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Florida Lawmaker Says Gerrymandered State Maps Are Part of Racist Strategy, “Not Just a Culture War”

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Image Credit: Princeton Gerrymandering Project

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed into law a gerrymandered voting map that virtually guarantees Republicans four more seats in Congress while likely cutting the number of Black Democrats elected. The measure passed along party lines Thursday but was delayed when Black Florida lawmakers staged an impromptu sit-in protest. “Republicans cannot continue to disenfranchise Black voters,” says state Senator Shevrin Jones, a Democratic member of Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus who took part in the protest and who calls the gerrymandering part of a larger suite of “racist tactics” enacted by Republicans across the country.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In Florida, the Republican governor and possible presidential contender, Ron DeSantis, has signed into law a gerrymandered congressional voting map that virtually guarantees Republicans four more seats in Congress while likely cutting the number of Black Democrats elected. The measure passed along party lines Thursday during a special session called by the governor. But it was delayed when Black Florida lawmakers staged an impromptu sit-in.

BLACK FLORIDA LAWMAKERS: Whose house? The people’s house! Whose house? The people’s house! Whose house? The people’s house!

Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like! Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!

We are the people! We are the people! The mighty, mighty people! The mighty, mighty people! Fighting for justice!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Florida state Representative Dianne Hart, a Democrat from Tampa, live-streaming video from the floor of the Florida House chamber as she joined the protest. She said DeSantis’s map is meant to disenfranchise Black voters.

REP. DIANNE HART: We know that what the governor is doing with these maps is not fair. He is taking us from four representatives to two. That’s not fair. He should have allowed us, the Legislature, to draw maps. His job is to either accept them or veto them. But he’s not doing that. Instead, he’s sending his own map, and he’s saying, “If you don’t vote on my map the way I want my map to be, then guess what: You won’t get a map.”

AMY GOODMAN: The governor signed the bill into law on Friday. The controversial plan immediately drew a legal challenge.

Also last week, Governor DeSantis signed into law a measure approved by Republican state lawmakers to rescind Disney World’s self-governing status, after he and his allies blasted Disney for opposing Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

But right now we go to Florida, where we’re joined in Miami Gardens by Democratic Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones, member of Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus. He is a Bahamian American, also Florida’s first openly gay state senator.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Senator Shevrin Jones. It’s great to have you with us.

SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you start off by talking about the walkout by the Black Caucus and why you walked out?

SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: Yeah, well, the House Democrats, they did exactly what was on the heels and what was going to happen eventually, because in Florida we have been dealing with, for the past four years, this constant attack on the Black community and on marginalized communities at large. And so, the House Democrats, they did what was warranted. That was they shut the House down.

Now, I will say that the House Democrats and how they — and what they’ve done, they made clear that if they are going to make laws like 1960, they will protest like it’s 1960. The Republicans cannot continue to disenfranchise Black voters, disenfranchise and take our voices away from us, and expect nothing to bring attention to what’s happening in Florida. If we can’t win inside the chambers, we have to bring attention one way or another. And so, the House Democrats, Black Caucus members felt that this was the best way to bring attention nationally to what Florida is doing.

AMY GOODMAN: It so much reminded me of John Lewis sitting literally on the floor of the House with other congressmembers in that national protest that took place, what you all did in the Florida Legislature. And yet Governor DeSantis signed on Friday. Explain more what this means, not only for Florida, because it sure looks like, from this to “Don’t Say Gay,” we’re talking about as goes Florida, so goes, well, a number of other states in the nation.

SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: Yeah, Amy. What we’re seeing right now, we’re seeing Florida is pushing our judicial system. They want to see how far they can take it, because the Republicans in Florida know good and well that what they did is unconstitutional. Since Reconstruction, we’ve only had 11 Black congressional members. Now we only have five Black congressional members, four which are actually access seats. Now with this new map that just went into place, we will only have two Black access seats.

And what we are saying right now is that if other states are watching, that if Florida can do this, if Florida can go in this direction and they can get away with going totally against the people — which in 2010 we voted for the Fair District Act — if they can go along with this, that means other states can do the same.

And so, this is exactly what’s happening. The governor is an attorney. He has very smart people around him. So they know exactly what they’re doing. This is to push the judicial system to the limit, all the way to the Supreme Court, which I believe is not only dangerous for the state but is dangerous for our democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of you on the floor of the state Senate, not sitting on the floor but when you addressed the governor last week.

SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: And so, Governor DeSantis, I’m not going to call what you’re doing a culture war anymore. I’m going to call it just what it is: It’s a racist tactic that you’re doing, and you know what you’re doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Actually, that was at a news conference that you held. How did he respond?

SEN. SHEVRIN JONES: They didn’t respond at all, actually. And I think a lot of this, what we’re seeing, Amy, is all of this is just a distraction. Whether it’s Disney, whether it’s CRT, all of these things that’s happening is a distraction. But what we can’t allow to happen, we cannot allow the Black community to continue to be run over. Yesterday we had a call with over 300 people from across the state, that was put on by the NAACP. The Republicans have just awakened a sleeping giant.

You know, we already — right now within the South Florida, particularly in Miami, Miami has become the most expensive place to live. A lot of these areas that we’re speaking about are Black communities. And so, the fact that we are going to go to Tallahassee, waste our time, waste taxpayers’ money to hold a special session to take a special district away from Disney, all because you want to punish them, while ignoring the fact that we have bigger issues that we need to deal with, this is lackluster leadership at its best.

And I’ll end with this, that as we continue to move forward, that what we’re seeing right now in Florida, it is not just a culture war. It is racist tactics that is happening all across this country, that Republicans, they see that they are in distress, and they are going to great lengths to take power away from marginalized people, to pick on marginalized people. Why is that? It’s because they see their power slipping away from them. But what they’re doing is dangerous and can have long-lasting effect on the state and in this country.

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