23 May 2005

Should Butterworth stay in school?

Florida Democrats are falling all over themselves, prematurely declaring victory in next year's race for state attorney general. Former officeholder Bob Butterworth, who is currently the dean of the St. Thomas University School of Law, is considering another run for the office he held for sixteen years. Party's leaders are already implying that they would clear the primary if Butterworth decides to run, and Republicans are already salivating at the chance to run against him. Instead of leaving the halls of St. Thomas, maybe Butterworth should consider just staying in school.

Butterworth has been an exceptional public servant for Florida. He has served as the Broward County sheriff, the mayor of Sunrise, an assistant state attorney, and the secretary of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Butterworth was elected to the office of attorney general in 1986 and served until 2002.

Most expected Butterworth to retire from public service in 2002, but he was instead encouraged to run for the Florida Senate. Sadly, he was humiliated in the general election by a relatively unknown Republican, current state Senator Jeffrey Atwater (R-North Palm Beach). Butterworth lost by nearly 15,000 votes, a defeat of over 10 percentage points. Like the once great Muhammad Ali losing in 1980 to Larry Holmes, Butterworth lost because he didn't know when to walk away. He decided to fight that extra bout, and unfortunately his political reputation went down for the count.

Now, Butterworth is weighing whether he can resurrect his legacy. Republicans don't think that he can. When hearing of Butterworth's possible return to the political arena, former House Speaker John Thrasher said, "That's good news for the Republican nominee. When you try to dust off old folks, that is good for us. He couldn't even win his home Senate district the last time he ran."

Regardless of Butterworth's decision, the Democrats are in a quandary. After years of ignoring the problem, Florida Democrats lack a pool of young leaders who can run for office. Former party chairman Scott Maddox failed to recruit candidates for next year's statewide races, instead focusing entirely on his own run for governor. Now the Democrats are up against the wall.

If Democrats were smart, they would start thinking outside the box. A good candidate for attorney general might be former Miami-Dade mayor Alex Penelas. Penelas, who unsuccessfuly ran for the United States Senate, is an attractive, energetic progressive Democrat and a lawyer by trade. Another good candidate for attorney general would be current Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Rundle is an extremely photogenic and articulate prosecutor with a strong record who has held office for over twelve years. Her law enforcement resume would help her in the general election.

Democrats would also benefit by the fact that both Penelas and Rundle are Cuban Americans. While they love to preach about diversity, Florida Democrats continue to be a party dominated by white males. A Penelas or Rundle candidacy would help Democrats back up their empty rhetoric on diversity by showing that minorities in the Democratic Party aren't simply relegated to the back of the party's bus.

11 Comments:

Blogger thelastdem said...

James-

You are absolutely right. It has been eight years since Butterworth was on the statewide ballot---and in that race, he ran against a nobody. Despite being an incumbent, he also raised less than $1 million. Unless he is going to morph himself into a real candidate, this is could be nothing more than a very disappointing event.

I agree with you on Penelas and Fernandez Rundle, or maybe even a Manny Diaz (think he is an attorney). It sends the right message to an important constituency, and also begins to groom a younger generation of public officials for leadership.

12:05:00 AM  
Anonymous gator78 said...

Don't get me wrong. I love Bob Butterworth. He will be remembered as one of the best attorney generals in the country and definitely a great Florida Dem. That being said, I am praying that he doesn't do this. Hopefully he learned his lesson in 2002 and will now just ride gracefully into the sunset.

11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using the candidates of yesterday always works great for Democrats. Just ask Walter Mondale.

2:35:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

He will win if he runs.... He is very popular statewide.

That Senate race was in a Conservative district. The party had hoped that he could play into his bipartisan tactics in that race but it failed.

However, he was elected 4 times statewide. No one does that without the support from members of the other side of the political scene.

To say he stands no chance is like saying if Bob Graham had decided to run for Governor this year, which he did think about, that he would stand no chance because he is a has been... which isn't true.

The fact remains people in Florida do not elect and re-elect their Political people to 4 4-year terms unless they like the job he is doing.

Since his election defeat, he has become Dean of St. Thomas University and really has left the news coverage. However, should he get into this race, people will remember him for the job he did in the past.

With NO INCUBMENT running for Attorney General, Butterworth would be as close of an incubment as you could get without having one.

I see this as a good choice.

2:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Joe V. said...

I read this blog a lot and have read Josh's comments before. I don't mean to be rude, but Josh, you are fooling yourself. All you do is praise the Dems and say that everything is perfect. Are you crazy?

You say that Maddox did a great job as chair, but he lost ever major race in the state and left the party completely broke. Instead of constantly kissing up to Scott Maddox, you should try picking up a newspaper.

Now you are blowing smoke about Butterworth. If the Democrats think they can win elections by simply recycling old candidates instead of doing what the Republicans do - recruit new candidates, then the Dems will never be the majority party in Florida again.

Right now with the state of the party in Florida, I would expect the Dems to lose every statewide race next year, including Nelson.

If the Democrats want to believe, like Josh, that everything is going great, then the Democrats will continue to lose - and lose badly.

P.S. - Bob Graham would not have been a sure-win either. He got out of politics just in time.

5:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Republicans recruit "new" candidiates. Name the "new" candidiate in this bunch:

Charlie Crist: Florida Senate (1992-1998)/Dept. Sec. DBPR (1999-2001)/Education Commissioner (2001-2003)/Attorney General

Tom Gallagher: Florida House (1974-1986)/DBPR Secretary(1987-1988)/State Treasurer (1988-1994)/Education Commissioner (1998-2000)/CFO (2002- )

Toni Jennings: Florida House (elected 1976-1980)/Florida Senate (1980-2000)/Lt. Gov (appointed)

6:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob Butterworth's legacy as an advocate for Florida's citizens is without dispute. Butterworth was one of the finest statesmen in the nation when he served previously. I have no doubt that he is currently they most qualified person to serve as Attorney General considering the race. However, I do not believe he should run. As someone who is very close politically to the Butterworth clan, and has worked on some his and his allies previous races, General Butterworth these days lacks the fire in the belly to run an aggressive campaign. Moreover, many of the General's prior wins were forged out of advantageous, somewhat bizarre circumstances. Moreover, the General is someone who in his later years has turned indecisive and inconsistent politically. Yes, he has won 4 times statewide, but those were better days for Florida Democrats, when we had a functioning party and a positive message carried by leaders with great stature like Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham.

I wish the General well, and of course will support him should he run. However, I am concerned that his double digit defeat for State Senate three years ago will be repeated at the hands of the GOP statewide.

6:28:00 PM  
Blogger james H said...

Just wanted to point out that it was only a coincidence that both FloridapolitiX.com and George Bennett is his column today made references to Muhammad Ali. No conspiracy theory here.

6:47:00 PM  
Blogger thelastdem said...

Not to pile on Josh, but Butterworth lost that Senate seat because he was a lackluster candidate, not because it was a conservative seat.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Joe Negron, has already raised nearly as much money as Butterworth raised in his 1998 re-election effort (against a total unknown, whose only claim to fame was that his name was similar). And just like that race against Atwater, Negron is a younger, harder working candidate than Butterworth.

I am not ready to count the General out, but he cannot win unless he is willing to change his campaign stripes. Florida is a much different state than when he first ran, even much different than it was in 1998.

7:30:00 PM  
Anonymous tdog said...

I don't mean to knock the guy, but Butterworth couldn't even win the Broward part of the district. He lost by over 3000 votes in Broward (28,316 to 25,137). And he used to be the sheriff for Broward County!

I like Butterworth a lot - one of the best Democrats and politicians in Florida history. But I also think he really needs to think about this. I'm not saying it is good or bad. Democrats just better think about it.

5:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob Butterworths... is that somethig I put on panacakes?

4:08:00 PM  

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