Friday, July 27, 2007

FDP Chair Karen Thurman Answers Your Questions

Last week, I put up a notice to the Netroots that we had the opportunity to interview Karen Thurman, the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party and invited you to submit your own questions. So here is our Q&A:

Q. Will Rogers famously quipped, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." How is the Party building a better organization here in Florida and what can the Netroots do to help?

A. First, I can say that the Party has increased efforts to reach out to more like-minded groups, outside of the traditional county structure. These include the Netroots, Democratic Professionals Council, progressive religious leaders, and Democracy for America. We’re building infrastructure with regional organizers in the off-year, thanks to the DNC’s State Partnership Program. These staffers are working with the county parties to build the ones that need help and grow the ones that are established. They also work on special elections and municipal races so we have a Democratic bench for the future. We’re actively recruiting candidates in State House, Senate and Congressional races across the state, giving them guidance and helping to set up winning campaigns.

Where the Netroots can really help is with communication, by serving as watchdogs, and providing an outlet for more people. On the communications front, if you see something that works in Pinellas, you can communicate that to people across the state and spark a discussion in a way that has never been done before. No longer do Democrats from Escambia and Miami have to wait till a major Party event to exchange ideas.

As watchdogs, you can help Democrats in Tallahassee, where the overabundance of Republican spinmeisters lull reporters into assuming what they are saying is the mainstream view, and any disagreement on party lines becomes an immediate, “Dems say this, GOP says this” story, when the reality may be that the GOP is just wrong. That’s when people outside the Party offices can really make a difference. When the Netroots stir up an issue and keep it going, it can spill over into the mainstream – like it did in Virginia with the George Allen/macaca controversy, which probably delivered the U.S. Senate to the Democrats. You guys got Kottkamp to fess up to editing his Wikipedia page, and I think that’s just the scraping the surface of your potential in a state that has produced the likes of Katherine Harris, Mark Foley, Rhonda Storms, Ken Pruitt, Ralph Arza, Tom Feeney and Bob Allen. The Party doesn’t have the money to put a tracker or researcher in every Congressional district, but the Netroots, in everybody’s spare time, can contribute by keeping an eye on the GOP in your local area, both in person and online. You never know what you might turn up.

And thirdly, I think the Netroots can help channel the energy of people who aren’t comfortable with the DEC structure and who may be willing to give their time to phone bank from home, like MoveOn did in the last election, instead of at the local DEC office. This is an area where I think there is amazing opportunity as well, so we need to keep the discussion going. I urge everyone who considers them a member of the Florida Netroots to brainstorm ways in which you can turn online activism into votes for Democrats. Many of you have met or talked with Phil Perry, our IT Director, and he continues to work on ways the Party and the Netroots can work together to accomplish our joint goals.

Q. Eddie asks: What steps is the party taking to get more young people active and involved in Democratic campaigns and causes? Do you believe the contributions of young people have ever been undervalued in the past, and if so, how are you changing this?

A. The Florida Democratic Party has always led the way with youth-driven programs and never undervalued our young voters, but outreach costs money and there hasn’t always been the funding to do what we want. We’re trying to change that, working to strengthen the Florida Young Democrats with a “hand up, not a hand out” as Bill Clinton would say. We’re giving them space and the resources to hold a fundraising breakfast at the State Convention to help raise dollars and their profile. The YDs have a great new leader in Alan Brock, the Chair of the Wakulla County Democrats (a little county south of Tallahassee). They’ve got our full support, and we’re expecting big things from them soon.

In the past the Party has spearheaded organization on college campuses with the Donkey’s Rock tour, aid for the creation of College Democrat chapters through out the state with ad buys in local college newspapers, grants for supplies and more. In the fall and throughout 2008, we hope to do ramp up these types of activities.

We believe that we are on the cusp of truly capturing the youth vote and finally awakening the sleeping giant in Florida. As you may have read in the newspaper, youth voter turnout in Florida is one of the lowest in the nation. We believe that by using new technologies to foster two-way communication, building on past successes with the Young Democrats, College Democrats and new initiatives like the 20Twenty Futures Program and the Democratic Professionals Council, we will develop long lasting relationships with young voters in our state who will actually go to the polls and help Democrats win.

Q. Vrej asks: Do you consider Gov. Charlie Crist's image as a moderate Republican an opportunity or a challenge for Florida Democrats?

A. I think that the Charlie Crist we see today is not the Charlie Crist we saw during the campaign, and that’s what we have to keep in mind when we examine his record. We also have to remember that the initiatives that he has partnered with Democrats to push (namely climate change, stem cells, paper ballots and insurance reform) should never have been partisan issues in the first place. They’re just common sense, and against the backdrop of the Bushes and other extreme Republicans, pretty much any common sense action is going to stand out.

Also, the Governor really hasn’t extended himself as much as the media has made it seem. He supported stem cell research, but not the most promising embryonic stem cell research. He supported insurance reform, but didn’t propose a plan to make it happen. He held a climate summit, but used executive orders to make change instead of forcing the Legislature to get to work on this pressing issue.

But, when we look back at the past six months, we see that all of the Governor’s major initiatives have long been supported by Florida Democrats. Now, is that a challenge for us? I think it’s great for us – and the people of Florida. The question for the Governor may be will his right-wing support him when he has to make a tough decision or when he runs for reelection? Speaker Rubio slammed Crist twice on two different issues in the past week so we may see a fracturing of the GOP, which could help Democrats in future elections.

Q. Gatordem asks: What does the FDP have in the works this cycle to increase Dem voter turnout in 2008?

A. We’ve been working on a lot of different projects, not all of which I want to reveal just yet. We have regional organizers on the ground, working certain targeted areas where we think early action can make a difference. The test case for us was the House District 49 race, in which we had the time, the resources and the support of other groups to beat the pants off the Republicans on the ground. From what we’ve heard, that race was a wake-up call at RPOF HQ, which is probably why they attacked Suzan Franks so early. So I’m hesitant to get into too much detail, but I promise you we’re several months into a program that is targeting areas of the state we have determined to be ripe for change. (Sorry! I know that you probably want more detail, but my staff wants me to keep quiet for the time being.)

Q. Gatordem asks: Do you have any regrets in how you handled the situation regarding your lobbying for Miami-Dade County port security?

A. I regret that it ended up in the newspaper! No, but seriously, I understand why the way it was presented in the Miami Herald and St. Pete Times created some concern. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the story right. To be clear, I don’t work for a Republican and I don’t report to a Republican.

Since before I became Chair, and I have had my own lobbying and consulting firm. Recently, I teamed up with Eric Gould, who served as my former legal counsel from when I was on the House Ways and Means Committee and later worked in the Clinton Administration. In addition to working with me, Eric, a good Democrat, is a partner at Tew Cardenas, a firm that, yes, is part-owned by former Republican Party Chair Al Cardenas but employs Republicans, Democrats and non-partisan folks. Eric asked me to help them lobby on behalf of Miami-Dade County because of our new Democratic majority in Congress. After careful consideration, I decided, because the issue is one that I feel is very important, that it would not conflict with my duties as Party Chair. And it hasn’t. In fact, it’s opened more doors for Party fundraising than I ever imagined.

Now, I am not and have never been opposed to fully disclosing my outside income as Chair, and I’m certainly not the first chair to have other interests. However, our Party bylaws don’t address the issue. But now we are in the process of discussing how to best to go forward. One option is to amend the bylaws with a procedure for disclosure, since that really seemed to be the issue for people that had concerns.

I assure you, I still spend most of my waking hours working for and worrying about the Party. If you don’t believe me, just ask my husband!

And finally, if people really are concerned about anything I’ve done as Party Chair, I encourage you to write to me or call me with your concerns before you go to the papers or secretly videotape my conversations (it’s happened!). We’re all in this together, and the more we attack our own, especially when the facts aren’t clear, the more we cede the upper hand to Republicans. Their Party, for good reason, is getting fired at from all sides. If we want to take back Florida, we should be getting out of the way, instead of taking bullets for them. We have got to stick together and trust one another or we’ll never win. (I’m not talking blind, Bush Republican-type trust, but you get what I mean.)

Q. Ron Mills asks: What can we do, if anything, if our county has purchased the VAN, but has not provided training or even access to the VAN to elected DEC members or even elected leaders?

A. Please contact Ben King, our voter file director, to discuss access issues. He can be reached at 850-222-3411 or The Party is holding trainings, independent of DECS, around the state as much as we can. Look for an announcement about training at the State Convention in October, much like we’ve done at the past two JJ Weekends, except bigger.

Q. DrBruce asks: I know that the VAN has the capability of connecting to a predictive dialer. However, the system used is extremely expensive, at 25 cents per minute per user. Even minimal use of 20-30 hours per week over a single month would exceed the cost of a stand-alone system. What plans does the FDP have in place to connect to a stand-alone predictive dialing system?

A. Predictive dialers are a great way to streamline the process of calling voters and improve efficiency. We are currently working with the voter file vendor to assess the technical feasibility and proper steps forward on this issue. The Party is committed to aiding county and progressive organizations and candidates with as many methods of voter contact as possible. If you would like to know more, this is another issue that Ben King can assist you with.

Thank you so much for your questions. Talk to you again soon!


gatordem said...

Karen - Thank you for taking the time for this. I, for one, really appreciate your efforts to reach out to the netroots and other constituencies throughout the state.

I'm glad you didn't go into too much detail on the voter turnout plans. I did want to raise the issue because I think it is an area where we can make improvements that will turn into more victories for Democrats.

As for the lobbying issue, you have had and continue to have my full faith and confidence. Again, I wanted to give you an opportunity to lay out the facts and also to let folks hear your plans for increasing transparency.

Keep up the great work!

Vox Populi said...

Thank you for making this available to us.

When I worked with the Jim Davis campaign we used our own cell phones to call people. There weren't enough phone lines. People were extremely receptive to us.

I'm glad Karen addressed this issue because from a distance people can build things up. I personally think it's a GREAT idea to take money from Republicans as long as your heart belongs to the Dems.

Thanks !

John said...

Given that the chair chose to once again give her triangulate rationale and excuse concerning the Miami Herald article etc. I feel compelled to respond...

Please watch, read and listen and then decide for yourself.

I was where you are today at one time myself.

The claim that the conversation was secretly taped is laughable. The video camera was obviously on in a darkened room and as a public figure one is always under scrutiny. She continued even after inquiring about the camera being on and being advised that the people want to hear her on the record... she continued to talk, eventually responding as she had in the past with the "whopper" concerning FDP support for her son.

Two questions for Karen... If you did not want to be on the record why not just stop talking?

If there was nothing wrong with the support given to your son Macky through FDP, then why not just tell the truth? There would then not be so big of a story... There are other issues of veracity on the tape but Macky would not be one surely if you had owned up to the FDP support.

When telling the truth it just does not matter if your conversation is overheard or taped now does it?

Links to the story and to YOUTUBE video are below. Everyone please watch, read and listen and then think for yourself. Thanks, J R…

Michael Collins article…Florida Citizens Versus Party Insiders…
St. Pete Times story on Karen Thurman…
Miami Herald article on Karen Thurman…
Link to original Miami Herald article on Karen Thurman

A public conversation with Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen L. Thurman. Further analysis however, succinctly speaking makes clear very quickly that the aspiration” of many a congressman, or woman is not to write legislation… but to become a lobbyist.

Prompted by the recent revelation in the Miami Herald article published July 4, 2007, Karen Thurman’s “extracurricular” activities as a lobbyist working with ex Florida Republican Chair Al Cardenas has resulted in a storm of controversy surrounding the embattled Florida Democratic Party chairwoman.

The glee with which the chair speaks of all the jobs being created for Democratic lobbyists on “K” Street in D.C. is testimonial to the contention that today there is but one political party… “The MONEY Party!”


Karen Thurman represents the Democratic side of the “MONEY Party” and Al Cardenas represents the Republican side.

Today America has a Democratic congress. Where are the policies that the voters “lobbied” for by casting their votes? Where is the seat at the table for the people?

If the major aspiration of many of our legislators is to become a lobbyist… (because that’s where the “real $$$” is), then where do the people go for representation if THEY cannot “buy” the favor of their representative like corporate America does.

The chair has been enjoying traveling the state discussing how well Democrats did here in Florida in 2006. Notwithstanding the many fine Democratic candidates for state and local office who were not supported in 2006; while Macky Thurman, the son of the chairwoman, received a declared 15,000 dollars from the FDP… in in-kind and financial support.

Most certainly there are of course others…Please listen to the chair’s response to questions concerning the support from the Florida Democratic Party for her son toward the end of the video, while other candidates qualified by more than a family connection went begging… Her answer is telling…

The “wave” missed Florida in 2006 because unless you were a go along get along “insider”… as noted above, you were not supported by your party.

Just think how well Florida might perform for Democrats if the FDP had a focused and determined FULL TIME chair who was not distracted by a desire to “go for the MONEY” full time and act as chair with somewhat less vigor and determination. You be the judge. Updates to follow.

More to come… Video is unremarkable until the end but audio is dramatic and enlightening throughout… (JUST SIT BACK AND LISTEN…) to all who fight for truly Democratic Principles.

Jennifer said...

All the stuff John just mentioned was posted on FLA Politics last week in two separate diaries by awakedemocrat. Feel free to check them out.

John said...

Thanks Jennifer,

AWakeDemocrat is not me. We do appreciate the referral however.

Please encourage your friends to read the articles and watch/listen to the video.

One thing we should all be working for is more "Awake" Democrats.

Thanks, John Russell

Mark said...
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