Smith was the State Attorney in Gainesville during my time at UF and was well-known for successfully prosecuting serial killer Danny Rolling. He served in the Florida State Senate for a few years, was tapped as Alex Sink's running mate in last year's gubernatorial race, and then took the reins of the FDP.
Smith was known for being a moderate Democrat during his time in the State Senate, and kept such a low profile during last year's election that many people wondered if he was in some sort of candidate witness protection program. As a political junkie and Republican, I was very curious about what Smith would say, and there were definitely some very interesting comments:
- Smith began his speech talking about how he was chosen to chair the Florida Democratic Party, admitting that he took the job because "no one else would." Ouch.
- He said his advisers are "James Beam and Johnnie Walker," and "for Hispanic outreach, Jose Cuervo." Double ouch. Not good if the job is making him drink barely half a year into it. Also, isn't that a bit offensive? Rick Perry just got slammed for making a similar joke on Thursday (see here, here, and here).
- Smith believes that Florida will be crucial in 2012: "I think it's likely that Florida will determine the next Presidential election." He also remarked that he expects the I-4 corridor to determine which way Florida goes.
- Smith spent a lot of time talking about how Florida was an evenly divided state, noting how we had swung back-and-forth between the parties during the presidential elections (voting for Bush, Clinton, another Bush, then Obama). He spoke of his own record as a moderate and the need for the Democrats to recruit candidates who "fit" their districts.
- I'm not sure how Smith's moderate style works behind the scenes with Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I actually asked him this directly and he gave a very nice political answer about how they were both working for the goals of their party, but you know, I just cannot see the two of them getting along well together.
- While discussing redistricting, Smith expressed his belief that there would be lawsuits and he expects the courts to draw the maps. He also cracked a joke that he was sure that the Florida Supreme Court would "forget that Speaker Cannon tried to dismantle" the Court. Ugh.
- Smith spent awhile characterizing the tea party movement as extreme, right-wing, radical, etc. It boggles my mind how the Left continually attacks people who advocate for fiscal responsibility as extremists. Smith may have a moderate record, but he expressly stated his belief that government stimulus spending creates jobs, and that he believed that "the tea party will burn hot, but then burn out." (Somehow I'm thinking a lot of my readers would disagree with that statement!)
- For all the grassroots Democrats out there, you may be interested to know that Smith does not like primaries, and is actively investigating steps to avoid them. The FDP is considering adopting rules that would allow local parties to endorse candidates, and it sure sounded to me like the party is going to do everything it can to pick their candidates and bully competitors out of the primaries. Were the attempts to push Kendrick Meek aside in favor of Charlie Crist during last year's Senate race just a trial run for this new survival-of-the-fittest strategy? I'd advise Democratic candidates who are thinking of running for office in 2012 to watch their back.