Thursday, March 14, 2024

Florida Democrats suspend 3 county chairs in move to get party ‘back on track’. (Politico)

From Politico: 

Florida Democrats suspend 3 county chairs in move to get party ‘back on track’

The ousters were praised by DNC Chair Jaime Harrison. 

Nikki Fried talks to the press.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida Democrats on Monday suspended three county chairs, citing repeated violations of party rules and lack of cooperation in a first-of-its kind move as the party is staring down a tough election year in the red-shifting state.

The party suspended Miami-Dade chair Robert Dempster, Palm Beach chair Mindy Koch and Franklin County chair Carol Barfield.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said in a statement that the move was part of “an overall strategy to get our local parties back on track.” The state party had tried to address issues for a year through an assessment team she created when she got elected about a year ago to lead state Democrats, she said.

“Florida Democrats are serious about creating the infrastructure and party apparatus we need to take back our state, restore our rights and freedoms and reelect Democrats all the way up the ticket,” Fried said. “The country is counting on us.”

Fried also got support from DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, who on Monday posted on X: “ @NikkiFried is focused like a laser and is doing everything & whatever is necessary to help @FlaDems #TakeBackFlorida.”

The state party detailed a slew of complaints for the chairs. It said Franklin County was missing a membership list and audits of finances from 2022 that had been due April 2023. Barfield did not respond to a request for comment.

The party accused Koch of Palm Beach of failing to cancel contracts that weren’t approved by the Democratic executive committee. Koch, in an interview, attributed the issues to division among Democratic members in the county and said she was “gobsmacked” by the decision.

“Just like the rest of the country, Palm Beach County is divided,” she said. “I won by one vote and that wasn’t enough for some people to let me do my job. This is the outgrowth of that decision.”

She said the county had an extremely successful phone banking event during the last two weekends and a successful fundraising event in February with Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

“You can’t disengage me; I’m just a Democrat working hard to engage Democrats,” she said. “I will continue to work hard for those folks.”

The party accused Miami-Dade Democrats of failing to reach a quorum at meetings having outdated membership lists. It also said Miami-Dade needed to show that 90 percent of the district committee positions were filled in order to endorse local candidates, as the county had done. 

Dempster argued that other counties had failed to reach quorums but not been suspended, and said the issue of Miami-Dade needing to show a high percentage of committee positions filled was an obscure bylaw that hasn’t historically been enforced. He said he didn’t think the issue of a “minor technicality” rose to the level of forcing out a county chair. 

“Nikki Fried is taking a page from Ron DeSantis, using obscure bylaws and minor technicalities to remove officials she doesn’t like when we should instead be focused on winning elections for Democrats,” he said. “It’s especially egregious she is targeting me, a democratically-elected Black party leader in Miami-Dade county, in this climate of rising anti-Blackness in Florida.”

Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have more registered Democratic voters than Republicans, though GOP registrations have been closing the gap. A poll from EMC Research predicted former President Donald Trump would win Miami-Dade in November — something he didn’t do in 2016 and 2020 despite winning Florida overall.

Florida Democrats sent a compliance notice to the chairs in February and then told them they were suspended March 4. The Central Committee, which has 120 members, will next have to vote on formal removal. The meeting for removal hasn’t been scheduled yet, and vice chairs of each county will be in charge until new chairs are elected.

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