion County, Florida; that during my term of office, I will not support the election of the opponent of any Democratic nominee, I will not oppose the election any Democratic nominee, nor will I support any non Democrat against a Democrat in any election other than in judicial races; that I am qualified under the Constitution and Laws of the State of Florida and the Charter and bylaws of the Florida Democratic Party to hold the office I am seeking, or to which I have been elected; that I have not violated any of the laws of the State of Florida relating to election of the Charter and Bylaws of the Florida Democratic Party."

So, no, there is no provision about primary fights, essentially. You can support one Democrat over another. There are consequences for DECs who support one Dem over another in a primary, however. They receive none of the filing fees.

Ray Seaman said...

I believe there are other issues in supporting one Dem over another in a primary. But this is another topic for another post in the future.

gatordem said...

Eddie,

I do trust Karen Thurman to use this power judiciously. And now that it is the state law, people voting for new state chairs know this is a power that the state chair will have. Hopefully, they will take that into account when choosing a new chair.

Personally, I think the advantages of this arrangement far outweigh the risks.

Eddie said...

Gatordem,

I trust Karen Thurman, but I do not trust or have faith in future FDP chairs that I have not met and do not know. How could I, and how can you?

I share your hope that this arrangement successfully prevents some of the problems in the county DECs, but I do not share your trust or faith that the benefits will always outweigh the risks in perpetuity.

The arrangement has the potential to alienate solid, grassroots Democrats who are committed to the party, but may disagree with the FDP chair on matters of strategy or slight differences in ideology.

In effect, the Sword of Damocles is hanging over every member of every DEC and Democratic club in the state. March in lock-step with the state party or you could get axed.

the kick said...

This change ignores the needs of organizations to have good processes. Bad process yields bad results. No process yields the worst results. This a "no process" invitation. Processes can be streamlined and the rules expanded while maintaining workable process. Dictatorship is not a process but a corruption exploited by and for the insecure and threatened. The potential for abuse and subsequent disaster should not be understated.

Susan S said...

I don't think the chair of the FDP should have the power to remove a duly elected county chair. It strikes me as very undemocratic.

This change, as well as past policies that define party structure, are all about exclusion and not about inclusion. Unfortunately, that is the message that is conveyed to rank and file members. We seem to spend more time trying to keep people out of the Democratic Party than we spend trying to bring (and keep) people in.

Christopher said...

This legislation was passed by Republicans for Republicans. They wanted a "unitary" chairmanship so they could punish REC members who wouldn't goosestep to the Bushie's tune. Now we Democrats are stuck with it, as well. Do we want to be Democrats from the grassroots up, or from the throne on down?