Florida Democratic Party racial tensions are simmering after a Democrat-appointed judge dissolved two minority-friendly congressional districts.
The decision from Florida Panhandle Judge Terry Lewis, a white male appointed by white Democrat former Gov. Lawton Chiles, threatens to further splinter a Democrat base that is being asked to support white gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist despite Crist’s frequent attempts to derail the campaigns of black, Hispanic and female candidates.
Judge Lewis ruled last week that the state legislature must disband two congressional districts in central and northern Florida designed to enhance black and Hispanic participation in the political process.
Although both are longstanding congressional districts drawn with the approval of black and Hispanic Democrats, Lewis ruled the districts must be disbanded because minority-friendly districts are not necessary for blacks and Hispanics to have a chance of being elected to Congress in Central and North Florida.
Lewis ruled that by setting up the two minority-friendly congressional districts, Republicans unfairly reduced the minority vote in surrounding congressional districts to improve their own electoral chances in those surrounding districts.
White Democrat Party leaders celebrated Lewis’s decision while black Democrat voters criticized the decision. The decision has minority Democrats in Central and North Florida feeling the state’s white Democratic establishment is taking minorities for granted and shutting minorities out of meaningful political opportunities.
Lewis’s assertion that minorities face no special obstacles to being elected to Congress in overwhelmingly white and rural Central and North Florida struck minority public officials such as Rep. Corrine Brown as particularly dubious.
After Lewis’s decision, Brown told the press, “Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts. Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district ‘compactness,’ while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state.”
Brown and other minority advocates are considering challenging the decision as violating the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to prevent systemic minority underrepresentation in the political process.
Lewis’s order to disband the black-majority 5th Congressional District and the Hispanic-plurality 9th Congressional District is reviving minority voters’ memories of white Democrat gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist sabotaging the campaigns of Hispanic, black and female political candidates.
In the 2010 U.S. Senate election, Crist left the Republican Party in a huff after it became apparent that he would lose the party’s primary to Hispanic candidate Marco Rubio. Crist then ran as an Independent and built his election hopes around siphoning white voters away from black Democratic Party nominee Kendrick Meek.
Crist not only failed to win the general election, but he ensured that Meek lost what many Democrats considered to be a winnable race.
Leading up to this November’s Florida gubernatorial election, longtime state senator Nan Rich was the most credible candidate for the Democratic Party nomination. Rich had impeccable and longstanding liberal credentials and a history of leadership in the Florida legislature.
Crist, however, chose to enter the race and push Rich aside despite offering no substantive distinctions between himself and Rich. With Rich and Crist advocating the same positions on virtually every important election issue, the only two differences between the candidates are the fact that Rich is a woman and has been openly liberal for much longer than the recently-Republican Crist.