'No Labels' No Way to Win, Conservatives Say
New centrist coalition panned by strategists in Florida; tea reviews are mixed
Around the State
Banking on the idea that heightened partisan polarization will lead to more political gridlock and voter frustration, founder Nancy Jacobson believes the American public is hungry for a pragmatic approach to governance.
Jacobson, a Washington, D.C-based Democratic fund-raiser, and Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist from Texas with ties to former President George W. Bush, are leading the effort. They say they have collected more than $1 million and garnered more than 1,000 supporters from all 50 states.
"No Labels" has no candidates so far, but New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's backers and staffers are heavily involved. Bloomberg's political adviser, Kevin Sheekey, reportedly introduced Jacobson and McKinnon.
An inaugural conference is scheduled for Dec. 13 in New York City, and former Florida state Sen. Dave Aronberg says he will be there.
Aronberg, a term-limited legislator from Greenacres, has already put his bipartisanship to work by signing on to Republican Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi's transition team to advise on "pill mill" regulations. Aronberg ran for AG, but was defeated by fellow state Sen. Dan Gelber in the Democratic primary.
Other Florida politicos aren't so enthused or ecumenical about the "No Labels" concept, with skepticism running particularly high on the right.
"My problem with efforts like 'No Labels' is they always seem to conveniently pop up right after conservatives have victories. Where were these people in January of 2009? Nowhere to be seen," said Randy Nielsen, a West Palm Beach political consultant.
"I worry that efforts like 'No Labels' are the Trojan Horse that defeated liberals use to try to hogtie the clear conservative mandate Florida voters sent Nov. 2."
Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist, shares Nielsen's skepticism, and sees "No Labels" going nowhere in Florida.
"Politics is driven by passionate activists with an agenda. The driving force behind 'No Labels' is a disdain for partisanship. This is what confuses them and will cause their swift disappearance here in Florida and beyond," Wilson predicted.
Pointing to the periodic rise of unaligned candidates such as Ross Perot and Bloomberg himself, "No Labels" advocates contend that the majority of the electorate is moderate by nature. They say the electoral hopes of Republicans and Democrats hinge on this large mass in the middle.
Fred O'Neal, founder of the Florida TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party, notes that 22 percent of Floridians are registered as something other than Republicans or Democrats. That's up from just 3 percent in 1972.
"This shows a growing dissatisfaction with both the Republicans and the Democrats," said O'Neal, an Orlando attorney.
Describing the current electoral hierarchy, O'Neal says, "For the Republican ladder, its rungs are labeled 'big business,' 'evangelical Christians,' 'social conservatives' and now 'tea party supporters.'
"The Democratic rungs are labeled 'teachers' unions,' 'pro-abortion supporters,' 'trial lawyers,' 'big-government supporters,' 'gays' and 'minorities.'
"If you're like me, you don't want legislators who are beholden to either group of special interests," O'Neal said.
Tom Tillison, an Orlando activist involved in state and national tea party movements, says the "No Labels" strategy has already flopped in Florida.
"Wasn't the Senate race in Florida ground zero for this concept of a centrist movement? Is there a more 'moderate' candidate than Charlie Crist, a somewhat popular sitting governor who only got as high as 30 percent because (Democrat Kendrick) Meek was such a weak candidate?
"I think the results of this race show that the public sees being a moderate as pandering," Tillison said.
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff declined to comment on "No Labels"' prospects in the Sunshine State.
But Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida, a nonpartisan advocacy group, hopes that "No Labels" can energize voter interest.
"We saw a low-turnout election, and the result was that the moneyed interests largely had their way. The more people are involved, in whatever party, the better it will be for everyone," Filer said.
Beyond the "fringes" of the mobilized left and right, "anything that gets people engaged is a good thing," he concluded.
Still, tea partiers and conservatives are skeptical.
Suggesting a future example of middle-of-the-road kill, Punta Gorda tea party activist Robin Stublen derisively nominated U.S. Rep Connie Mack as a prototypical "No Labels" candidate.
"He sticks his finger in the wind before he takes a position," Stublen said of the Southwest Florida Republican who appears to be ramping up a U.S. Senate campaign for 2012.
Mack's office did not reply to Sunshine State News' request for a response.
Adam Hasner, another potential GOP candidate for Senate, says, "Getting our country back on track is not about splitting the difference between the views of the right and the left. What conservatives need to do is clearly articulate a positive message that wins the hearts and minds of those that reside in the so-called political middle."
The former Florida House majority leader added, "I am often reminded by what Margaret Thatcher once said about consensus. She called it the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects -- the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.
"What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?"
Financial backers of the national "No Labels" movement include Loews Corp. chairman Andrew Tisch, Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich and ex-Facebook executive Dave Morin.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Debbie Stabenow will also attend the Dec. 13 launch. All three are current or former Democrats.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.