It is almost cliche for the calls for resignation to come on the heels of a terrible election. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that people are calling for the head of Karen Thurman. A petition is already up, complete with some rather unflattering pictures of the former Congresswoman, but since I have no interest in signing it, I also will not link to it.
My view is this. The Florida Democratic Party, while not in the best of shape right now, is much better off than it was when Thurman took the helm. Yes, we just lost four Congressmen this cycle, but remember that three of those seats - FL-08, FL-22 and FL-24 - were in Republican hands when she arrived. And anyone who thinks the GOP victory earlier this month was a local phenomenon simply wasn't paying attention.
The truth is that Thurman has led the state party through three election cycles now, and two of them were marked by gains for the good guys. She helped the party win seats that GOP lawmakers had hand-drawn to stay red forever. She helped recruit candidates who became national players, even if their time on stage was short-lived.
The 2012 election cycle could be one of the most critical in decades in terms of statewide leadership. The Republicans have ridiculous majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, and will redraw the state maps, Fair Districts optimism aside, to favor the party in races for the state Senate, state House and Congress. Thurman, a former state Senator and Congresswoman who frankly knows a bit about the redistricting process, has the knowledge to help us face that challenge. I simply don't believe anybody else in line to lead the party has skills which can compete.
She has an ideological compass which serves the party well. I can still recall an evening at the Claude Pepper Dinner in Lake County when Thurman, still bruised from her final, unsuccessful Congressional campaign, spoke up the value of liberalism to the cause of government. It was refreshing, and something the downtrodden activists, who just had watched Bill McBride lose his home county in the governor's race, needed to hear.
I know Thurman pretty well from covering her campaigns, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think it is astounding what she did with a state party which frankly seemed in ruins for most of the last decade. She was at the helm as the state went for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1996, saw the re-election of a Democratic U.S. Senator and helped make gains in Congress and the Legislature until this cycle.
My stance may surprise some, and I certain have beefs with Democratic messaging this year for which I do not fully absolve the party chair.
But then, most of the chatter online suggests Rod Smith would be her likely successor. No offense to the Gainesville politician, but he was part of a statewide campaign this year too. As running mate to Alex Sink, he was a central part of the campaign which set our political agenda for 2010, and that campaign was not successful. Could Sink-Smith make up that 63,000-vote deficit with better help from the state party? Perhaps, but I think an easier case could be made that had the gubernatorial campaign run 1-percent stronger, it would have won not just the governor's mansion, but perhaps saved Ron Klein and several Democrats in tough state House races.
I would like to keep Karen Thurman for another cycle. Let her lead the effort to retain Florida for Barack Obama, and to fight for Joe Garcia one more time without a national wind knocking every Democrat down a few points. Let her seize seeming victory away from Republicans who draw seemingly unbeatable districts. Let her have one more go at this. Now is not the time for newcomers to fake their way through leadership. Too much is at stake, and Thurman has pulled us up more often than she has let us down.