Smith officially took over the Democratic party chairmanship in January, replacing Karen Thurman as the party hit rock bottom in the wake of the 2010 electoral debacle in November. The former state Senator and 2006 gubernatorial candidate has always been known to deliver a thumping speech, and he was in classic form on Saturday, speaking for 15 minutes on how his party's brand had gone up in stock simply by contrasting it with the results of what the Legislature did over the past couple of months.
Smith blasted the Rick Scott agenda going into the session, such as the fact that he intended to cut public education and taxes on corporations as the state dealt with a nearly $4 billion budget deficit, and that he wanted to deal with the "problem" with public employees unions in the state.
"Now I want you to understand for a second, I cannot believe we live in an age, in which people would say the problem with Florida was our school teachers, our police officers, our fire fighters, the people who risk their lives and spend time raising our children, the people who drive them on the buses: That they were our enemies? Well, they couldn’t convince Floridians of that, they couldn’t even convince a majority of their own party about that. "
Speaking with CL before he took to address the crowd, Smith said that though the Governor received a few things that he hoped for, overall it was an unsuccessful session for Rick Scott.
"The Governor wanted a $2 billion revenue cut at a time when we least could afford it, he didn’t get it…he wanted dues deduction, he campaigned for it, he didn’t get it, he wanted immigration reform that I thought was way outside the fringes of what’s even an issue in Florida, he didn’t get it."
But he told the crowd of partisan Democrats that he believes that the Rick Scott agenda combined with the efforts of the Florida Legislature are alienating independents and moderate Republicans, making them question their own party.
"What I'm I’m hearing right now from police officers, from firefighters, what I’m hearing from Republican public employees and school teachers, what I’m hearing from business people, is that they're saying: you know what? The Republican party has gone so far to the right they’re out of the mainstream now. And I’m going to tell you what’s gong to happen….we will became the mainstream party of Florida again..We will build a big tent for Florida, we will dominate the politics of Florida..if we just everyday say what is on the minds of Floridians as they sit at the breakfast table with their families."
Florida Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson appeared briefly at the party and made a few remarks praising President Obama for his leadership in capturing and killing Osama bin Laden, praise that party chairman Smith also gave to the commander in chief. Smith said it was critical for Florida Democrats to re-elect both Obama and Nelson, as Republicans will try to win back the Senate, which analysts say they have a solid shot at, especially in the wake of continuing Democratic Senators announcing their retirement. Wisconsin U.S. Senator Herb Kohl became the latest to say he won't run in 2012.
GOP Congressman Paul Ryan said on CNN on Sunday that he is just processing that news about Kohl, and will announce later this week whether he will run for that Senate seat in 2012.