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Lawmakers convene special session on governor’s plan to add 4 Republican-leaning seats, nuke North Florida majority-minority district
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Florida lawmakers will be back in Tallahassee this week to approve a new U.S. House map, with the Republicans in charge ready (or maybe just resigned?) to letting Governor Ron DeSantis take the lead – a decision that’s almost certain to result in both state and federal court fights over how far Republicans can go in gerrymandering the map to their advantage.
DeSantis has proposed a new map that will add four GOP-leaning seats across the state, giving the party a shot at winning 20 of 28 seats – in a state where Republicans usually only win by single-digit margins in statewide races.
Potentially more problematically from a legal perspective, DeSantis wants to nuke the current 5th District in North Florida, a Democratic-leaning, majority-minority district that stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.
Instead, metro Jacksonville will be carved into two Republican-leaning districts, and Tallahassee and rural areas in the district will be subsumed into two existing districts, which have heavy GOP majorities.
DeSantis has railed against the 5th District, which was created by the Florida Supreme Court after a lawsuit over the 2012 U.S. House map. Its existence was the primary reason he vetoed the map approved earlier this year by Republican legislators, who were wary of trying to dismantle a district that is 47% black, represented by black Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.
But DeSantis has insisted he wants a “race neutral” map, in which districts aren’t drawn with racial considerations in mind, and Republican legislative leaders now appear resigned to letting him get his way.
While DeSantis’s new map leaves the current line-up of seats in South Florida intact, he’s rejiggered the lines in Tampa Bay to make the 13th District in Pinellas County (currently held by Democrat Charlie Crist) more Republican and also made changes in metro Orlando to give the currently competitive 7th District (held by Democrat Stephanie Murphy) a decidedly Republican tilt.
Currently, there are 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats in Florida’s House delegation. Under the new map, there will be 18 Republican-leaning seats, eight that lean Democratic and two in South Florida that will be competitive but are now both held by Republicans.
Should DeSantis’s map pass as is, the legal fight will commence in two directions.
First, in 2010, Florida voters passed two constitutional amendments, dubbed the Fair Districts amendments, designed to prevent legislators from drawing maps designed to protect incumbents or create partisan advantage. This makes Florida somewhat unique among states by limiting, at least in theory, how far legislators can go in partisan map making.
In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court cited those very amendments in overturning the U.S. House map drawn in 2012 and imposing a new one, which created the districts that Lawson and Murphy won.
However, thanks to appointments by DeSantis and his predecessor as governor, Rick Scott, the state’s high court is more conservative that it was in 2015, and there is speculation the justices will look more favorably on legislators’ handiwork this time around.
But what also remains as a potential impediment to DeSantis’s best-laid plans is the federal Voting Rights Act. Although Florida no longer has to get clearance from the Justice Department for its maps, they still must conform to the act’s purpose of maximizing minority voting representation.
North Florida has sent an African-American representative to Congress continuously since 1992; DeSantis’s proposed map would almost certainly end that representation for the foreseeable future, which will certainly raise voting rights concerns.
It would also have the effect of reducing the number of black Congress members from the Sunshine State from five to four. (Those numbers include Republican Byron Donalds, who represents a mostly white district in Southwest Florida; South Florida Democrats Federica Wilson and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick; and Democrat Val Demings from Orlando.)
That would leave Florida’s black representation in the congressional delegation at about 14%, the same as the state’s black voting age population – which could be an argument in the map’s favor despite the loss of the North Florida seat.
And the final arbiter of a federal challenge to DeSantis’s new map might very well be the U.S. Supreme Court, whose conservative justices seem ready and eager to wade into the issue of voting rights.
In a larger sense, the fight over the maps also shows how DeSantis, in just four short years, has come to amass enough power to bring legislative leaders to heel – in this case, even against their better judgment.
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Sound and Fury: Will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s impassioned speeches impact voting rights results?
White House chooses historic, symbolic setting in Atlanta to draw line in the sand with Republicans, Democrats hesitant about changing filibuster
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — The setting was both symbolic and historic. To promote their push for federal voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris chose Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, and spoke on the campus shared by three historically black colleges with a rich legacy of activism.
Georgia is also the state where Republicans undertook a wholesale revision of state election laws after Biden carried the state in 2020 and Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats, based on claims of voting fraud for which no evidence has yet to emerge.
However, whether Biden and Harris’s dramatic exhortations will affect the outcome of the Senate vote in the coming days remains very much up in the air.
While that result could have impact nationwide, it will be of particular interest in three Southern states – Georgia, Florida and Texas – where Republicans control the political machinery and are striving to thwart any Democratic advance by reworking the rules to their advantage.
If the 50 Democrats in the Senate don’t unite to find a way around united Republican opposition to the bill, Democrats in Georgia fear their 2020 breakthrough will be short-lived, and the uphill task Democrats face in Texas and Florida will be even steeper.
The headline from Biden’s January 11 speech was his most full-throated endorsement yet of changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to advance the voting rights legislation on a simple majority vote.
Biden argued that if state legislatures, in the South and elsewhere, can pass laws restricting mail and in-person voting, ballot drop boxes, and even handing out food and water to voters stuck in long lines, then senators should be able to stop them with the same simple majority.
But U.S. senators, perhaps above all else, enjoy their perks and traditions, and the filibuster, which allows a small number of senators to thwart the will of a majority, is one of the most cherished.
In essence, it makes every senator a king, which can go to some of their heads.
From a small “d” democratic perspective, the filibuster is indefensible; indeed, no state legislature anywhere in the country operates this way.
But its supporters – currently led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – argue that it acts as a check on the untrammeled will of a majority.
Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney even advanced an argument to support the filibuster that is the stuff of Democratic nightmares — what if Donald Trump wins in 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and Democrats have no tools to stop them from doing whatever they want?
Support for the filibuster is not just a Republican view – it is also held by some Democrats, including most notably, but not exclusively, by West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Until recently, it was held by Biden himself.
Manchin, who as a former secretary of state once oversaw elections in his home state, has expressed support for the underlying voting rights legislation. Indeed, the version the Senate is now considering, the Freedom to Vote Act, was written by Manchin as part of a quixotic quest to find a bipartisan way forward.
But Manchin has made it clear that even though he wrote the bill, he won’t blow up the filibuster to get it passed, and he wants any change in Senate rules to be made on a bipartisan basis, which McConnell has made clear isn’t going to happen.
Biden apparently believes that his Atlanta speech – which cast the senators’ filibuster vote not in institutional Senate terms but as a moral issue of right or wrong, justice or injustice – will change Manchin’s mind, even though the West Virginian has given little indication he’s receptive to that argument.
Biden and Harris drew a rhetorical line in the sand, with sharp language; Biden went so far as to liken opponents of moving forward with voting rights legislation to George Wallace and Jefferson Davis. The president and vice present took an unambiguous, firm stand that will no doubt please the Democratic base and voting rights activists, some of whom boycotted the speech to protest what they see as lack of action from the White House.
But the line having been drawn, it is also unclear what the next steps might be if Manchin and other Democrats balk at the filibuster reform needed to get the bills through. There can be political benefit in trying and failing; there’s much less political wisdom in trying something when there isn’t a clear way forward.
In his speech, Biden also castigated Republican senators for unanimously opposing this voting rights legislation, contrasting that position with the actions of Republican senators in the past (including Strom Thurmond) and Republican presidents who supported extensions of the Voting Rights Act.
Yet, that denies the reality that some Republican senators’ objections are not to voting rights per se but specific parts of this legislation, including limits on partisan gerrymandering, greater federal oversight of state elections, changes to campaign financing laws, and a fund to match donor contributions to political campaigns.
Opposing creation of a vehicle to lavish more money to the political grifter class, or defending the primacy of states in election administration as set out in the Constitution, does not make someone Bull Connor. Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins are not opposing this because they are power-mad racists bent on the destruction of democracy, and, one might argue, casting them as such isn’t likely to change their minds.
Democrats have a strong argument here that Republican efforts to change voting laws aren’t necessary because the rationale on which they are based – that the 2020 election was rife with fraud – is specious. It is also the case that the changes will make it more difficult for Democrats to win elections in Georgia, Florida, Texas and elsewhere, which Democrats should oppose out of plain common sense.
But the ultimate success of Biden and Harris’s sound and fury — casting the fight over this legislation as a black-or-white moral imperative and its opponents as maliciously misguided — is rather less clear.
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Trump’s sway will be key metric in outcome of midterm elections across region
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — 2022 has dawned, and with it a mid-term election year in which most Southern states will decide who gets to be their governor and congressional races across the region will play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress.
Of the eight Southern states with open races for governor this year, seven will feature incumbents seeking re-election, with the only open race in Arkansas, where former Donald Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears on her way to victory.
Nine U.S. Senate seats will be up, with open races in Alabama and North Carolina and Georgia Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock battling for a full term after winning a special election runoff in 2020.
Here is a look at some of the hottest races, and likely biggest political stories, of the upcoming year.
The redrawing of new U.S. House maps after reapportionment has set up two Southern primary contests, one in each party, where incumbents will need to defeat a current colleague to stay in Congress.
In Georgia, Republican mapmakers have pitted Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux against each other in Atlanta’s suburbs. McBath’s existing district in the northwest suburbs became too Republican for her to survive; Bourdeaux’s in the northeast suburbs actually became more Democratic with the addition of areas that had been in McBath’s orbit.
The two women — who campaigned with each other in 2018 and 2020 and differ little politically — will face off in what is likely to be an expensive primary. McBath has a stronger national profile and fundraising operation, but the district now centers on Gwinnett County, which Bourdeaux currently represents.
One caveat is that voting rights groups are suing the block the new map, which, if successful, could provide a wrinkle ahead of the March filing deadline.
In West Virginia, the loss of one of the state’s three U.S. House seats sets up a primary contest between Republican U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney for a new district that includes the northern half of the state.
However, this race will have more of an ideological flavor than the primary in Georgia. Mooney, a former Washington lobbyist who moved to the state in 2014 from Maryland to run for Congress, is a member of the ultra-conservative, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus. McKinley, a seventh-generation West Virginian and former state party chair, is more aligned with the Republican Party’s establishment wing.
Expect to hear a great deal in this race about McKinley’s vote in favor of establishing a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Mooney opposed.
The Power of Trump
The former president has already been active in offering endorsements and pursuing revenge, particularly against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing to indulge his claims of widespread fraud in the state’s 2020 vote.
Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp, setting off what is likely to be a bare-knuckled brawl in the Republican primary ahead of a stiff challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to unseat Raffensperger.
And in one of the strangest early developments of the 2020 campaign, Trump also reportedly encouraged his former ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard, to drop out of the U.S. Senate race to run instead against the very popular Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, in a fit of pique over cancellation of a July 4th Trump rally (a decision Ivey did not actually make.)
Trump has also waded into the attorney general’s race in Texas with an endorsement of incumbent Ken Paxton, who has drawn a gaggle of primary challengers (including Bush family scion George P. Bush and stalwart pro-Trump U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) after a criminal indictment and FBI bribery investigation.
Taking down Ivey would seem a long shot at this point; Kemp is holding his own against Perdue in early polls; and Paxton race seems likely to be headed to an unpredictable runoff in March. So it remains to be seen whether the Trump endorsement machine will produce results in 2022.
Trump has also endorsed in three U.S. Senate races. In Georgia, his nod put Herschel Walker on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but his chosen candidates in Alabama (U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks) and North Carolina (U.S. Rep. Ted Budd) are facing tough primary battles against more establishment candidates.
Adding to the MAGA Squad
Trump’s election has led to the rise of a core group of MAGA-philes in the House – social media savvy, outspoken, and willing to pounce on fellow Republicans who display the slightest scrap of bipartisanship. Among this group are Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, the aforementioned Gohmert and Brooks, and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.
In 2022, they are hoping to add to their numbers by offering endorsements and fundraising help to like-minded candidates across the South and around the country, which will put them in position to be power brokers if Republicans take control of the House (a prospect likely to give House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy heartburn.)
Some of these candidates are little known and will face tough climbs against incumbent Republicans. But it is worth noting that both Greene and Cawthorn followed this same playbook successfully in 2020, going from unknowns to the halls of Congress with lightning speed.
Southern Black Woman in the U.S. Senate?
No black woman has ever been elected to represent a Southern state in the Senate. This year, Democrats are poised to pick two black women as their Senate nominees – U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.
Demings, the former police chief of Orlando who served on the first House impeachment committee that investigated Trump, faces an uphill climb against Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, particularly with his strong core of support among Hispanic voters in South Florida. But with her national profile, she has been posting strong fundraising numbers that could make the race competitive.
Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, may have better prospects in running for an open seat in a race where Republicans are slogging through a multi-candidate race in which Trump has intervened in favor of Budd.
A victory by either in November will make history.
Palmetto State “RINOs”
The most serious insult that can be hurled in Republican politics these days is to call someone a RINO – a Republican in Name Only.
Two incumbent U.S. House members in South Carolina have been branded with the RINO label by their critics – Nancy Mace in the Lowcountry and Tom Rice in the Pee Dee – and are each facing multiple challengers in their respective Republican primaries.
Mace was among the few Republican House members to offer criticism of Trump after the January 6th Capitol attack, although she did not vote to impeach him. Rice did, which got him censured by the state’s Republican Party, and he compounded his sin among the MAGA fervency by supporting the bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks.
As a result, Mace has four GOP challengers; Rice has 12. Trump has encouraged their challengers but has yet to announce a favorite. His blessing may be good enough to earn a runoff slot against the incumbent.
Thinking Outside The Box
After Warnock won a January special U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia, he immediately become the Republicans’ primary 2022 target. Yet, no sitting U.S. House member ventured to take him on, nor did the three Republicans who ran against him in 2020.
Enter Herschel Walker, University of Georgia football hero and NFL standout. Though he carries significant personal baggage and has not a whiff of political experience, he does have the one accessory every Republican candidate wants in 2022 – Trump’s blessing.
Trump’s endorsement didn’t clear the primary field, but it did get Republican Senate leaders in Washgington behind Walker’s candidacy – taking a significant leap of faith in a race against a charismatic Democrat with Obama-level political skills.
Is this a gamble that will pay off or blow up? The answer may decide control of the Senate.
Beto O’Crist for Governor
The good people of Texas told Beto O’Rourke that they didn’t want him to be their senator in 2018, even after he spent $80 million trying to persuade them otherwise. The good people of Iowa and New Hampshire told him they didn’t want him to be their president in 2020, without nearly as much money going down the drain.
But not willing to take no and no for an answer, O’Rourke is back again, running this time for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Only this time, he’s running in the gun-loving Lone Star State after telling a Democratic presidential debate audience that he was in favor of confiscating their assault weapons.
But lest you think Beto is the region’s most resolute embracer of questionable causes, he pales in comparison to Florida’s well-tanned political chameleon Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this year after losing two statewide races in the past eight years and metamorphosing from a conservative Republican into an independent and then into a liberal Democrat.
Which begs the question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?
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Morning Consult poll shows Democratic governors with aggressive COVID-19 strategies with higher approval than GOP governors who have resisted mandates
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is the South’s most popular chief executive, with Alabama’s Kay Ivey close behind in new polls on gubernatorial approval from the polling firm Morning Consult.
The polls, taken over the course of the last four months and released November 11, also show that Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s approval rating among registered voters was just 42%, making him the region’s least popular chief executive as he heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election battle next year against furious opposition from Donald Trump.
The poll in Kentucky had better news for Democrat Andy Beshear, whose approval rating stood at 54%, despite taking considerable fire from Republicans over his COVID-19 policies.
Beshear will face voters again in 2023, as will Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves. However, the approval rating for Reeves, who may face a primary challenge from House Speaker Philip Gunn, stood at just 49%, making him and Kemp the only two Southern governors with approval ratings below 50% ahead of a run for his third term.
Morning Consult did not report disapproval numbers, so it was unclear if Reeves and Kemp were actually under water in their approval numbers, with more people disapproving than approving.
The approval rating for Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who has taken the leading in fighting mask and vaccine mandates, stood at 52% ahead of a Democratic challenge in 2022. Texas’s Greg Abbott, who has taken a similar line of resistance against mandates, had an approval rating of 50%.
Three of the region’s Democratic governors who have been more aggressive with COVID-19 mitigation measures – Beshear, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards – had higher approval ratings than DeSantis and Abbott, although within the poll’s margin of error.
Justice’s approval rating stood at 65%, despite a string of headlines about financial and regulatory problems for companies owned by his family and an odd dispute about whether he should be hired to coach a boy’s high school basketball team.
Ivey, who became governor in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in a sex scandal, had an approval rating at 62%, as she heads into a re-election race in which she will be heavily favored.
However, she, too, has run afoul of Trump over cancellation of a June rally in Mobile, and he is reportedly trying to find a primary challenger to run against her.
The other Southern governor up next year, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, stood at 52%.
Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson has a 57% approval rating as he heads toward the exit due to term limits – despite being one of the very few elected Republicans willing to offer criticism of Trump.
Hutchinson has said he will not back Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024 and that relitigating the 2020 election would be a “recipe for disaster.” He has raised his national profile in recent months, with numerous appearances on Sunday talk shows, prompting speculation that he might make his own presidential run in 2024.
Kemp has drawn Trump’s active wrath for refusing to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. Former Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is considering a primary challenge, and the GOP nominee will likely be facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp narrowly beat in 2018.
Two Southern Democratic governors who are in the middle of their second and final term – Edwards and Cooper – had positive approval ratings, at 53% and 52%, respectively.
Morning Consult gathered the responses from July 21 to October 20 among registered voters in each state. The margin of error was +/-4%.
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Ken Welch wins open seat in St. Petersburg; Francis Suarez and Elaine O’Neal cruise to victory in Miami and Durham
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
(CFP) — Voters in four large Southern cities decided elections for city offices Tuesday, with the field set for a November 30 runoff for the open mayor’s post in Atlanta.
In Atlanta, where incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not seek re-election, City Council President Felicia Moore ran up a large lead in a 14-person race, but her 41% was not enough for the majority she needed to avoid a runoff.
In the battle for the second runoff spot, with all precincts reporting, City Councilman Andre Dickens held just a 576 vote lead over former mayor Kasim Reed, who was trying to make a comeback to the mayor’s office he held from 2010 to 2018.
Dickens declared victory for the second spot, but Reed has so far not conceded.
The race has focused on rising violent crime in the city and Reed’s previous time as mayor, with several former aides convicted or facing corruption charges. Reed himself has not been charged, but critics argued that the ethical problems in his previous administration should be disqualifying.
Bottoms, who led the city through the COVID-19 pandemic and was mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Joe Biden last year, surprised the political world in May when she announced that she would not seek another term as mayor.
While city elections in St. Petersburg are officially non-partisan, Welch is a Democrat and Blackmon is a Republican, and the race has taken on a partisan hue, with endorsements from party leaders on both sides..
In Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez won re-election in a landslide against four little known candidates.
She won 86% in the first round of voting in October, prompting the second-place candidate, City Council member Javiera Caballero, to suspend her campaign.