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.