Should progressives vote for the viable candidate or the one they agree with?

The art of politics is often a dialogue between the mind and the heart.

Our constitutional system of government encourages moderation and compromise and discourages ideology. Unlike other countries, which have proportional representation, we have a “winner takes all” tradition in which the person with the most votes is elected.

All this means is that, for those of us who have principles, elections are often a choice between the lesser of two evils. This is especially true for progressives, who often have to hold our noses and vote for a wishy-washy Democrat when the only viable alternative is a staunch right-wing Republican. And, as we all know, in an election between a Republican and a Republican, the Republican always wins.

With such a system, what can a “true-blue” progressive do?

We can move to another country, or push for constitutional change (a nearly impossible task).

Seriously, though, we who belong to the progressive left must work within the Democratic Party, and hope to transform it the way the tea party has transformed the GOP. We need to encourage like-minded candidates, in any way we can, and get out the vote on their behalf in the primaries.

Even when we lose, we can make an impact!

Back in 1980, lesbian and gay activists (bisexual and transgender people were not yet part of our coalition) who were dissatisfied with President Jimmy Carter’s record backed the insurgent candidacy of United States Senator Ted Kennedy. We didn’t keep Carter from being nominated (and losing to Ronald Reagan), but we elected openly lesbian and gay delegates to the Democratic National Convention where they spoke out on our issues. And to this day, many of us vote our hearts’ desire when it comes to primary elections.

For example, I voted for Vermont Governor Howard Dean in the 2004 Florida primary, though Dean had already withdrawn from the race, because I felt that Dean was more in synch with what I believed in than the winner, Senator John Kerry. On the other hand, when November comes around, my mind always prevails and I vote for the Democrat, if only because the alternative is so much worse.

This brings me to this year’s gubernatorial race, where once again LGBT Democrats have to choose between the mind and the heart.

All of us agree that Gov. Rick Scott is a disaster for many reasons and must be voted out of office by any means possible.

However, we disagree as to who should carry the Democratic banner when it comes to the general election in November. Should we support Nan Rich, the former minority leader of the Florida Senate and a staunch progressive? Or should we support Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who switched parties after committing what the GOP considers to be the most unforgivable sin (he embraced President Obama, both literally and figuratively).

Many of our community’s best and brightest, including people who I admire and respect, made their choices clear when they attended a benefit for Crist at the home of Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis. On the other hand, staunch activists like Michael Emanuel Rajner and Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Julie Carson continue to back Rich, pointing to her support for LGBT rights back when most politicians, Crist included, were against us.

There is much truth in both sides. On the one hand, Rich has been our friend and ally for many years, and has earned our support. Furthermore, her views are more in synch with my own, not only on LGBT rights but on so many other issues.

Crist is a political opportunist who changed his mind when it was convenient to do so. How can we be sure that Crist will not change his mind again once he regains the governorship? On the other hand, Rich has a minimal chance of being elected governor in a state as conservative as Florida. Both Rich and Crist face a formidable opponent in Scott, who will try to use his vast fortune and a united GOP apparatus to destroy whoever runs against him. On the other hand, the Democrats, as we tend to do, are still divided.

Here as in previous elections, the mind and the heart will come together to devise a solution that will compromise our deep-seated beliefs with the realities of electoral politics.

Whatever we decide, the most important thing is to make sure that Scott is a one-term governor. The answer to my dilemma, at least in terms of the primary election, is simple: I’ll support and vote for the more progressive candidate — Rich.

But once the primary’s over, I’ll work for my party’s candidate and do what I can to make sure that she or he becomes the next governor of Florida.