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Issue #46: Special Session ends exactly how it deserves to end
Black Caucus launches powerful sit-in
Well, that was the PERFECT way to end this special session. A+
What am I talking about? Well in case you’ve been living under a rock. Lets talk about it. Florida just wrapped up its special session on Congressional redistricting. Lawmakers passed the proposal drafted by Ron DeSantis. The plan, which eliminates TWO districts were African-Americans have shown they can elect a candidate of their choice, is an extreme Republican gerrymander. I delved into the map here.
Despite balking at DeSantis’ demands for months, lawmakers finally caved, amid a flurry of internal primary threats by the Governor. They intended to come into special session and rapidly pass a map; knowing lawsuits awaited.
The passed plan divides up the minority population of Jacksonville, and is sure to pair the 80%+ black precincts with rural, white Nassau and the deep-red Clay county. The legislature had offered a plan that held a 5th district entirely in Duval and would have likely been a minority-access seat.
In Orlando, the 10th district was redrawn. The 10th has performed as a black-access seat via its Democratic primary; where African-Americans are the largest voting block. The legislature aimed to preserve this seat, drawing a district that kept Orlando’s black population together and produces a Democratic primary (for a deep-blue seat) that was even between white and black voters. The DeSantis map, however, splits the black community in two, and as a result the 10th district, while still Democratic, is 5 points more white than black in the primary.
The plans have many other clear partisan and racial intent. I recommend reading my breakdown of the proposal from last week.
The legislative session was set to begin Tuesday, with it believed Thursday as a wrap up.
Tuesday Committee Tensions
The Tuesday session started off with a MASSIVE distraction. Republicans announced they were going to pass two additional bills. One would repeal the special taxing district Disney World got over 50 years ago. The other bill would repeal the carve-out Disney got from the legislatures’ tech-censorship bill last year. These came as DeSantis and Disney continue to feud over the desire of DeSantis to use LGBTQ children as a cultural wedge issue. Because its 2002 all over again, you see. THAT is a topic for another day. The additional of these items divided attention on redistricting.
As the afternoon committees for House and Senate began, the tension quickly became apparent. I sat in on the Senate committee meeting. DeSantis staffer Alex Kelly, who drew the maps, came to present on the districts. Kelly spoke and aimed to justify his decisions, largely repeating the talking points we’ve heard from DeSantis for weeks. Senator Randolph Bracy stood out in the committee for aggressively taking on Kelly. Bracy questioned Kelly’s logic and flat out questioned his honesty when Kelly claimed he didn’t turn on partisan or racial data for different parts of the state. At one point, Bracy asked Kelly be put under oath. Chairman Ray Rodrigues, who went from defying DeSantis on the maps to doing his bidding, ruled the request out of order.
Many of Kelly’s answers struck myself and other watchers as untrue. Kelly claimed that the CD13/14 lines splitting the black community of St Pete was unintentional. The black population of St Petersburg has been part of major redistricting debates for decades. The idea Kelly couldn’t tell where they were is objectively silly. Most of us who do redistricting work know where minority communities are from memory. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to draw a map “race blind” - I instinctively know what regions are diverse. Kelly also routinely walked around the concept of when preserving minority representation was a “compelling state interest.”
Once Kelly wrapped up, debate among lawmakers began. The committee soon moved to public speakers. Once speaking began, it was a long line of African-American citizens. Many came from all over the state, and they were all calling for their representation to be preserved. Several speakers showed their frustration and anger. One veteran, after speaking, got a “Thank you for your service” from Chairman Rodrigues - which got a clap-back “I don’t need a thank you, I need representation.” (Paraphrasing)
A pastor also came to speak, and oh boy did he lay it on them, but in the nicest way possible. He simply asked, “will you be able to morally live with yourselves?”
The last speaker was myself. I cited the history of minority representation of Florida and questioned their change in course. I ended my speech with a line that gave them more respect than they deserved (or that I have for them). "Why don't you just admit that you're cowards?"
And yes the shirt was picked out for this event.
The story in the house played out very much the same. Efforts to get Kelly under oath were rejected and a long line of speakers was ignored by Republican leaders. Nothing was going to stop this train.
Senate Debate Wednesday
The next day, the Senate took up the congressional plan chamber-wide. Democrats offered excellent debate points. However, there was no Republicans to be swayed over. The era of the moderate Republican senators is long gone. The map would eventually pass on a party-line vote.
Thursday Blow Up
The house was set to approve the map on Thursday. Debate started very much the same as the Senate, with powerful democratic speeches. Black caucus members invoke the history of racism they and their families had experienced. Making the strong argument that racism ISN’T over and the importance of representation for minority groups.
The house debate, however, began to take a much darker tone as it went on. As Democratic lawmakers questioned the intentions of the Governor and made the argument that voting for this map is a racist vote, Rep Erin Grall - who was holding the Speakers gavel at the moment, kept interrupting speeches to warn about violating “decorum rules.”
State Rep Ramon Alexander questioned Grall on the subject, saying…
“Just as some members may be offended by these words, I’m offended by this map.”
Tensions broke as Yvonne Hinson, a state rep from Gainesville, who grew up in segregation, was speaking.
“I’ve been kicked. I’ve been talked about and I have been called names you don’t even put in the dictionary anymore.”
As Hinson was speaking, her mic was cut off. The Democratic caucus had run out of its allocated debate time. That was the last straw. As Hinson attempted to keep speaking, State Rep Angie Nixon marched to the front of the chamber and began to chant for the legislature to resist the map. Nixon, of Jacksonville, was elected in 2020, ousting conservative (and completely insane) Democratic Kim Daniels.
Republicans called a recess and left the chamber. A majority of the caucus stayed as Reps Nixon, Travis McCurdy, and Felicia Robinson sat in the floor. McCurdy had given a powerful speech not long before. Sitting, he read the 14th amendment. State Rep Dottie Joseph led the members in prayer. Many members live-streamed the events as the Florida Channel (our public access) cut out. As the protest continued, Republicans ordered the AP photographer to leave the chamber, then cleared the press who were in the public gallery (leaving only those who were in the Press Box to stay and record events). As live streams continued, the WIFI for the capital was cut. Granted this has less of an effect in the modern era.
Despite the efforts of Democratic caucus leaders to find a compromise, namely one that involved more debate time, Republicans said no. Republicans eventually returned to the chamber. Speaker Sprowls gaveled the session in, all the while several members continued to chant for fair maps, and rapidly moved on. Republicans waved their speaking time and went right to the vote, which passed on party lines. Instead of debating the Disney bills, they cancelled debate, held quick votes, and gaveled out. ALL THE WHILE THE CHANTING CONTINUED! It was a messy and chaotic end to a session that only lasted minutes.
GOP Revenge to Come
The session has come to an end with an embarrassing scene for the Republicans. They wanted, desperately, to get this map through with as little mainstream attention as possible. I firmly believe the Disney add-ons were part of this. That goal was shattered by the sit-in. National press has picked up the story, its the big news across the state. The only way it could have been worse for Republican leaders is if they had gotten the members arrested.
In the short-term, the Republican response has been the grab the biggest pearls they could clutch and claim this was just like an insurrection! You know, because a handful of lawmakers holding a sit-in over representation is the same as people violently storming the US capital because our former nationalist, moron of a President didn’t want to leave office.
Looks super violent to me.
In short, this was the GOP response.
So I’m not going to give that any more oxygen. However, I carry a warning. The rumble out of Tallahassee is that retribution will be coming. The leadership is pissed and embarrassed. There is talk of doing hearings or “investigations” on the matter. At bare minimum, lawmakers will likely see budget items vetoed and retaliation in committee assignments. How far it all goes will depend. Republicans want to make sure this never happens again. They count on lack of coverage to get their agenda through.
One reporter asked incoming Democratic Leader Ramon Alexander, if he was worried about retaliation from Speaker Sprowls.
State Rep Kamia Brown summed up the sentiment of the caucus perfectly with a line from the late, great John Lewis.
Republicans got their map. Well, they got DeSantis' map. Democrats, however, didn’t make it easy on them.