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Issue 41: Florida's Assault on Black Voters
Ron's latest attack on African-Americans
Where do I even start. It is has been a long redistricting saga in Florida this cycle. Things started off with great promise and have slowly gotten more nasty as time went on. On Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed Congressional Plan 8019.
This plan was very different from the maps that showed up in the legislative drafts starting in November. The biggest issue is the destruction of the 5th Congressional District; an African-American seat that covers the corridor of black voters in North Florida (read my comprehensive breakdown of the district here). Since then, things have gotten worse. However, lets do a quick review of the North Florida region.
The Lies about the 5th District
Since the beginning of the legislative process, Republican legislative leaders have said the 5th district was a protected seat. The State Senate plan, which got every Republican vote, preserved the east-west 5th. Similar makeups existed for the house drafts.
Why does this district look like this? It connects African-American communities that dot the panhandle. These voters create a democratic seat with a 70% black democratic primary; hence a performing African-American seat. All counties except Baker are majority-black in the Democratic primary.
A community of urban and rural black voters, many of whom trace their ancestry to the slave plantation of the 1850s.
Conservative, alt-right accounts hated the 5th district. They were sure the legislature would destroy it. The claimed it was a sliver, a terrible looking non-compact seat. It is long, granted. However, it objectively is more compact than the old 5th district from pre-2015; a seat that was then used to pack black voters in Jacksonville and Orlando.
The changes in 2015/2016 led to a 4th African-American performing seat. This was a standard the legislature originally pledged to maintain. The House and Senate differed on the newly-created Orlando seat, but all agreed on North Florida being a protected area for black voters.
DeSantis Weighs In
Congressional maps in Florida require a Governor sign off. At no point in Florida history has a Governor vetoed a Congressional map. DeSantis, however, opted to appease the alt-right by having his staff propose its own plan. This first plan destroyed the North Florida African-American district, weakened the Orlando seat, and left Florida with just 2 guaranteed black-performing districts.
DeSantis’ office originally proposed a map that they claimed moved Florida from 4 Hispanic districts to 5. However, after many, including myself, pointed out the Hispanic cracking actually weakened Hispanic voting power, the Governor released a second map that went back to 4 Hispanic seats (with 3 at super-majorities to account for turnout drops).
The Governor’s plan is clearly partisan. Aiming to pack Democrats into two seats in Orlando, and just one seat in Tampa. The focus of DeSantis’ ire was the North Florida area and the 5th district. The Governor’s plan cracks Jacksonville right in two. Republican lawmakers tried to placate the governor - a plan always doomed to fail - by passing a plan that created a black-access seat in Duval County alone. This seat would be Democratic and 65% black in a primary. Likely a performing black seat.
DeSantis, however, made it clear he did not support this. He pledged a veto, which finally took place.
In his veto message, DeSantis claimed the passed plan violates the 14th amendment. He claims the shape of the district is weird. He adopts an extreme legal argument, counting on conservative courts to side with him. Now the legislature is about to go into a special session on April 19th to try and pass a plan. There is a real worry they may side with DeSantis on North Florida. If this happens, it would be the first time North Florida black voters didn’t have a district since the 1990s.
The Legal Assault to Come
Ron DeSantis’ argument against the 5th is as follows. Since the district would not be 50%+ BVAP, (it would hover in the 40s if its east-west, less if Duval-only) then its not protected under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. DeSantis believes that the Fair Districts Amendments of Florida, which mandate preserving performing minority seats, are subservient to the 14th amendment - which he claims doesn’t allow the east-west 5th. However, this makes several legal conclusions that haven’t been backed up with a trial or evidence. Ron actually takes advantage of the mixed messaging from some Democratic members. Rep Joe Geller first claimed the Duval-only 5th wouldn’t protect black voters (it likely would) - now he says it for sure would.
The messaging from many Democratic members has been ALL OVER THE PLACE. DeSantis is now using their inconsistencies to bolster his arguments around North Florida.
While I do not love the Duval-only 5th, I did argue it is very likely to be a performing African-American district. If it could be determined it was, that would give it more protection. Ron basically argues it doesn’t (using the statements of several democrats) - and hence justifies striking it down.
Ron’s argument is based on the idea that the more conservative Supreme Court will side with Republicans against minority representation. We already saw two horrid rulings from SCOTUS where they short-circuited efforts to increase African-American congressional districts in Alabama, and African-American legislative districts in Wisconsin. So maybe DeSantis is right, that his theory will carry legal water in the modern courts - which clearly do not care about minority representation.
Ron’s plan may hold up in the conservative courts - but it does not mean it is a moral position. It doesn’t mean he isn’t racist. And yes folks, I say he is. DeSantis doesn’t care about the final map. He wants to be seen as a conservative warrior who fights for the most extreme map to aid Republicans. If this means throwing out black-performing seats, so be it. It would be one thing if this was all about the Tallahassee-Jacksonville district. However, the opposition from DeSantis to the Duval-only 5th screams of partisan and racist intent. Complaining about the 5th and 4ths shape (claiming the 4th is almost like a donut around the 5th) is objectively silly when that shape is governed by the county borders of Duval and Nassau.
Ron’s own map shows he cares little for compactness. His plan includes this setup for Tampa, with a district crossing the water for no clear reason other than to pack Democrats. Republican plans have the majority-Hispanic 26th district go from Miami-Dade, across the Everglades, and into western counties. This is the DeSantis plan. This crossing of the Everglades is not needed to draw three solid Hispanic-performing seats in South Florida. That said, I don’t even oppose this. I just want the same compactness leeway offered for North Florida.
The 5th is in the crosshairs of DeSantis because its Democratic. Ron does not care about minority representation, so he has little concern for North Florida’s black voters.
We already have seen DeSantis’ attacks on black voters when it came to South Florida elections last year. After Congressman Alcee Hastings passed away,. DeSantis didn’t schedule the election till January of 2022, creating a wait time far larger than was normal.
Then, DeSantis delayed scheduling special elections for the African-American legislative seats being vacated by candidates for the Congressional race. DeSantis did not finally pick dates (which would keep most winners out of the 2022 legislative session) until he was sued over the delay.
DeSantis has decided to use black voters to score right-wing points as he looks toward a 2024 Presidential run. This is his latest insult. His latest attack. He may get the cover by the courts that he wants. Maybe the legislature will go along with his plans.
A Message to the Undecideds
There is little I or most can do to get DeSantis to move away from his position. However, there are legislative votes to be held, and political reporters who cover these events as they happen. I have seen, in recent weeks, a disturbing amount of discussion about “moving more toward race-blind redistricting.” Whether its letting computers draw maps, or aiming for compactness as the top criteria. I implore those who question the need for something like the 5th district (whether in its long form or Duval-only form) - to remember that we are NOT out of the era of Jim Crow. Voters alive today were denied voting rights in the 1960s. Discriminations at the ballot continued well past the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It was that continued discriminations that led to the passage of the 1982 Voting Rights Act that mandated minority seats. I covered Florida’s shameful history of cracking and multi-member districts through the 1970s and 1980s. We are now at risk of going backward.
Look no further than this graph I created. It shows the number of African-American members of Congress from Reconstruction to Present.
The laws and maps we pass effected representation. That graph can slide downward if the laws protecting minority voters are repealed. Black voters will become subject to political games just like they were in the past; and in many ways still are today.
It is also important to understand that we have come to balance compactness with representation. THIS was the original North Florida black district in 1992.
This district had the best of intentions, but was rightfully struck down because it didn’t represent a coherent community. That is NOT the case for the current 5th district (regardless of which iteration is used).
This special session will be a critical historic moment for minority representation in North Florida. Will the legislature cave to Ron’s racist demands? Will people understand that representation matters more than compactness. I sadly have little hope for the weeks to come.