Class Size Makes Meek a Progressive Hero

14 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Congressman Kendrick Meek’s announcement that he will seek the US Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez should set off a chain of events that will result in a reshuffling of seats in Miami-Dade County. But many this morning are questioning if Meek can win statewide. Of course Meek’s name has never been on the ballot statewide but in an era when in most cases all the Republicans have to do to win an election in Florida is put a name on the ballot, Meek has accomplished alot more than his Democratic colleagues.

The Class Size Amendment which Meek championed in 2002 was the single biggest Democratic statewide victory between 1998 and 2006. Bill Nelson’s Senate victory in 2000 was against a weak Bill McCollum (Had the GOP not made the fatal mistake of asking Tom Gallagher to withdraw from that race, chances are the GOP would currently hold both US Senate seats from Florida) was the only notable statewide Democratic electoral victory of the period. But the passage of the Class Size Amendment forced the Governor and Legislature to deal with school funding and classroom issues in a way they did not want to. From an ideological perspective, Meek was the champion of progressives throughout Florida.

Despite Meek’s advocacy, many Democrats tried to avoid the class size issue. A slam dunk with the voters, many party leaders in the House and Senate wished the issue would go away. These same leaders in fact colluded with the GOP majority and Governor Bush to put off its implementation as long as possible. Finally when the GOP tried to outright repeal the Amendment the Democrats stood firm in its defense. But let us not forget that in the early months of 2003, Democrats were scrambling along with Republicans to find creative ways to postpone the amendments implementation. School Districts at the same time were researching creative ways to circumvent the amendment.

Besides Class Size, Meek has taken the lead on several other issues. As a State Senator he and then Rep. Tony Hill staged a sit in of Governor Bush’s office over Affirmative Action. Meek was also outspoken on the causes of pre kindergarten funding and protecting the jobs of state workers. Before Meek was elected to the State Senate he was a strong supporter of Governor Chiles legislative agenda.

Since being elected to Congress, Meek has helped organize the liberal wing of the Democratic Party often conducting special orders speeches with Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio among others. This is the same technique Newt Gingrich and Bob Walker taught the GOP in the 1980s. Thanks in large part to Meek’s leadership, the Democrats successfully defined the issues in 2006 the way they had failed from 1994 through 2004 and won back the majority in the House.

Meek’s electability is questionable statewide. But so is that of any Democrat in Florida. Moderate Democrats will argue that a centrist candidate is more electable than Meek, but we have little proof of that being the case. Florida Democrats were told Janet Reno was too liberal to win north of Jupiter, but the nominee, moderate Bill McBride was handed the worst defeat ever for a Florida Democrat in a Governor’s race. We were told Betty Castor was more electable than the liberal Peter Deutch of perceived liberal Alex Penelas, but she too lost statewide. Bill Nelson has survived largely because of the incompetence of both his GOP opponents. We’ve given the McBride/Castor wing of the party a shot, and lost. In fact since the passing of Governor Chiles the Democrats have been without a natural leader in the state. Kendrick Meek can be that leader.

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And Then There Was One: Meek no more

6 01 2009

EDITORS NOTE: THIS PIECE WAS WRITTEN HOURS BEFORE JEB BUSH ANNOUNCED HIS NON CANDIDACY FOR THE SENATE IN 2010

By J. Scott Gaillard

January 6, 2009

Since U.S. Senator Mel Martinez announced his retirement there has been a flurry of speculation about his possible successors, but no formal announcements.  On the Republican side, all potential candidates are overshadowed by former Governor Jeb Bush.  Although Bush has made no official announcement, he has expressed an interest and now seems all but certain to enter the race.

A bevy of potential nominees have been mentioned on the Democratic side, but no clear favorite has emerged.  It appears leading Democrats across the state are intimidated by the prospect of facing Jeb Bush.  Potential candidates are well aware of the drubbings he dealt out to Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay in 1998 (55% to 44%) and Bill McBride in 2002 (56% to 43%).

The exception is U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek.  Meek begins his forth term today as the Democratic member of Congress from the Miami area.  In announcing his interest in the seat, Meek has gone out of his way to announce that he has no concerns about taking on the Bush machine, specifically stating his lack of, “intimidation or fear.”

“Hey Buddy, You’re a Liberal”

But is Florida ready to elect another liberal to the United States Senate?  For a sense of history, Florida has not elected a genuine liberal to the U.S. Senate since Claude Pepper’s election in 1944.

In addition, many Democrats are still haunted by the successful “liberal” bashing campaign of Republican Connie Mack against moderate Democrat, Buddy MacKay in 1988.  MacKay, an air force veteran from rural Central Florida, was a strong fiscal conservative and death penalty proponent.  Mack’s narrow election was sealed by a steady rotation of commercials that proclaimed, “Hey Buddy, you’re a liberal.”

If Floridians were willing to believe MacKay was a liberal how difficult will for Meek to eschew the liberal moniker that is sure to follow him?  After all, Meek is an African-American from Miami, who in 2007 received 100% ratings from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The MacKay/Mack election was 20 years ago and the state has changed dramatically in this time.  However, is a state that elected Jeb Bush twice as Governor, now ready to reject him for a liberal member of Congress from South Florida?

“Liberal” Death Knell?

Congressman Meek is betting it will.  Meek is buoyed by the 2008 Presidential election returns and Senator Barack Obama’s victory in Florida by some 230,000 votes.  It is notable that in 2007 the National Journal listed Sen. Obama as the most liberal member of the United States Senate.

He is also counting on holding Bush responsible for the economic downturn Florida is currently facing.  Florida’s unemployment is worse than the national average, the state government is more than $2 billion in arrears and Forbes has predicted that Jacksonville will be the foreclosure capital of the country in 2009.

In addition, Meek claims that Bush is more interested in using the U.S. Senate seat as a national political platform, rather than an office to represent Floridians.  These concerns were recently amplified when George Herbert Walker Bush (’41) suggested to Fox News that Jeb would make an ideal President.

Next…

This race is a long way from over.  In fact it hasn’t officially started.  Meek has made a bold first move, but it remains to be seen if he can convince Democratic primary voters he is the strongest candidate to take out Jeb!