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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Weekend Links: 7/7-7/8

There's only going to be one link this weekend ( because there's a special cause all friends and members of the Florida Netroots should take part in.

Ken Quinnell, founder of the Florida Progressive Coalition has been invited to speak at YearlyKos (a big netroots hoopla), but doesn't have the dough to make it. Ken is a progressive like all of us, and like most of us, isn't exactly being paid a king's ransom for his efforts.

You can send Ken the funds he needs to go by doing the following:

To help, just go to PayPal, log in, go to your "account", click the "Send Money" tab at the top, and enter "" in the "To:" box - ANY amount will be very much appreciated.

I also want to tell you how important Ken has been to this relatively new and growing thing known as the Netroots.

Back in 2005, many of us bloggers were out there in cyberspace, doing our own little thing. I myself had just discovered blogging and slowly found my way down to the state level, where I started blogging at FLA Politics and started this blog.

One day I received an email from Ken about this crazy idea he had about getting all the liberal bloggers together to do something bigger and better. I was initially skeptical (through my DEC experiences) - I knew what a group of Democrats could do (LOL). But the first meeting I had with Ken and a few others in Gainesville was amazing. Meeting bloggers and putting faces to user names was a hell of a lot of fun! And oh the plans we made!

That was the founding of the Florida Progressive Coalition. Today, FPC is playing a leading role in organizing online progressives (collectively "The Florida Netroots") in a positive and meaningful way.

Ken has been at the center of it all. He came up with the idea for FPC, got us together, and was skilled enough to manage our gargantuan egos to do something constructive. If there's one person who deserves to represent us at YearlyKos (for those of us poor activists who also won't be able to attend) - its Ken Quinnell. Please dig deep and send this netroots hero to YearlyKos:

To help, just go to PayPal, log in, go to your "account", click the "Send Money" tab at the top, and enter "" in the "To:" box - ANY amount will be very much appreciated.

Let's do it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Help Us Build A Better Blog!

Build Florida's DECs is a growing, thriving blog with a vibrant community - and we want to keep it that way. The blogosphere is one of the best forms of democracy there is these days and we want to use it to its best potential.

So we would like to hear from you! What do you think of the blog?

Please fill out our survey here.

Your opinion will determine the future of Build Florida's DECs. There are many ideas out there for improving and expanding our community as you'll find out in the survey, but its up to you to decide what course we'll take. Make your voice heard and fill out the survey. Its a quick, 10 question survey.

Thank you for your input!


Just a friendly reminder to all who bookmark and link to this site that the URL will be changing to

on Monday.

Promoting Local Party Events

If I didn't attend local DEC meetings, I would have no idea how the party interacts within our community. As I learned at the DFA training in Tampa, those of us to attend party meetings (or go to trainings for fun on a weekend) are strange. Normal people don't have the time, interest, or patience for such things. However, they do care about their communities and come election time they're going to be asking themselves "what have you done for me lately" of both parties. I've discovered that even "when you're strange" it isn't easy to find out what the local party is doing. So, I've come up with a few helpful suggestions to promote local party activities to both the regular and odd Democrats out there.

What prompted me to write this is that I found out that the DEC here in Leon County was participating in a 4th of July event, not from a local source, but from the regional director of one the Democratic Presidential campaigns. So, the local party does a better job of communicating among themselves and to the national party than it does to its own constituents. To quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke "What we've got here is ... failure to communicate."

So here's a list of ways DEC's can promote their events:

List Event on State Party Website

Why more DECs and Democratic clubs don't do this is beyond me. It's not difficult at all. Here, let me walk you through it.

Go to From the red menu at the top of the page, put your cursor over "Get Active" and select "Create or Find an Event" from the list of options.

Next, select "Plan an Event". Enter the Zip Code where the event will take place and select what type of event it is from the list of options.

If you do not already have an account, you'll be asked to create one before you can add addtional details about the event, otherwise just login, fill out the rest of the requested information and hit submit. Viola! You're Done!

List Event on Local Party Website

First of all, if you represent your local DEC and it doesn't have a website, contact the Florida Progressive Coalition. They can help you get started.

If you have a website use it! It is discouraging to see Local Party sites with little or no useful information or information that is out of date. The Leon County Democratic Party is still telling people to vote on June 26th for Suzan Franks.

If you're going to have a holiday pinic or are recruiting Democrats to serve as mentors in schools or some other community project - put it on your website.

Send Announcements to Your Public Mailing List

Many DECs have a mailing list, of sorts, to communicate with fellow committee members, but lack a more general list to send information to the public. Mailing lists are an easy and cost efficient way to get your message out.

If you represent a DEC and it doesn't have a mailing list, you can set one up on Google Groups or Yahoo Groups very easily for free or if you want something more sophisticated ask your web services provider or ask for advice from the Florida Progressive Coaltion.

Make sure that you keep it simple. On the Leon County Democratic Party's site the link to "Become a member!" and the link to "Get email updates!" asks you to fill out the same information in the form. So much information is requested to get simple email updates that its likely to discourage people from filling it out.

As you can see, the form is so long it scrolls beyond the end of the screen. The Florida Democratic Party's site has it right. It only asks people for their email address and zip code. Usually a name and email address is the only information that should be required and it should be clear to the user what information is required and what is optional.

List Event in the Local Newspaper

Most local newspapers provide a community calendar or listing of events and provide this service FREE of charge. Here in Leon County, the Tallahassee Democrat makes it easy. You simply fill out an online form and your event will appear in both the online and print edition of the paper.

Another good resource are your smaller community newspapers. In some cases, you can even submit a story and pictures about your event for publicaction.

Radio Stations and Local News

Local radio stations and your local news channels also like to provide information to their audiences about community events. Here in Tallahassee, WCTV the local CBS affiliate, has a page on their website where you can submit a community event. and Social Networking Sites is a great tool for building up the local party and notifying people about events. A couple of caveats. First, is free for visitors, but if you want to set up a site it will cost you $12 a month for the service. Second, if you set it up - use it! I signed up for the Tallahassee Democratic Party Meetup Group and showed up to two meetings where nobody from the local party attended.

You can also set up free group sites on places like, and These social networks are particularly useful if you're trying to attract more 18-35 year olds to your events.

Democratic Yahoo or Google Groups

As I mentioned earlier, Yahoo and Google provide free and easy to use mailing lists. There are tons of them that center around the topic of politics and Democratic politics in particular. Chances are, there's one based in your local area. Simply have a member of your DEC join one and post local party announcements.

We have one for Leon County on Yahoo called dem-fl-leon and the local DEC never posts anything to it. It isn't a case where they didn't know it existed. The Leon local party also has a Yahoo Group just for DEC members, which I tried to join just to see if I could get in. The Chair of the Party, politely rejected my request for membership and referred me to the aforementioned Yahoo Group.

Local Activists

Finally, the one resource for getting the word out about party events are your local activists. There's nothing like good old-fashioned word of mouth. Here in Leon we have a local veteren who organizes peace vigils and anti-war demonstrations. He's more than happy to advertise liberal events via his mailing list.

There's also local groups that are a part of the Democratic coalition such as the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the local DFA, etc., who may be able to help spread the word depending upon the nature of the event. You can also try the new Florida Progressive Calendar.

There's a wealth of resources out there to promote the party and advertise its activities in the community. These are just some of the ones that came up off the top of my head. If you have other suggestions, post them in the comments.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mitt Romney and Microtargeting

The Washington Post has an article up about Mitt Romney's data mining campaign and the larger history of microtargeting. Check it out:

Romney's Data Cruncher

DECs can't do scientific microtargeting on their own as they can't afford it. They can use VAN and work with the FDP to develop scripts and questions that help us better target voters.

Speakers Bureaus

One of the many problems I've noticed in clubs is the poor meeting structure. Club meetings have a social time at the beginning with refreshments, then everyone sits down to hear a speaker, which if you're in a Marion club revolves around Social Security or Medicare with the occasional candidate thrown in. Any actual action or organizing is left to "The Board", some distant body of hand chosen people. This reflects the ancient mentality that all the hard work and big decisions are made at the top, and then given down to the peons for implementation. It doesn't reflect that grassroots "from the bottom up" theme that Howard Dean and many progressive activists have been articulating for some time now.

Clubs, particularly those that have been around forever and consider themselves for the most part autonomous from their sponsoring DEC, can be a tough crowd to change. Change in well-established clubs, will inevitably come in increments. For new clubs and caucuses, getting them into a grassroots, bottom-up mindset is a lot easier.

Speakers Bureaus are a way to begin to democratize older clubs and put new clubs and caucuses on the right track. Typically, every club's leadership (or leader in most cases) hand picks the speaker for the meeting and designs the entire meeting. And typically, without any DEC leadership from above, each club kind of meanders off on its own path, cut off from any larger vision or purpose.

With a club coordinator, each DEC can start finding good speakers who are passionate about certain issues, particularly local and state issues. However, here's the catch, each speaker should be trained beforehand in the need to articulate to older clubs the need to organize and do things from the bottom up. For instance, an education speaker can say "We won't be able to get the kind of funding we need for our schools unless we have a well-organized dialog with our neighbors. We won't be able to do that either if were waiting for someone else to do this for us. We as individuals need to get together, organize whether through this club or not, and take action."

Every speaker should have the importance of grassroots organizing built in.

Of course, speakers bureaus are important for several other reasons:

Get Everyone On the Same Page:
If July is going to be healthcare month (perfectly timed with the release of "Sicko"), the club coordinator should work with their clubs to make sure that pre-designated healthcare speakers are lined up to speak. For baby boomers, make sure that there's going to be some kind of action item associated with the arrival of the speaker, such as the formation of a healthcare action group (more on this idea in another post.)

Get the Base More Excited: Which would you rather hear, a speaker on Medicare discussing the difference between Part A, B, C, and D? Or would you rather listen to someone excoriating the problems of our current system (linking them to the Republicans), and discussing the new ideas being proposed by the individual Democratic candidates? I would say most would go for the latter, but the former is what I've currently seen in many Democratic clubs.

Deliver a Clear and Consistent Message: I hear a lot of misinformation out there about issues, even among hard working Democrats. Some think the property tax amendment on January 29th is a good thing. Of course, it would probably be one of the most destructive things ever enacted in Florida history. The point is, having a month dedicated to educating Democrats and the public alike (through "open meetings") on an issue like property taxes is important and can get everyone on the same plane. Democrats aren't robots and don't just accept everything that their told (which is good), but they can be consistent and well-armed in their conversations with their neighbors.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Collaborating With The Virtual Think Tank

The Florida Progressive Coalition announced yesterday the creation of the Progressive Florida Virtual Think Tank. You can read the full post here, but this is the highlight:

"Among the things we produce will be an e-book covering — in very specific details — every aspect of organizing, campaigning, winning elections and turning Florida into a blue state. This will be your one-stop shop for everything on activism and politics in the state. If you want to form a group, this is where you’ll go. If you want to win an election, this is where you’ll go. And this won’t just be strategy, it will be data-driven as well. That stuff you learned at DFA training about targeting voters, eventually, we’ll have all that data for you and will run the basic analysis, too."

Build Florida's DECs is also proud to announce that we will be collaborating with the Florida Progressive Coalition in the development of this website.

We can only talk in broad terms about how to build up our local parties here on this site. We can't get too specific, as our Republican colleagues are always watching. The Virtual Think Tank will allow us to get specific and trade truly valuable ideas.

We are proud to join FPC in this worthwhile and valuable project!

Notes on the DFA Training

After a slow start (too much time spent on math that most people don't need to know), the DFA training really picked up and I learned a lot. I've worked on three campaigns now, one successful and two not so much, and all three of them would've been improved by the information presented at this training. I'd recommend future training sessions like this one to everyone - including those who have already attended them in the past. Three reasons why:

1. Repitition helps things sink in. The more times you hear this stuff, the more you know it and the more likely you are to remember it when you really need to.

2. You can always learn more. Every training is unique, with different trainers and different atendees. Some are the same, but they always change a bit. Each new person brings new information and insight with them and, you never know, that person could bring along the information you need to win the next election.

3. Networking. The political process is all about building and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Meetings like this are incredibly important in meeting new people and in getting together with people you've already met to share ideas and to share good times. Getting together and sharing a few drinks with a fellow activist can be the spark that leads to bigger and better things down the road.

On top of that, these training sessions are loaded with important lessons. Here are the top lessons I learned at this training:

*When you run for office, talk to your family, make sure they’re okay with it

*You have to find the small issues that you agree with people on (even Republicans) and swing them.

*You win through working your ass off, branding, getting your name (making people remember it).

*You might be able to have more effect on helping your community from a local office than national.

*There are lots of people willing to help candidates outside of their own district.

*When the strange speak to the normal, we have to speak normal. (We’re strange).

*People always talk about why doesn’t the party do this or why don’t candidates do that. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We’re the ones who have to do that.

*Prioritize resources and put them to best use.

*The most important thing for your campaign: your field plan, if it ain’t written down…it does not exist!

*Party ID not completely valuable, since people don’t necessarily vote their registration. Actual voter performance is a Florida statues require SoE to delete voters who haven’t voted in three consecutive elections.

*If a Republican canvasser knocks on your door, don’t turn them away – keep them as long as possible so they can’t be out talking to other people.

*We need people to run in every district so we can gather data and figure out what the size of the Dem base is in that district.

*The best way to contact a person is with another person. You need volunteers to contact people. Key resource.

*Don’t waste the time of your volunteers. You don’t waste the money from a campaign fund, why waste the money for a volunteer, who is donating their time instead of their money. Understand their motivations and listen to them.

*Pay attention and get to know what the people are motivated by and what things inspire them. Reward those things and help them achieve those things that inspire them. Treat them like human beings.

*You do not get, what you do not ask for. A lot of times, we put up a barrier in our own heads and don’t ask for things that we can actually get.

*Fund-raising is all about relationships. People who will donate once, will likely donate again or volunteer time.

*Don’t spend a lot of time on any one donor (except corporate/unions/pacs/really, really wealthy).

*Say thank you. A lot. Now matter how much someone gives, give them back the same amount of love and feedback.

*Keep track of your data. HUGELY IMPORTANT!!! Make sure it is accurate, particularly with spelling of names, which can be a huge negative for the future.

*Your highest priority should be undecided voters who always vote.

*Direct voter contact is most effective in canvassing and phone banks. Nothing else is even remotely as effective.

*Democrats tend to...Discount emotion too much, discount humor, be weenies when it comes to fighting back – Leave no attack unanswered.

*A lot of races get framed around one issue. If you start talking about all kinds of things, you don’t really have a message.

*Message should be short, to the point and easy to understand. It must be repeated a lot and appear in the campaign promotional materials.

*Voters don’t read long messages.

*Voters don’t care about you they care about themselves. Make the message about the voter, not about yourself.

*It’s all about the choices.

*Don't be too specific about issues, your message needs to be more global.

*Repetition is the key to the message.

*Be true to yourself. Voters smell bs. Work within the confines of your race, your position and yourself.

*Supervoters need the least contact.

*If you don’t do the multiple contacts, many people won’t vote.

*Don’t let the fact that you don’t like someone get in the way of getting something done. If they are people who know something you don’t or have some skills you don’t, then you need to work with them.

*Candidates/leaders shouldn’t ask volunteers to do things they wouldn’t do. It sets up a hierarchy and discourages people.

*Every county should be running a coordinated campaign.

*When prioritizing, control what doesn’t happen in your day.

*Tell people the reason behind the plan, it helps them feel included and makes them more productive.

Happy 4th!

What is your DEC doing today? We're attending the "Rescue Our Republic" picnic in the Villages, with the three Villages Democratic Clubs (Marion, Lake, and Sumter.) Enjoy and stay safe!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Challenge of Absentee Ballots

Please welcome kansasr to our growing team of contributors! -Ray

As a new poster here, just a brief introduction...I live for political analysis. My background was in market analysis. Now that I've moved to South Florida and am retired from the corporate world, I try to apply those disciplines to political analysis and to getting good Democrats elected. And now, on with our show....

(cross posted from FLA Politics)

I was in the process of cleaning out some of my old data from the 2006 general elections and decided to look at absentee voters one more time.

From previous analysis of areas that I had worked in, it was clear that a suprising (to me) number of absentee ballots were never returned. So I wanted to see just what the opportunity was here. I had data from 3 counties: Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas.

In Broward only 72.1% of the voters who requested absentee ballots actually returned them. In Palm Beach, the number was 82.9% and in Pinellas it was 85.4%.

Looking across party lines, 3rd party voters were less likely to return their ballots (on the order of 5-7 percentage points less) and there wasn't a lof of difference between the return rates of Democrats and Republicans.

Of the 184,647 absentee ballots requested in these 3 counties, 147,999 were returned, leaving 36,648 votes sitting out there.

Knowing that some of these absentee ballots ended up going to the polls, I took a look at one county, Pinellas, to see what percentage of unreturned absentee voters ended up casting ballots at the poll. The good news is that in Pinellas, it was 37%. The bad news is that 63% of those remaining Pinellas voters who actually had ballots in their hands never cast them.

Assuming a similar voting rate in the other 2 counties, this would mean that over 23,000 voters with ballots never cast them.

I know that in a small target group of Pinellas precincts, they had an active program to follow up with voters who had not returned their absentee ballots. In those precincts, they increased the return/voted rate from 85% to 94%.

Lesson to be learned, I've got to monitor those absentee ballot requests and follow up with them. It's good use of phone banking - there's a ballot sitting there on the kitchen table. With a little coaxing, you can get a stamp on it and get it in the mail.

Name Change

This is something I've been kicking around for a while now. The name "Reform" in Reform Florida's DECs has always kind of bothered me in the back of my head. While we are indeed working to change local parties here in Florida, we're not against them entirely. Those of you who were at the Netroots Luncheon at JJ probably remember me saying that "Reform Florida's DECs doesn't mean we're against DECs, we want to help them." The name can mean different things to different people. Ken Quinnel of Florida Progressive Coalition received some communications recently which confirmed some of those initial thoughts.

So today, I'm changing the name of this blog to "Build Florida's DECs". Building is exactly what we want to do and doesn't compromise our original message of change.

The actual URL of this blog will be changing too...just not right now. I want to give all the folks who've bookmarked and linked to this blog some time to know its changing. Instead of, on Monday, July 9, the URL will be changed to Please be ready to make these changes accordingly.

I'll be sending a blast email out shortly to all those on our mailing list.

New Links

As promised, here are a couple of new links I've added the past few days:

Future Majority is a blog focused on discussing what's happening with Millennials (those born in between 1978 and 2000, roughly.) This is a demographic that is increasingly growing in importance as these individuals start forming their political opinions, registering to vote, and take part in political and civic activism. Progressives, and particularly local progressive organizations like DECs need to know how to reach out and cultivate this valuable group of people.

The New Organizing Institute is an incredibly valuable organization and essential to the future of progressive politics in the United States. NOI focuses on training progressive activists from across the country in new technologies and new media. While I've never been to one of their trainings, I would really like to attend some day.

3,000 Mark Broken

While there are many progressive blogs in Florida who are way past this benchmark, its a big deal for Reform Florida's DECs. This was a little, no-name blog when it was started in 2005, and it was left to lapse during most of 2006 and early this year.

However, when I decided to bring this blog back from the "digital dead", as I put it, I didn't know that the response would have been so quick. Thanks to all who continue to visit this blog on a daily basis. Thanks to our contributors who every now and then post an idea, and thanks to all who continue to link and refer us.

Onward to the next milestone!

The Vision Thing

If there's one thing I see DECs doing more than anything else its short-term thinking. We're getting better at it for sure, but its still a never ending obstacle I see DECs and progressive organizations alike trying to overcome.

How do you know whether or not your DEC is suffering from short-term thinking? Here are a few signs:

Gatherings Don't Seem to Have Any Purpose: Ever go to a meeting, not just a DEC meeting but any meeting and all people do is really just announce things to everyone else? Are people really just talking to hear themselves talk? Do your meetings accomplish anything? If not, your DEC or organization is suffering from a lack of long-term focus or vision.

Everyone Is Doing Their Own Thing: If your DEC's activists are all out doing what they want to do, disconnected from any larger plan or purpose, that's a problem. Every DEC suffers this in some form or another. The term "herding cats" applies well to DECs. So the question is to what degree? If its a few folks - don't beat yourself up. However, if entire committees seem to be disconnected, it maybe time for some strategic planning to get everyone on the same page.

There's Been No Strategic Planning: If you haven't gotten all of your committee chairpersons and officers to discuss where the party should be going, its something you really should try and do.

The bottom line here is that DECs have to have a long-term focus and can't become too distracted by short-term events (special elections, personal feuds, the loss of a club, or the resignation of a precinct captain, etc...), otherwise the organization could lose its rudder and some of the symptoms I described above could occur.

So how do DECs attempt to keep their long-term focus?

Strategic Planning: There should be a strategic planning meeting of the DEC's officers and committee chairpersons every 6 months. The first meeting of a new DEC administration is probably the most important strategic planning meeting, as it will set the course of the organization for the next 2+ years. The strategic planning meetings in between that first meeting and Election Day are there to measure progress and tweak things along the way. Or, if things aren't working well at all, to start from scratch.

Bold, Persistent Experimentation:
To many of our readers from the '60s and 70s, I'm not referring to giving DEC members different types of drugs :) I'm referring here to what FDR said in the early 1930s:

"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

In other words, keep your DEC and its clubs on their toes by consistently trying new ideas in a push towards the vision laid out at your initial strategic planning meeting.

Keep Reminding Them:
It's oh so easy for any member of a DEC (yours truly included) to get wrapped up or swept up by a short-term distraction and quickly forget long-term goals. At every possible instance, remind everyone of the long-term goal: victory in 2008. Anything that really doesn't get us there probably isn't worth the time.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Financing the Future: Recurring Donations

By now, many of you have heard about Barack Obama's incredible fundraising quarter in which he raked in $32.5 million. Pretty amazing! The back story that will undoubtedly be missed my most in the MSM, is that Barack Obama has a very visible recurring donor program. Barack is able to consistently raise a large amount of money, hold the average donation low, and therefore keep most of it for the primary because of some help from his recurring donation program.

Some of RFDECs most loyal readers will remember I first discussed recurring donor programs around 2 years ago. DECs are always struggling for money, and that really shouldn't be. Money is the mother's milk of politics, as the old saying goes, but I'll also argue its the canary in the coal mine. If a DEC isn't regularly raising funds, its a good indication that it isn't engaging the community it represents and therefore not doing its job. Some may argue that DECs can be functional without an impressive fundraising record largely through their grassroots organization. I disagree. If your DEC has a good grassroots network, then you really don't have an excuse not to be raising money. A good grassroots network can raise good funds for DECs.

The main reason I think DECs struggle with fundraising is because of the following:

Fundraisers Are A Lot of Work: Those JJ Dinners DECs put on require a lot of time, people, effort, and frustration. Often after one or two dinners, most organizers associated with the dinners are burned out and would rather do something else. They also typically don't raise a whole lot of money.

There Is No Plan: Once you have money, what are you going to do with it? I see DEC members tripping through their words on this one: "Well...we'll use it to pay for mailings, help candidates, you know..." Basically, you really don't have a plan. Big donors in particular want to know where their money is going and whether its making a difference. No one wants to throw their hard earned dollars down a black hole. Would you?

Obviously, having a finance plan is another topic for another post. The question here is how do DECs raise money more efficiently. The answer is through recurring donations. I'll refer you to my previous post on the subject here to provide some context.

In Marion, we successfully implemented a very small recurring donor program, branded "The Winner's Circle" with several levels of support (and therefore recognition.) By just talking to our membership within the DEC and out in the clubs, we were able to recruit enough recurring donors to pay for all our monthly bills (around $16K per year.) There are around 60 people in the program (an average monthly contribution of $22.22.) Our goal is around 100 by years end.

Recurring donations make the DEC's life a lot easier. Its easier to budget, plan, and prioritize funds if you know how much is coming in monthly and yearly.