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Issue #11: DeSantis letting African-American districts go vacant
Governor refuses to call special elections in Southeast FL
On April 6th, longtime Congressman Alcee Hastings passed away from cancer. His passing ended a near-30 year tenure in Congress. Hastings was one of the original three African-Americans to win Congressional seats after the 1992 redistricting; and the last to still serve in office by 2021. His passing was heavily mourned in southeast Florida.
Hastings’ death meant a special election would be needed for the 20th Congressional district. This historic African-American district covers the prominent African-American populations of Palm Beach and Broward counties.
The current borders of the seat has been in place since the 2015 court-ordered remap. The district is just under 50% Black Voting Age population. It is overwhelming Democratic and 70% black in a Democratic primary. It shouldn’t be much of a shock that all major democratic candidates for the election are African-American.
Perry Thurston - State Senator for Central Broward
Barbara Sharief - County Commissioner for South Broward
Dale Holness - County Commissioner for Central Broward
Bobby Dubose - State House member for Central Broward
Omari Hardy - State House member for Palm Beach
The race has five very prominent candidates, all currently elected officials, running. A further look at that primary is for another time. What is important for today’s post is that thanks to Florida’s resign-to-run law, all five of these officials must resign their current positions.
Office holders resigning to run for different positions is not uncommon in Florida. Until now, the most common tactic for a situation like this is for the resigning official to schedule their resignation so that a special election can be set up for the rest of the term as soon as possible. In this case, there is no reason that the special elections for the above offices shouldn’t be held the same day as the Congressional election itself. The Broward County Supervisor of Elections specifically asked that the special elections for all offices be held at once. While the two County Commission seats can be filled with Governor appointment until 2022, the house and senate districts CAN ONLY be filled by an election.
DeSantis’ Shameful Delays
First, DeSantis set the election for the Congressional seat till nearly a year after Hastings’ death. The primary (all that matters) will be in November, and the general in January. This is months later than the Broward and Palm Beach election departments asked for. Both said they could run a primary in August.
And what about the commission and legislative offices the big 5 leaving behind. Well, as of today, still NOTHING from the Governor on special elections for those seats.
By this point, its increasingly clear that the Thurston, DuBose, and Hardy seats wont be filled in time for the 2022 legislative session - a completely unacceptable situation. So why hasn’t DeSantis called elections? Well……
Just a couple vacancies gives the GOP more opportunities in a legislative session.
It also deprives these communities of important voices in the redistricting process. Maps will not be debated and voted on until the legislative session, which begins shortly after the FL-20th general election (and hence when the seats become vacant).
There is no defense of these delays. No reason for this has been offered either. Rather its just silence.
Delaying Election Shenanigans
So we have a situation where the Governor will not call a special election for seats about to become vacant per the resign-to-run law. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time delay tactics occurred. In local races, there is an easier delay tactic aspiring politicians have used. City council members who want to make bids for other office in the middle of their term have often delayed resignation until the day of the election for the new office they are running for. Cities determine elections for themselves, and there is often very clear rules on when resignation triggers an election. As such, commissioners have resigned to run for other office, but timed it so that if they lost their new bid, they could then run in the special election for their vacated seat.
This has happened the home-of-my-youth, Broward County, many many times. Often it doesn’t go well. Some examples include….
Weston Commissioner Jim Norton opting to run for County Commission. Norton timed his resignation so that instead of his city seat being filled the same day as the election for county commission, it took place months later. Norton, after losing to Nan Rich, ran for his old city seat. However, Norton angered voters with his tactics. Norton had a massive gaffe when he blamed the cost of the special election on the fact that newcomer Bryon Jaffe filed to run for the seat. You know, cause Norton should have just had it given back. Voters sent Norton packing.
In 2013, Charlotte Rodstrom, who had left her Ft Laurderdale City Commission Seat in order to run for Broward Commission, tried to run for her old position again. Similar to Norton, the voters rejected this effort at a comeback. Rodstrom narrowly lost to Dean Trantalis, who has since gone on to become Ft Lauderdale mayor.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out badly for the elected official. We have an example from earlier this year. Coconut Creek commissioner Joshua Rydell resigned to run for Broward State Attorney. While he lost, he did well in the Coconut Creek area, especially the city’s Wynmoor retirement community, a major political power-player in city politics.
Yes the winner of the Democratic primary got 21% of the vote.
After Rydell’s loss, he was actually named the temporary appointee for his seat and until the regular spring elections. His opponent attacked the whole process, and the Sun Sentinel newspaper was not amused either. How did voters respond? By giving Rydell another full term by a large margin.
Rydell’s win was heavily fueled by the Wynmoor Condo’s - but he also won most precincts. The voters liked Rydell and opted to keep him.
Whether the delay in resignations work really depends on the candidate/officials relationship with the voters. Norton and Rodstrom didn’t have enough good will to pull these tactics off. Rydell did.
Well at this point it seems clear that the special elections for the Thurston, DuBose, and Hardy seats will all take place well into 2022. As a result, all three could run for their seats if they don’t win the Democratic primary for the 20th Congressional.
How would that go? Well lets look at how each did in their last races.
In the cases of Dubose and Thurston, they were incumbents fending off primary challenges. Hardy was actually defeating an embattled incumbent.
So if the specials gets delayed until next year, could these three run for their old seats? I wouldn’t be shocked if at least one of the three does. However, this is not even in their control. All calls from Broward and Palm Beach are for special elections for these seats to be scheduled.
The only reason they haven’t is because of Ron DeSantis.