With Republicans perched on the top executive spots from Hemming Plaza to Pennsylvania Avenue and the burn of the 2000 election still stinging their backsides, Northeast Florida Democrats are quietly stoking the fires for a return to power. Armed with a “Remember the Alamo” cry hearkening to last November, the Democrats vow to take back America one election at a time. Elected in 2000 as the chair of the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee, Clyde Collins sat down recently with Daily Record staff writer Glenn Tschimpke to talk politics.
Question: Who are some of Jacksonville’s Democratic possibilities for mayor?
Answer: Tommy Hazouri, obviously. I think Betty Holzendorf is looking into it. She would be a strong candidate.
She’s termed-out for the state senate. I think there are some other candidates: Howard Dale, for example, a former City Council member, would be a strong candidate. He’s a very solid lawyer and very thoughtful. I think he would be a good mayor. In a sense, I’m like a coach of a baseball team and there are a lot of people that want to go to bat. If they all want to go, that’s fine with me.
Q: What are your thoughts on some of the Republican candidates, both declared and non-declared, for the 2003 mayoral election?
A: So far they’re all competent people. Councilwoman [Ginger] Soud is a very strong candidate. Alberta Hipps, being former president of City Council, is a strong candidate. Michael Weinstein is a strong candidate. In as much as they have their strengths, they have their weaknesses. They really have an uphill battle to appeal to a large segment of the city.
Q: Is it the way they come across to the people?
A: I think their base is narrow. They’re going to have to do things to expand beyond their base. There are a lot of Republican candidates who are strong, but it’s going to be difficult for them to get to the next tier — to get to the runoff. Jimmy Overton is a good guy, a strong candidate. John Peyton is going to be a strong candidate simply because he’s got the name and he’s got some money behind his name. He’s going to be a powerful candidate should he decide to step into the ring. But there being so many and the fact that they have their niche cut out, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to expand beyond that niche and prevail.
Q: Political pollster John Zogby was in town last week to meet with Democratic notables. What do you think about what he said about voting trends?
A: Zogby was pretty interesting, seeing how there’s this group of voters that don’t necessarily look at party affiliation or newspaper labeling, but look at a number of things in making a decision on how to vote. And that’s middle America right there.
Q: He predicted Hilary Clinton as our next president for two terms.
A: I think he was joking about that. I think it’s quite clear that she has extraordinary name recognition. And I think it’s quite clear that she is an intelligent, hard-working woman. If anyone who followed the Senate race in New York City thought [Rick] Lazio was going to beat her bad, look what happened. She went to every little village in upstate New York. She went to every political event in New York City. She was there and she went back again. That’s the mark of a good politician. You think of the good politicians in your life and you see those men and women, in both parties, who make a commitment and make a stand. They go to all kinds of segments of society and repeatedly go back. Bill Nelson, for example, came back and went to Greater Macedonia [Baptist] Church.
Q: Do the Democrats have a chance to regain the Florida governor’s office?
A: We’re optimistic that it will spill over into the mayor’s race. But I think it will be a strong governor’s race. I think Jeb Bush will have a strong opponent. It may be Janet Reno; it may not be. Any Democratic opponent — you put Clyde Collins running against Jeb Bush and Clyde Collins gets 40 percent of the vote. [Bush] has high negatives in the polls. There are a lot of people who are very angry as to his role of the 2000 presidential election. So that’s going to linger. It’s going to be an uphill battle. (State Sen.) Jim King says it’s his to lose. I disagree with that. I think he’s going to have an uphill battle. I don’t think he’ll prevail because all the negatives. That’s going to spill over to the mayor’s race. Anything could happen. A Republican candidate for mayor could latch onto Jeb Bush’s coattails and develop a network throughout the city and prevail, maybe. I don’t know; it’s way too early.
Q: Janet Reno has Florida ties but she has a lot of negatives, too. Could she win the governorship?
A: I think she could prevail. The reason why is this: one is she’s a very independent lady. Like Lawton Chiles, I think Florida voters like an independent, unique personality. Her negatives, they say, are high because of what, Elian Gonzalez? What happened with Elian Gonzalez? Are you going to tell me that a child should not be with his father when his mother is deceased? Who is upset about that more than anyone else? It’s a small segment of the voting population, which is the older Cuban voters. The younger Cuban voters are not necessarily so anti-Democrat as their fathers and mothers. That segment of the population is a very small percentage. The growing Hispanic population isn’t Cuban anymore. It’s Puerto Rican, which are not wedded to this anti-Castro mentality.
Q: Besides Reno, what other good candidates do the Democrats have?
A: There are other good candidates. Bill McBride is a solid candidate, a former Marine, a veteran of Vietnam. He has managed his law firm into being one of the biggest in the country. He’s going to be an incredible candidate. Pete Peterson, former POW, served in Vietnam, incredible conservative credentials, could sweep the Panhandle away from Jeb. I hate to say this, Jacksonville doesn’t determine the outcome of the gubernatorial race. We are what we are.
Q: How long are the Democrats going to ride the emotional wave of the 2000 election?
A: I think that basically a lot of Democrats feel that we’ve been wronged. Basically there were a lot of individual efforts to make sure that George W. prevailed. I think the exit polls are generally pretty accurate. I think if we had those voided ballots, George W. would not be in office. He is in office and we’ll respect him as being president of the United States. We respect the office. But a lot of people feel they have been disenfranchised. And if you’re with a segment of the population that has been disenfranchised in the past, they’re going to take that battle back again and again until it’s fixed. I don’t think the new voting machines in and of itself is going to be enough to cure that harm or that wound.
Q: But the new voting machines are pretty accurate.
A: But how interesting is it that no one told us the old ones were five percent inaccurate? I mean, come on. John Stafford has been in this business 20-something years. No one ever told us these things were inaccurate five percent of the time. Would you be on an aircraft that crashed five percent of the times? Who would have thought that these ballots would not be accurately counted?
Q: The punch card machines are old technology. They’re bound to have some inaccuracies.
A: Agreed. But no one gave us any idea we were going to have that kind of error rate. That’s the mistake right there. There are other things, too, that should be changed in order to allow making it easier to vote. Why do we have to go back to our own precincts to vote? Why can’t we vote anywhere in the city. What’s the harm in that? We should design things that make it easier for people to vote.
Q: Florida’s voting ineptitude was discovered because it was a close race. Could the voting debacle have happened in any other state?
A: Oh yeah. It did happen in other states. Our research discovered that the punch ballot system was outlawed in five states before 1990.
Q: On a local level and state level, will the public support youthful and vibrant candidates, regardless of their substance? Although it’s not fair to make assessments based off looks alone, figures like Janet Reno have a lot to overcome in that respect.
A: Scott Maddox came into my office. He’s the mayor of Tallahassee. My secretary said she didn’t care who else was running. She’s voting for him because he’s a very striking young man. I think there’s a lot to be said on how advertisements have played people up to look better or worse. Certainly in this last senate race you saw them take their opponents’ photographs and not distort them but certainly make them look as unflattering as possible. That’s always going to happen. That’s advertising.
Q: How important are the individual parties in backing a candidate?
A: I think it’s important to have strong political parties. Because otherwise what we’re going to do is have people who have only a lot of money without ties to the political parties. If the political parties are active and up front, then a person can come join a political party and become active in politics without being worth four or five million dollars. It’s frightening how only the super wealthy can get into a race.
Q: What made you want to get involved with politics?
A: I think politics is a natural interest for those who are interested in law and also those interested in righting wrongs and making good things happen.
Q: What are your responsibilities as the chairman?
A: We raise money for Democrats. We promote and support Democratic candidates for office. We have an office off University Boulevard.The Republicans have a lot more money. What we lack in finances, we have volunteers. We have a lot of people who are willing to do what it takes to help out a Democratic candidate.
Q: What’s the new Democratic battle cry?
A: We’ll never be bushwhacked again.