Some Florida Democratic figureheads and groups want party chair Manny Diaz done and gone after their party’s worst defeat in an election cycle in over a century. The problem may be finding someone who wants the job after this year’s shellacking.
The Florida Democratic Party’s performance in the Sunshine State this month also contrasted with Democratic electoral gains or holds elsewhere in the country. Not only was their nominee for governor Charlie Crist blown out in almost historic fashion, by more than 19 points, they lost all statewide races and watched as prominent lawmakers like Janet Cruz and Carlos Guillermo Smith were tossed out of office.
It’s led to several consultants and party figures to call for the resignation of Diaz, a former Miami mayor. He hasn’t backed down, however, making a power struggle increasingly likely, even as the party is at its lowest point in decades.
The party’s progressive wing has been the most vocal about a change in party leadership, with the People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade and Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida calling for Diaz’s resignation. Thomas Kennedy, a Democratic National Committee member, wrote an opinion piece earlier this week outlining a plan to turn the Florida Democratic Party around, starting with Diaz being shown the door.
He said the party’s field presence has all but vanished under Diaz’s leadership. “In the two years since taking the mantle of FDP chair, he has presided over a disastrous decline that has entirely eliminated any of the advantages Florida Democrats once retained,” Kennedy wrote.
The conversation about change has not just been held by the left. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried publicly floated comments the day after the election about considering a move to wrest control from Diaz before retracting them an hour later. Still, some Democratic consultants told City & State Fried’s pursuit of the chair position may not be finished.
But Diaz responded to a tweet by Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch, which said sources were saying Diaz was going to resign the day after the election. Diaz dismissed it, telling Schorsch, “You need better sources.” Indeed, in a statement after the election, Diaz said he intends to stay.
“I joined you in this mission to reverse the trends of the past 10-20 years. I am still committed to that end and refuse to give up when the going gets tough. That is not in my nature. I will continue to fight alongside you for the next two years and beyond,” he wrote.
Then again, it’s also possible that what happens isn’t up to Diaz.
The Democratic County Chairs Association is holding a meeting next week to discuss him, according to the Florida Phoenix. While that body can’t vote to remove him, its members also serve on a body that can – the party’s 215-member State Executive Committee. The committee – which consists of county chairs, DNC members, members of Congress and two state committee people per county – can remove the party chair with a two-thirds vote. No such action has been taken so far.
City & State spoke with Democratic Party political consultants on background about likely candidates for party chair if Diaz is eventually removed or steps down. The chair must not be someone elected to a partisan office in the state. But these are the names that came up the most. Messages seeking comment were left for all on Wednesday, but – in a dire sign – at least two said they didn’t want the job:
This lawyer and former St. Petersburg state representative stayed out of the 2022 election cycle, coming out of the fray relatively unscathed due to not running for any office. His being out of office would make him eligible for the job, but some consultants said the way he pulled out of the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District (Charlie Crist’s old seat, eventually won by Republican Anna Paulina Luna) could sour some people to his candidacy. That’s even though it was because Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional redistricting turned that seat red.
Shaw, a former Tampa-area House member and the first Black Democratic nominee for attorney general in the state’s history, still has a hand in party politics but hasn’t been in elected office since 2018. His nonprofit group, People Over Profits, advocates for progressive policies and successfully fought several ballot initiatives. He did comment on Twitter on Fried’s trial balloon, arguing Florida Democrats “should engage in a deliberate and thoughtful process to determine the path forward.” On Wednesday, asked if he was interested in the chairmanship, Shaw said, “Not at all.”
Carlos Guillermo Smith
This former Orlando state representative, just ousted in the state’s red wave, lost his race to Susan Plasencia by about four points. Still, every political consultant City & State spoke with doubts that marks the end of Smith’s involvement in Florida politics. Earlier this week, he tweeted he was “gonna keep doing the work and organizing for a stronger, fairer, more inclusive Florida. We will win some elections and we will lose some. But integrity and decency will prevail. It always does.”
This former state senator got trounced in her attempt to challenge U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, losing by over 14 points. Taddeo, once the chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, has sought the state party role on several occasions, leading some consultants to believe she is working behind the scenes to gear up for another attempt. She’s been involved in the Florida Democratic Party for decades, so don’t expect her to lead the charge directly to remove Diaz to preserve relationships she has already built. She declined comment.
The biggest wild card on this list, Warren’s fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis after being suspended from office by him has garnered national attention. The Hillsborough County state attorney is still challenging his suspension in court, but some consultants have speculated that he might considering the chairmanship. Others said he has the profile for successful runs for higher office in the future. The speculation may not matter: “My only interest is holding Ron DeSantis accountable in court for his abuse of power and being reinstated to serve Hillsborough County as State Attorney, as I was elected to do by the people,” he told City & State in a text message.