by Jeff Roby
Green Party of Florida
December 30, 2012
Running against Republican Lake Gross Ray III, Green Party candidate Karen Morian racked up 20,496 votes in her Jacksonville race for District 12 rep to the Florida House, an impressive 31.7% of the vote. With the Democrats failing to field a candidate, Morian had the progressive field to herself in this supposedly Republican district, and made the most of it, as her supporters included the Florida Education Association, Florida Planned Parenthood, the Duval County Democrats, Equality Florida, the Jacksonville Area Coalition of Black Trade Unions (AFL-CIO), Jacksonville Young Democrats, and the Asian American Alliance.
“It’s a new district,” Morian explained, “It was just created during redistricting, and so there was technically no incumbent. Only part of the district had been in my opponent’s previous district, and he was going to run unopposed. I believe in democracy, and I didn’t want somebody to just walk in.”
In fact, of the 120 Florida House districts up for grabs in 2012, 48 saw the Republican candidate running unopposed with the Democrats declining to run any opposition.
“We should hit every seat that’s being run unopposed”
“I think we should be hitting every seat that’s being run unopposed,” Morian argues, “Even if you’re just going to run it as a message campaign, which I was not. I was in it to win it, and we had a real chance in that district. If I had had a little more help we could have done some real damage, because Ray just sat on his heels, he didn’t really actively run. There is an opportunity for us to jump in there and do what I did, which is to run small group to small group, people to people, campaigns. He had no idea how much support I had, because he wasn’t anywhere I was. He wasn’t appealing to any of the groups I went to, so he didn’t even know that they had backed me. I think there are a lot of cases like that. Running for a state office is definitely the way to do it.”
A hidden progressive base
“I just got tired of watching nobody stand up for teachers and for students. Both the University of North Florida and Florida State College of Jacksonville, South Campus are in that district,” added Morian, a faculty member and union leader at Florida State. “I felt there was enough of a constituency there that I could make headway. There are a lot hidden progressives in Jacksonville, and a fair number of them are in that district.
“It’s not very diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but age-wise, it’s pretty diverse, and income-wise it’s very diverse. Extreme high ends and extreme low ends. The student population is considerable, and I felt that I could get to some of the students. I could get to the teachers, to a couple of older neighborhoods with a fair number of environmentalists, and a lot of small, unrepresented groups who weren’t being heard. I think we proved that there are a lot of progressives in Jacksonville. I had Republicans, I had independents, I had libertarians agreeing on election reform and protecting the environment. It was a very interesting mix. Everybody considers it extremely conservative, but it’s just not.”
Democrats blithely assume that they have the African-Americans in their pockets, but Morian was able to make inroads among Jacksonville’s broader African-Americans community, in addition to the backing of the Jacksonville Area Coalition of Black Trade Unions. “There’s a fairly small African-American and Latino population in District 12 itself,” she said. “so it’s not very racially or ethnically diverse. But at an ACLU forum that was mostly African-American within the larger Jacksonville community, most of those constituencies were very open to my message about restoration of felon rights, very receptive to undoing some of these egregious mandatory minimums, this loss of rights for people who have been convicted of a felony. I think they were really excited about some of my message. These things are just wrong and they need to not just be discontinued — they have to be undone entirely.
“You just have to find the issues where you agree with people,” she continued, “and I think that was the strength of my campaign. Rather than relying on a handed set of presuppositions because of the letter I had after my name, I think people actually listened. We didn’t have enough of an organization, we always could have used a bit more money, but hey, I’ll build alliances with anybody. I don’t care what color of jersey their team wears.”
State party organization the key
“I didn’t really have a team on the ground in Jacksonville,” Morian recalled. “But the Greens around the state really stepped it up with media help, some organizational help, printing and publication aid, graphic design, and advice and guidance. The state organization was wonderful. They were very excited and they did what they could along with running the Stein presidential campaign. I think my campaign energized a lot of people even downstate and across the state, and I think we can use this real solid momentum for building the state organization. Jacksonville doesn’t yet have a full chapter, but I worked with the Alachua Greens in Gainesville — the nearest chapter — and I’m sure I’ll be working with them again more closely.” Building a Jacksonville chapter is something she says they’ll have to make a priority.
Is she planning to run again? “Everybody keeps asking me that!” she said. “They didn’t even have the final returns in, and people were talking to me about running again. But the nearest election I would have to run in is 2014. I’m not saying no, but I have no immediate plans. We’ll need to see what comes out of the legislature. Certainly there are issues I’ll be working on. I have really strong connections in Jacksonville, and can play those notes, certainly with education, and I plan on doing a fair amount of lobbying.”
Keeping the Momentum Going
The Stein campaign and the national Green Party’s Coordinated Campaign Committee are now working to professionalize the party’s campaign development at every level, under the banner of “Run The Party Like You Ran The Campaign: Keeping The Momentum Going,” with Stein people setting up candidate training and development sessions. Morian commented, “I actually sent a quick e-mail to Jennifer [Sullivan], asking if Florida was on the list, and she replied, probably not until at least May unless I wanted to do something. Well, I probably can do something informally even before that. I will have some weekends, make road trips, and could go down to talk to people if they wanted to do some mini-trainings. I could certainly work with any Stein folks that want to come into the state. I met some great people at the national convention, and would love to work with some of them again. I certainly want to go around the state in the next year or so, and talk to local Green groups about how to do it successfully: what to expect, what to go after. I’ve learned a tremendous amount that I would love to share with other candidates, whether they’re intending to run for local or state office.
“Certainly we made a lot of connections out of this, not just myself to other people in Jacksonville, but by all these people being in the same room at one of my events or working on my campaign. They’ve gotten to know each other, so now you can get the Sierra Club and labor unions working together on an issue and recognizing each other’s issues. I think that’s huge, the kind of coalition-building and alliance-building that the Greens are famous for. It’s energized a lot of people who had become jaded about the whole thing.”
And personally . . .
“It was pretty exhausting,” Morian said. “But I think it was exhausting mostly because I didn’t have an entire team, so there was a lot more I had to do on my own once school started up that I hadn’t planned on. Also, my college decided to pick those six months to implode, and as the newly-elected union president, I had to attend a lot more meetings, and that became fairly exhausting. I think being a candidate actually is the easiest part of the whole thing if you have a decent team. I always thought I’d run somebody else’s campaign, but I think being a candidate is pretty easy. Of course that may be because it plays into my strengths, speaking to people. I’m a teacher, and I like talking to people about issues and practical solutions. Maybe that’s just me, but I had a fantastic time, and I got to meet so many great people, and find so many great professors in Jacksonville. That’s not something that I’ll ever regret.”
News Conference at Green Party Annual National Meeting, Baltimore, Maryland
Campaign Statement on the Florida Times Union