Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz is facing a challenge in her 2018 Democratic Primary from Tim Canova, a Law Professor at Nova Southeastern University. Though Wasserman Schultz no longer serves as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, she is still treated as a spokesperson for House Democrats and regularly makes media appearances in this capacity, and retains authority over Florida Democratic Party dealings.
Wasserman Schultz, who has served in congress since 2004, is one of the top Democrats in Florida, where Republicans hold the Governorship, majorities in the state house and senate, 16 out of 27 congressional seats, and one U.S. Senate seat. Over the past decade, Florida has transitioned from a swing state to one where Republicans rule, and Florida and several of its major cities repeatedly lead the country in income and wealth inequality.
The Democratic Party’s political irrelevance in Florida is in large part a product of establishment Democrats like Wasserman Schultz, who have directed the party’s strategy and resources at their own discretion. It’s all highly reminiscent of the way Wasserman Schultz drove the DNC into the ground during her tenure, as described by Donna Brazile in her 2017 book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.
Wasserman Schultz’s power within the party lies in sharp contrast to her loyalty to it. Back in 2008, McClatchy reported, “Democratic party leaders have tapped Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to raise money and coach candidates in a high-stakes, aggressive bid to expand the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. But as three Miami Democrats look to unseat three of her South Florida Republican colleagues, Wasserman Schultz is staying on the sidelines.”
In 2016, Dr. Alina Valdes, the Democratic challenger to GOP Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, accused Wasserman Schultz of opposing her effort to unseat the Republican. She charged that Wasserman Schultz blacklisted her from receiving support from local unions in order to help her Republican friend.
Since Wasserman Schultz left the DNC, she’s continued to spur controversy while helping her establishment allies assert control over the Florida Democratic Party. One of her most generous donors, Stephen Bittel, was elected Florida Democratic Party Chair in January 2017 with her help. He resigned less than a year later when reports surfaced that he had “created an unprofessional workplace environment for women, noting that he made persistent inappropriate comments, leered at young women and even invited them on his private jet.”
Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton all campaigned for Wasserman Schultz in 2016 to fend off a primary challenger in a district that leans heavily Democratic. The party establishment was, of course, well aware that keeping her in congress would help preserve corporate Democrats’ hold over the party. Meanwhile, Wasserman Schultz inexplicably continued to employ an IT aide, Imran Awan, who was under investigation by U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI. (That investigation is ongoing. Awan is scheduled to appear in federal court in March 2018; his attorneys are still battling with federal investigators over granting access to a laptop belonging to Wasserman Schultz’s office that Awan had hid in a separate congressional building.)
On December 15, Politico reported that several legal experts deemed the destruction of ballots from Wasserman Schultz’s 2016 primary race to be illegal. The Florida governor and secretary of state are investigating why the ballots were destroyed and Wasserman Schultz’s primary challenger, Tim Canova, is pushing for a congressional and federal inquiry.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz remains the epitome of all that’s wrong in the Democratic Party and in our country’s politics,” Canova, who is challenging her again next year, told the Real News Network. “Wasserman Schultz has taken millions of dollars in donations and support from predatory corporate interests, and she carries their water on Capitol Hill and in Florida.”
For progressives in Florida, Wasserman Schultz remains a significant obstacle to any reform of the state Democratic Party. She’s also a major impediment to any hopes Democrats have of turning the tide nationally and ensuring Trump doesn’t win the state again in 2020.