``I'm not closing any doors. I'm at the stage of my life when I've learned never to say never.''
-- Alex Sink, 2010.
Dear Ms. Sink:
I am writing today to urge you to go ahead and close that door. Please, say never.
Promise us all that you will not seek the governorship of the State of Florida in 2014. Or ever again.
You went to Washington, D.C. this month to meet the folks at the Brookings Institution in an attempt to find a workable model for your own Florida think-tank. That's a good idea. I hope you do it.
However, I do find it a little ironic that you wanted to learn more about one of the best policy think tanks in America since it was never evident to me that you cared all that much about policy. I know from more than one first-hand account that your own campaign approached potential surrogates to speak on your behalf as late as last spring, and when these surrogates inquired as to your positions on issues that might've been broached, they were told you "didn't have any positions yet, we are in fundraising mode."
The lack of ethusiasm for your campaign was palpable, and I believe that your, well, let's say fragility on the issues fundamental to the Democratic base was at the heart of it -- and should probably preclude you from ever running again. I don't recall meeting one single activist, volunteer, or campaign staffer who was excited about your campaign. And since you've done nothing but complain about Democrats since you lost, I don't see that changing much between now and 2014.
With respect to the issues you did (finally) take, it might have been nice if you weren't essentially doing a half-hearted Rick Scott impression on virtually every topic. Would it have been so awful to at least consider staking out some bold, progressive ground?
I think it is possible your early victory on the oil spill steered you in the wrong direction. It seemed to work well to distance yourself from the White House and their response to the Gulf disaster. But that was a one-time situation, something unique -- it should not have been a template for the entire campaign.
You have said that national health care reform hobbled your quest for the governorship. This is such nonsense it's hard to imagine you really believe it. And even if you did, I can't imagine you could think that attacking health reform would be good politics, if only because hospital grifter Rick Scott, the Robot Pam Bondi, and all the other hard-right Republicans had already declared open war on health reform. Your tepid attacks and vague distancing on health reform didn't make you Alex Sink the thoughtful, pragmatic (albeit moderate) Democrat. They made you Rick Scott-lite. Voters don't like crooks, but darned if they don't take full-octane authenticity every time.
Would it have been too much to even point out that health reform was not a government takeover? As the state's CFO, you were our top regulator -- would it have been beyond the pale to note that insurers (pretty universally loathed in Florida) will be more regulated under reform? And if you just couldn't stand to stray too far from what was obviously your centrist, Tallahassee-consultant talking points, you could have wink-wink nudge-nudged the good ol' boys in the Panhndle with the truth that under reform no one even proposed coverage for illegal immigrants, or elective abortions.
On immigration, you tried in vain to straddle the middle and threatened companies who hired undocumented workers in a feeble attempt to sound tough. You made it too easy for Rick Scott -- he simply said Hey, let's implement that draconian Arizona law! A different role for you might've been to play the truth-teller, and note that the Republican talking point that illegal immigration costs Florida $4 billion per year was an outright, bald-faced lie. Instead, you once again looked like you were scrambling to lap up Scott's sloppy seconds.
On businesses and jobs -- the core issue at the heart of this election -- you said yourself, "my whole business plan I’ve put together is focused on small businesses. Giving tax credits to businesses who hire more Floridians; if you want to start up a business, deferring your income taxes for three years so you can get your feet on the ground; providing research credits.”
Yeah, a tax cut plan -- and a convoluted, milquetoast one at that.
You know what Rick Scott's plan called for? Cutting property taxes by nearly 20%. Hey, I think it's bananas, too, but people were looking for something bold and straightforward, not mild and confusing. I guess you might've done a better job of explaining why your plan would be more effective, if that's even possible. Who knows.
In essense you did what the Obama folks did, which is trade tax cuts for real job-creating economic stimulus (something that Rick Scott lied about, by the way; this might've been a hint).
Alex, you have perhaps fundamentally misunderstood the closeness of the election. You didn't almost win because so many people were behind you -- you almost won because the anti-Rick Scott vote was so enormous. Rick Scott was the biggest underpeformer on the ballot. It wasn't 'vote for Alex' -- it was 'anyone but Rick'.
Look, I've done the "anyone but..." campaign and I'll concede that although they can come close, they generally don't work. You have to campaign for something. Ideas matter. Issues matter. Standing for something matters. Selling a series of consultant-generated, focus-group tested, poll-centric talking points doesn't work. Campaigning on the notion that you're not Obama or not Rick Scott isn't what gets you elected.
On top of being authentic (as opposed to just being generically against stuff, and in a vanilla kind of way at that), you have to actually go where the votes are. If "party leaders" haven't already told you the answer to this, then they all ought to be summarily dismissed:
Sink already has a few assignments for Smith and party leaders, such as learning more about why Democratic voters in Palm Beach and Broward counties don't turn out to vote in midterm elections.
I refer you back to the Jonathan Martin Politico piece of early November:
Another heated back-and-forth took place over whether Sink would meet Obama on the Miami airport tarmac when the president arrived in August for a state party fundraiser. The White House was angry, according to Sink sympathizers, about what they saw as a snub when the candidate stayed away.
But the White House official said that if they had taken Sink’s attempts to separate herself from Obama personally, they would have gone public with their anger instead of airing it only to Sink and her aides. And, this official added, they even went so far as to offer to do a get-out-the-vote event in Miami on her behalf the weekend before the election without her present. The offer was turned down...
The bold is mine, not that it really needs it.
Hey, you were doing everything you could to distance yourself from Obama, for right or wrong. It was a failed strategy. I suppose I give you credit for sticking with it.
This, on the other hand, can only be called a political tragedy (and it has haunted me since I read it, Alex):
The 15-day period of early voting began in Florida on October 18th. That same evening, the Miami-Dade NAACP held its big candidate forum — something they do every cycle — at New Birth Cathedral of Faith International; only the most prominent, largest black Baptist church in South Florida. The pastor of that church, Bishop Victor Curry, is also president of the NAACP. He/they also own a radio station in Miami. So Curry has his forum (full disclosure, I co-moderated it, though I had nothing to do with putting it together and was not paid for participating.) Alex Sink doesn’t show up. Not only that — she doesn’t send her running mate, the rather imaginary Rod Smith. And she doesn’t send a surrogate.
You know who does show up? Jennifer Carroll — Rick Scott’s black running-mate, who has been crisscrossing the state in what can only be described as a shadow campaign. She was everywhere in the African-American and Caribbean community, touting not really Scott so much as the historic opportunity to put her in power Tallahassee, as the first black lieutenant governor. Carroll shows up, and is highly effective with a hostile audience. She left there with the respect of the people in that room.
Worse, the following day, Curry hosts his weekly show “Tuesday Talk,” and proceeds to blast Alex Sink for disrespecting the black community, and for breaking an agreement to show up (the campaign said she had a prior commitment, which turned out to be her AND her running-mate hanging out with about 200 die hard Democrats in north Florida, and so missing the forum and the 1,500 or so people there.)
The three hours Curry spent railing at Sink turned into a first week of early vote form hell for Democrats, after Curry’s call to leave the governor’s slot blank on the ballot rippled through the state, to black churches from Oviedo to Miami. I ran into infrequent voter secretaries and supervoters alike who said they were sick of the Democratic Party only showing up at our churches at GOTV time, and the disrespect black folk are shown the rest of the time, and who were going to heed their pastors’ calls to “leave it blank” for Sink. I had people who care deeply about elections, and who deeply distrust Rick Scott, say it would be good for Sink to lose, because maybe that would teach the Dems a lesson.
It was a full week before Sink had the opportunity to call in to Tuesday Talk and make amends — a week that included a Saturday AND a Sunday — typically the two biggest days for African-American early voting.
How many undervotes went into the system in that week? 10,000? 20,000? 50,325??? Keep in mind: Sink lost this election by a mere 60,000 votes. Not 600,000. 60,000, in part, because Democrats LOST the early vote to the GOP, by failing to get more Democrats to the polls.
Leave it blank for Sink.
Maybe this shouldn't be a letter to you, Alex -- perhaps it should be a memo to Rod Smith. Hey, Rod: the reason "Democratic voters in Palm Beach and Broward counties [didn't] turn out to vote in midterm elections" is because the candidates didn't bother to show up.
By the way, nice little dig at bloggers in the St. Petersburg Times piece, Alex. You may want to dedicate a little space at your Brookings Institution to learn about new media and how it works. We're not as dumb as you apparently think.
To be fair to you, Alex, this was a tough year for Democrats. But let's be frank: you ran a really terrible campaign. If you simply re-tread the DLC/Tallahassee consultant/triangulation talking points you ran on this year, you won't fare any better next time. And unless you spend the next four years making amends in South Florida, you won't have gained any ground.
Making the Sherman-esque statement and bowing out now would be the greatest thing you could do for Florida Democrats, and probably Floridians generally. I hope it's your New Year's resolution not to run for governor, Alex.
Because if you do, I know an awful lot of Democrats who will make it their own resolution to work against you.
Happy New Year, Alex, and good luck with the think tank.
P.S. -- Yeah, I know Daily Marion and the Florida Progressive Coalition beat me to the punch, and did a better job at that. Those darn bloggers.