In 2008, Steve Schale led Obama's successful bid to win Florida's prized electoral votes. It was one of the largest campaigns in Florida's political history and redefined the way many of us think about both financial and field organizing limitations in Florida.
In a recent blog, Schale gives his two cents about the real meaning of Alvin Brown's victory in Jacksonville and warns that too many inferences to the implications on the 2012 election could be a mistake. I think Schale's analysis of Jacksonville's Mayor's race is, for the most part, spot on. The picture he paints of an extremist Mike Hogan ignoring the centrists in Jacksonville mirrors the comparisons we made for our members in pre-election communications.
"...even in the most partisan communities, there are degrees of acceptable partisanship and ideological extremes. Mike Hogan ran as a tea party Republican, and at least gave the appearance of taking the centrist part of his party for granted. When it was all said and done, those centrists found a home with Alvin Brown."
For Jacksonville's LGBT's and social moderates, Brown's position supporting an inclusive human rights ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT's was a motivating clarion call juxtaposed against Hogan's pledge to abolish Jacksonville's Human Rights Commission altogether.
Marking the most important lesson of the race, Schale writes,
"...the 2010 enthusiasm gap--which definitely existed, is gone. Democrats showed up, volunteered, voted, and were engaged. The same thing happened in the Tampa Mayors race in the spring. This is the most important take-away of the race."
Equality Florida's role in shrinking that enthusiasm gap amongst progressives had everything to do with our early engagement in the Jacksonville municipal election. Between February and May, Equality Florida's activists called thousands of pro-LGBT voters in Jacksonville urging them to pay attention to this year's municipal election and warning them that their energies could make a critical difference. We saw unprecedented engagement on the ground. Recently formed LGBT organizations like Out Jacksonville and RCN News jumped head first into the debate. Candidates and campaigns were interviewed and sent candidate questionnaires. Our community received multiple communications in a variety of mediums that this was a defining election for Jacksonville and that every vote would count.
Precinct level data tells us that collectively, we were successful. Jacksonville's gay community was a defining, if not deciding, factor in a race that was decided by less than one percent of the voting electorate (roughly 1600 votes).
Precincts covering commonly recognized pockets of LGBT enclaves, communities like Riverside, San Marco and the Beach communities, were won by Alvin Brown sometimes by wide margins. Turnout in these precincts was anywhere from 5 - 15% higher than the citywide average.
As Schale summarizes, there are many lessons to take from Jacksonville. For the LGBT community our take aways should be that no community is off limits. Even when we perceive the territory to be the most hostile we can carve out victories. When we are focused and strategic and have the wherewithal to lean our shoulders in we can make a difference.
The road to anti-discrimination protections for LGBT's in Jacksonville will be paved with plenty of challenges. Here's hoping our hard work finds us a friend in one of the most important factors in that effort - Alvin Brown.
Joe Saunders is Equality Florida's Field Director and coordinates Equality Florida's direct-voter contact and voter education programs. For the last three year's he's organized Equality Florida's grassroots fundraising and capacity building programs in North East Florida.