Florida’s Caribbean voters and US Congress representation

The US Capitol Building, Washington, D.C
The US Capitol Building, Washington, D.C (Photo credit: Louis Velazquez)

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Florida, with its nearly 21.5 million residents, is the third most populous state in the Union. With such a population size and its potential for continued rapid growth, Florida is expected to see an increase in Federal funding and, certainly, a matching increase in its political clout. The state is now in line to realize an increase in its US House delegation, moving from 27 to 29 members coming out of the 2020 Census. The development also slightly increases Florida’s chances of picking up a third new congressional seat, according to the Virginia-based political consulting firm Election Data Services, known as EDS.

Republican control of Florida

Politically, democrats in Florida have been pushed against the ropes as the republicans now control the state having won the two Senate seats, control of the governorship and, with the death of Florida Congressman Rep Alcee Hastings, on 6 April of this year, the ability to weaken Nancy Pelosi’s leadership in the House of Representatives. Already Governor DeSantis has shown his hand as Federal election rules defer to states the procedure to fill vacant seats in the House. While some states have their own rules about how and when vacant seats should be filled, Florida does not, and DeSantis, who was under no deadline to set a date for the election, certainly took his time in setting the poll dates. Florida law allows the governor to pick special election dates, and DeSantis decided to keep the seat vacant for more than nine months after Hastings‘s death — far longer than Florida congressional vacancies are normally unfilled. Such a move has been interpreted by many democrats as DeSantis setting the timetable for his own political reasons. It is no secret that he is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential candidacy and the delay would prevent a new democratic member of Congress from going to Washington DC and providing support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Impending elections in Broward-Palm Beach County

Congressman Alcee Hastings’s death has, nonetheless, set the political galleries in Florida alight as pretenders from all sides seek to make their own defining statements and stake their claims on the Florida political landscape. So far, 18 people have declared themselves candidates for the vacancy. The official field of candidates for the Broward-Palm Beach County 20 Congressional District will be finalized on 10 August 2021.This is the deadline to qualify for candidates who want to get on the ballot for the 2 November 2021 special primary election, and 11 January 2022 has been announced for the special general election.

To get on the ballot, a candidate must submit 1,168 valid petition signatures by 5:00 pm on 3 August or pay a qualifying fee by noon 10 August. The qualifying fee for candidates running as democrats, republicans, or libertarians is US$10,440. No-party affiliation/independent candidates must pay $6,960.

Under Florida’s resign-to-run law, people currently in elected office must submit irrevocable resignations from their current jobs to qualify to get on the ballot for a new elected office. The deadline for those resignations is 30 July, although the effective date of the resignations can be in January, when the term of new member of Congress would start. These resignations would apply to at least five announced candidates: Broward county commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief, state Representatives Bobby DuBose and Omari Hardy, and state Senator Perry Thurston. The law “seeks to prevent persons who are running for a position to have the ‘safe haven’ of a current position to which to retreat”.

Opportunity for Caribbean community

One of the unintended consequences of this race is the opportunity that it provides to have a member of the Caribbean community here in South Florida seated in the US House of Representatives. In the last 10 years the number of Americans of Caribbean extraction who have ventured into Florida politics has increased considerably. There is no longer a shortage of proven political talent within this group, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by other political groups.

The special election for Alcee Hastings’s seat provides a unique opportunity for someone who is not only cognizant of the issues impacting the Florida Caribbean community but someone who is also a member of that community to sit in the US House of Representatives and to push for programmes that will benefit Caribbean constituents. In addition, the vacancies that will be created by the resignations from the Broward County Commission provides opportunities for the elevation of candidates from various South Florida commissions to advance to the county while opening up other vacancies at the lower levels in Florida politics.

Caribbean-American voters, especially from the English and Haitian communities, would be well advised to make a study of the way in which embattled Florida District Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie has been targeted for removal from his position. It exposes the fact that at a certain level, the welcome mat is not extended to Floridians of Caribbean island extraction, and that they will stop at nothing to scuttle the candidacies of our community members seeking to make that advancement.

I am mindful of an article on the front page of the Caribbean Voice free newspaper dated May-June 2021 attacking elected Caribbean leaders. Its intent was to muddy the water and to paint certain aspirants in a negative light. The question that ought to be asked is “whose interest is being served by the promotion of such thinking?”

I believe that the time has come for the Caribbean community to operate with a single voice and vote the platform that places one of our own in the US House of Representatives.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a Jamaican creative artist residing in the United States.

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