It was an ordinary day in Stuart
when 65 year-old Dave Dew had an epiphany that changed his life. He credits President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and a guy named Larry for helping bring about this transformative moment.
You see, for the first 65 years of his life Dave identified as a Republican. Like so many others, he had followed the political leanings of his parents and, when it was time to vote for the first time, he registered as a Republican. While his father Charles was apolitical and focused on his sales career, his mother Clarice was a sharp businesswoman who owned two hair salons and was an enthusiastic “Eisenhower Republican” – a centrist Republican who was individually liberal but economically conservative and a believer in a strong national defense. With his focus through the years on his own career and family, Dave had not seen any reason up until this point in 2003 to question his political leanings.
The Dark Democratic Past
If you’re around Dave for any time, you find that he likes to put things in historical context and he is quick to point out that the Democratic Party of today is not the same as the Democratic Party back in the 60s when he arrived in Florida from Wisconsin to attend the University of Tampa.
Back then, white Dixiecrats (a play on the words Dixie and Democrat) controlled the Democratic Party in much of the South, including his area in Tampa, and they were known for their racist and segregationist views. These Dixiecrats were right-wing Democrats who were alarmed by the pro-civil rights positions taken by the national Democratic Party under Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and by the mid-1940s these zealots resisted by forming a pro-segregationist sect within the Democratic Party itself, calling for “states’ rights” to circumvent federal legislation. (Sound familiar?) Dave recalls that by the 1950s in the South “the Democrats were the Dixiecrats, and they were the racists. They were the segregationists.”
For someone like Dave who came to Florida in 1956 at age 18 without those racist views, joining the Democratic Party was not something he considered. Dave reflects sadly that racism was so prevalent back then in the Florida he knew that “I got beat up a couple of times because I wouldn’t join the Klan.”
Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 pushed the Dixiecrats over the edge and most joined the Republican Party, who gladly took them in. Some, however, remained Democrats.
Idea House Advertising and Republican Wins
After getting married and leaving the University of Tampa, Dave continued life as a registered Republican during his many years in sales, mostly working for the large healthcare company American Home Products. His career took him from Minnesota to Chicago to New York City where he worked as advertising manager. After three years in the Big Apple, Dave yearned for a simpler life and so he and his family moved to St. Petersburg where he continued in sales work.
By late 1979 he was looking for a change. He had gotten divorced and wanted to start over somewhere new. It was then that he became reacquainted with Jimmy Adams, a fellow advertising executive he had known in New York who had relocated to West Palm Beach. Together Dave and Jimmy started an advertising agency in North Palm Beach called Idea House, and they ran it successfully from 1980-1990. Their specialty, it turned out, was advertising for local Republican candidates running for office. During their time there, Dave and Jimmy helped Republicans win many contests – all of them in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County. It was quite a feat.
This experience provided Dave with a great education in Republican politics. By working with the candidates and their handlers, he learned a great deal about how Republicans ran their campaigns, the money they spent, the support they provided. He was impressed with the money and organization of the Republican Party.
Another Move…and Intensive Care
During his time with the ad agency, Dave started dating again and he eventually married for a second time in 1984. In 1990 he and his wife moved to the Fort Myers area so she could pursue a job promotion. Life might have kept them there on the west coast but fate had another idea: On September 10, 1996 while driving to meet his wife, Dave was involved in a serious head-on collision. Says Dave: “I call it a collision because it wasn’t an accident. It was a collision. It was on purpose.”
Through court proceedings that followed, Dave learned a 16-year-old boy sitting in the passenger seat of an oncoming car had grabbed the wheel of the car exclaiming, "I wonder what it will be like to take this car and kill someone with it?" He then drove across the median. The car flew three feet into the air and straight into Dave's car. At the time, both cars were going about 60 mph and they were totaled upon impact. Dave recalls that “when we hit, the front tire came up through the floorboard, and kind of ran up me, and threw me forcefully into the back seat.” Dave was air-lifted to a hospital in critical condition with extensive internal injuries and injuries to his legs. Dave ended up in the hospital for 6 months and followed that up with 6 months of intense physical therapy.
"Are You Your Brother’s Keeper?"
It was after this rehabilitation period that Dave and his wife moved from Fort Myers to Stuart in 1998 looking for a fresh start. They opened up a couple of retail stores in the area and bought some radio advertising from a local station. Dave and the sales guy Larry became friends. (To this day, Dave cannot remember Larry’s last name!) Larry was a Democrat and had previously worked in journalism covering politics, and so he engaged Dave in a lot of political conversation – one of the first times in his life that Dave was forced to examine his political views.
The conversations with Larry helped Dave realize that he actually aligned more closely with the principles of the Democratic Party (the non-Dixiecrat side, that is) than the Republicans. Dave recalls one conversation in particular with Larry in 2003 that was a turning point for him:
Larry: “You’re a Republican but you think like a Democrat.”
Dave: “I don’t know about that. I’m a conservative.’
Larry: ‘Yeah, but that’s just with money. How about with people?’
Dave: “What do you mean?”
Larry: “Are you your brother’s keeper?”
Dave: “Well, of course!’
Larry: “Then you’re not a Republican. You’re a Democrat. Ask any Republican that question and he’s gonna say I’ll consider any problems, but I’m not going to give any money to [fix] them. So you’re your brother’s keeper and you ought to switch to Democrat.’”
That conversation resonated with Dave.
Through his further talks with Larry and listening to the national news, Dave says he also learned about “the disastrous trio of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld – the guys that conned everybody to go into Iraq in 2003….These were all oil people that were running the government and the idea was to corner the market.” Upon reflection, Dave agreed he should meet some other Democrats in the area.
“I went to a [Democratic Club] meeting at the time. Louise Cunha was running the club meeting….I walked in and sat down and she said, ‘So you’re new. Would you introduce yourself?’ And I said, ‘I’m Dave Dew and I’m an embarrassed Republican.’ And she said, ‘We can change that!’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s do that.’ And so I became a Democrat and started to come to the DEC meetings because I said I want to be where the action is.”
The Many Hats of Dave Dew
Precinct Leader followed by DEC Chair
Dave learned that to get active with the DEC the rules required precinct work, and so he became a precinct leader. Six months later he became Chair and in 2008 was re-elected for another four-year term.
Dave ran the first time for DEC chair saying that the Democrats needed a fulltime office. In the years before, Democrats only leased office space for a six-month period for the elections every two years. Dave believed strongly that such an intermittent presence was wrong – that Democrats needed a permanent home so they had a constant presence in the community. Dave views this change as his greatest achievement as DEC chair. Since then it’s been proven time and again that having an office open year-round has been instrumental in raising funds, getting out the vote, and organizing and providing support to all Martin Democrats.
When Dave finished out his second term as DEC Chair in 2012, he then became the DEC's State Committeeman and he continues to hold that position today (along with Mary Higgins, who is the State Committeewoman). The function of the committeeperson is to act as a liaison between the Florida Democratic Party and the county DEC and its various committees by voting on party issues, being on committees, and so forth.
One of the issues that Dave has championed as Committeeman is changing the bylaws that dictate how the Democratic Party in Florida operates. “My cause for the last 8 years has been to eliminate all of the bylaws and start all over again.”
One of Dave’s main concerns is the unequal representation caused by the weighted voting system that the Florida Democratic Party employs. In today’s system, each DEC is allowed one State Committeeman and one State Committeewoman to represent their DEC, with their votes weighted based on the number of Democrats within that DEC. Dave notes that this weighted vote is necessary to give the larger populated counties fairer representation. However, this system causes a big problem in that the committee people from the large counties represent too many people to be effective.
Here is how Dave explains it using Dade and Martin Counties as an example: “ Dade County is more than 10 times larger than Martin County [in Democratic population] so it obviously should have a greater total vote. The problem is that Dade and Martin have only 2 State Committeepersons each. So each of Martin County’s State Committeepersons represents about 30,000 Democrats while each of Dade’s Committeepersons represents 300,000 . That’s more than two Congressional districts each. One Committeeperson cannot effectively reach out to 300,000 Democrats.”
Another negative aspect to the weighted system is that it puts power into the hands of the larger counties because they can join forces to dictate the direction of the entire party, sometimes going against what the majority of the counties want to do.
As Committeeman, Dave served on the Rules Committee from approximately 2010-2020. He proposed eliminating the weighted voting system and replacing it with more of a “one person, one vote” system like our US Constitution requires. This could be achieved by having each of the 140 House Districts in Florida – which have approximately the same population of voters -- elect two State Committeepeople each. Dave notes that this would lead to fair representation because “each committee person would have roughly the same population representation in their vote” and thus the weighted system would not be needed.
This revised plan has been voted upon by the State Committee and passed but was reversed by the Judicial Council due to a technicality. Dave is still pushing for this change, however, because he knows this would be a more equitable system and ultimately would help the Florida Democratic Party as a whole move forward and compete against the GOP.
Chair, Florida Small County Coalition
While acting as Committeeman, Dave had the opportunity to also become involved with the Florida Democratic Party’s Small County Coalition. This is an organization of smaller Democratic counties (fewer than 40,000 Democratic voters) and it focuses on the challenges the smaller counties face—from lack of money, to lack of facilities, to fewer boots on the ground, to lack of influence within the FDP itself. Dave served as Chair for 10 years, and under his leadership, he is proud to note that the Small County Coalition drastically improved their political training given to volunteers, increased funding, held annual conventions so the small counties could network and learn from each other, and developed a stronger relationship with the state party.
State Judicial Council
From about 2012-2020 Dave also served on the State Judicial Council and was Chair for a short time. The Judicial Council gave Dave an opportunity to hear grievances of Democrats throughout the state over such matters as eligibility of candidates, voting issues, changes in voter registration, and many other matters. Says Dave: “Florida has a history of the counties fighting each other,” and so there were plenty of opportunities for the Judicial Council to act.
In 2006 Dave receives "Most Improved Small County" award from from FDP Chair Karen Thurman.
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Stuart News ran an article on Dec 3, 2008 about Dave being re-elected to DEC.
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Dave and his partner Shelley learn they WON !!
Fun fact: When Dave moved to Stuart, not only did he later become a Democrat, but he also rediscovered the joy of singing. He had sung some as a youngster and, in fact, had been part of a band. Family and jobs changed that and he put his passion for singing on the backburner.
After he got to Stuart, he began to sing at a church in Jensen Beach and soon became its music director. Then, in 2014, he entered the Singing with the Stars competition at the Lyric Theater and was paired with professional singer Shelley Keelor. Since Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga had just released a popular album of standards, they decided to play on that and chose “Lady is a Tramp” and…..THEY WON!!
Today, Dave continues to sing at his church, and he often visits clubs and bars that offer karaoke – sometimes as much as three times a week. So if you’re at a club where they do karaoke, don’t be too surprised if our own Dave Dew gets up on stage to belt out a couple of songs!
As you can see, Dave’s “atonement” during the past twenty years has led him to wear many Democratic hats – both locally and statewide. Throughout it all, he has sought to bring about change so that Democrats become smarter in the way they do business, from having a local office opened to Democrats throughout the year to modernizing the bylaws that dictate how the Democrats run their operation. We Democrats in Martin County owe a debt of gratitude to Dave for his years of work aimed at strengthening the Democratic Party within Martin County and throughout the state of Florida.
Thank you, Dave, for switching to Democrat and becoming a Martin County Democrat All Star!