Special Elections
Opinion

Dally, Dither and Delay: Ron DeSantis and Special Elections

Over the past several months, an alarming new trend has emerged from the DeSantis administration: a complete disregard for the norms of representative democracy. Specifically, there has been a willingness to suppress the voices of hundreds of thousands of predominantly Democratic constituents.

This suppression of constituents’ voices began when Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida, died of pancreatic cancer on April 6.

On May 4, after nearly a month of being unoccupied, DeSantis called for a special election to be held for the vacant seat. The primary election was set for Nov. 2 while the general election is set to be held Jan. 11, 2022.

While this may not seem abnormal, only a month earlier, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, resigned to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, called for a special election on March 18, eight days later. He then set the primary election for Aug. 3 and the special election for Nov. 2.

These two situations illustrate a huge difference in handling vacancies in the U.S. House. Though the two seats were vacated a month apart — both in districts where the previous representative had been a Democrat and the state’s governor a Republican — the people of Florida’s 20th district will have no representation for nearly one month more than the people of Ohio’s 11th district.

This is not an error made by the DeSantis administration. In contrast to the relatively moderate and bipartisan DeWine, DeSantis has made a name for himself trying to suppress the people’s voices. This is perhaps best illustrated by his recent signing of a widely derided election ‘security’ bill, the real purpose of which was to suppress the voting rights of minorities, the disabled and young people.

This was a blatantly partisan move, made to deprive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of a solidly Democratic vote on the House floor when Democrats already have a narrowing majority in which every vote matters.

It took a lawsuit to get DeSantis to perform his constitutionally mandated duty. Had this lawsuit not been brought, the people of Florida’s 20th Congressional District might still have no end to their lack of representation.

Yet, this is not the end of the FL-20 saga. 

In the state of Florida, an officeholder running for another office must resign in order to legally run. Known as the ‘resign to run’ law, it was expanded in 2018 to apply to federal offices — including elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. The resignations are irreversible and effective at the start of the aspired offices’ new term. 

Due to this law, three state lawmakers, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth Beach, resigned from their current positions to run for Alcee Hastings’s old seat. 

This has created three vacancies, all in (again) heavily Democratic strongholds. 

The above resignations will take effect on Jan. 11, the first day of the 2022 legislative session. After dawdling his way into another lawsuit — this one accusing him of suppressing the voices of constituents and playing partisan games — DeSantis recently set these new special election primary dates for Jan. 11, with the general elections all occurring on March 8.

The already outnumbered Democrats will see their ranks further dwindle during the two months of the year when they are most needed.

Even if votes were counted instantaneously and the winners were certified immediately, the three new (presumably) Democratic legislators would have, at most, three days to cast votes in legislative session before it ends — the last session before the 2022 elections.

Coincidence? I think not. Neither does Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, the gregarious Florida House minority co-leader. 

In an interview with the Florida Political Review, he unequivocally stated that DeSantis’s action “was a political move to guarantee Democrats have a little bit less power to make it that much more difficult” for the Democrats to do anything. 

He blasted DeSantis, saying the situation is “shameful” and that “the best case scenario is willful ignorance,” while “it just looks punitive at this point.” 

Once they are officially deprived of three colleagues who resigned for the rare opportunity to run for Congress, there will be roughly “300,000 [predominantly] people of color who will have absolutely no representation at all,” stated Jenne.

Luckily, he noted that the “pragmatic” House Democratic Caucus had been preparing for this for a long time, promising that the constituents residing in the affected districts will be protected by neighboring legislators who will do their best to offer their services. 

Jenne, currently in his final term, pointed out that even when the new legislators take their seats, they “will be playing catchup,” and in Florida’s notoriously labyrinthine Capitol, “they’re not going to be able to find their office.”

It is exceedingly regrettable that hundreds of thousands of Floridians must put up with a governor who thinks their voices are not as important as his partisan machinations.

As the events of this year have shown us, Republicans around the country are using false pretenses to silence and intimidate voters, all in an attempt to appease the puppeteer of the Republican Party, Donald Trump. 

Even after the draconian ‘security’ law was passed in June, DeSantis is no exception. As governor, he has gone above and beyond to become Trump’s most treasured lapdog — at the cost of far too many voices.

Unfortunately, as recently illustrated, only litigation can properly fight DeSantis. Next time a vacancy occurs, Floridians can hope for DeSantis to see the light, but we must also draft our lawsuits.

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured image: Unmodified photo from WikiMedia Commons used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/328Lobp)

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