What’s at stake in Florida on Election Day? Maintaining Political Balanceby K. Barrett Bilali, The Miami Times firstname.lastname@example.org November 2, 2018
Elections have consequences. This election could change the political balance in Washington or make a balanced, representative government. Currently, Republicans control the House, the Senate, the presidency and with the recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the judicial branch.
But the nation is poised to see the rise of Black political empowerment as Stacey Abrams and Ben Jealous have a chance of winning the governorship of Georgia and Maryland respectively, both Southern states with racist histories.
For Black Floridians, this could be the most-consequential and historic election in their lifetimes.
Locally, this election could result in Florida gaining its first Black governor and attorney general, the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons, new legislation to improve blighted Black communities, the end of a 20-year stretch of Republicans controlling the state, and so much more. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is making a run to put Democrats in the governor’s mansion by besting Republican former U.S. Rep., Ron DeSantis.
Historians, students and activists – both young and old – weigh in on what Election Day 2018 means and some of the far-reaching effects that will occur the day, years and decades afterward.
Rudy Jean-Bart, an assistant professor of history at Broward College, sees a more historic element to the political decisions that will be determined next Tuesday.
“I think as people of color we have to be extremely mindful that throughout American history, we have been disenfranchised to not be as engaged in the voting process. And legislation is passed that is disadvantageous to us,” Jean-Bart said.
Jean-Bart said that Republicans have been effective in limiting the vote of Blacks and restricting the right of felons as a means to limit Black votes.
“If Amendment Four is passed that can definitely change the political landscape of Florida.” Amendment Four is a ballot referendum that, if passed, gives ex-felons the right to vote again unless they were convicted of murder or sexual assault.
“With more Black and Brown people voting, that may result in legislation, which would be more advantageous to us as a people,” said Jean-Bart. “Therefore, a lot is at stake in this election just like a lot is at stake in any election. But I will say that in Florida, what makes this election unique, is that we have the first Black gubernatorial nominee running. Andrew Gillum is running for office as a viable candidate.”
Gillum is the first Black gubernatorial nominee in the history of the state of Florida. Abrams would be the first Black, female governor of Georgia. It’s the first time in history that three Black people are seeking governorships at the same time.
“This is definitely an election of historic nature when it comes to Black people.”
Jean-Bart also weighed in on the historical significance of the attorney general race as well.
“Having a Black attorney general would have an impact on stand your ground. That is definitely going to be an interesting race to watch,” said Jean-Bart. “The dynamics would shift should Sean Shaw be elected attorney general.”
For those who are incarcerated, as well as the effect of the stand your ground law, two cases came to mind: Trayvon Martin and Markeis McGlockton. The shootings of Martin in 2012 and McGlockton this year ignited debates and national protests against a law that allows someone to use deadly force if they feel threatened, sometimes with no consequence.
“There are an awful lot of issues which will be determined by this election,” said Bradford Brown who serves as vice president of the Miami-Dade Branch of NAACP and has been active in the civil rights struggle since the early 1960s.
“To me, the most important things are the judges,” said Brown.
Brown is concerned that three Supreme Court justices in the state of Florida face mandatory retirement next year. And the next governor will appoint their replacements.
“Those three judges will determine the shape of the court for decades,” said Brown.
“We could have very conservative judges who will tend to crush our civil rights or Andrew Gillum who will appoint three progressive judges,” said Brown.
Brown also sees the taking of the Senate from the Republicans as crucial so they will not continue to reshape the federal judiciary.
“Senator Nelson’s re-election is absolutely critical,” said Brown. “They [Senate Democrats] can’t afford to lose anybody.”
Tameka Hobbs is a native Floridian and African Studies history professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia.
“It is very important to vote for Andrew Gillum for governor – not just because of his politics and his race – but because of how his opponent behaves and how DeSantis represents the Trump agenda,” said Hobbs.
She expressed regret with not being able to vote in her birth state for Gillum and Amendment Four.
Hobbs said there was a concerted effort by whites to undermine the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote in 1870. Certain crimes were punishable by the loss of voting rights. “When we talk about this law, it is really a holdover from this blatantly discriminatory practice,” Hobbs said. “That type of law is a holdover from the days of Reconstruction,” said Hobbs.
She had a simple message for her fellow Floridians.
“Our civil rights have risen or fallen based on our voting rights. When we vote we have had increased protections. If not, we see a decline. So vote,” Hobbs said.
Dadly Joseph is a 38-year-old activist with Fight for 15 who believes that his fate and the security of his family is tied to increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“I can’t really take care of them at all,” said Joseph about his responsibilities to his family.
“I’m trying to make it, but it ain’t working. With $15 an hour I could pay for some of the money for my kids to go to college,” said Joseph. “What we are making now can’t even pay your rent.”
Joseph is so deeply committed to this issue that he actively protests in front of different McDonald’s with other members of Fight for 15.
“This [election] is about putting someone into government or Congress just like us. Ordinary people like us. It will guarantee unionizing and help a lot of urban communities, especially like mine in Little Haiti.”
Students at Miami Northwestern Senior High School understand the importance of voting. They produced and published a video encouraging all people to vote on youtube.com entitled, “Our vote matters.”
The video begins with two students saying they are not voting because nothing really changes. But then a student shows them the video on her cellphone.
“Each of us has a moral responsibility – if we are of voting age and if we are registered to participate. I come here to urge every person to go the polls and vote,” says Martin Luther King Jr. as a lead-in for the video. And then the kids begin their song.
“You better vote, because our vote matters,” are only some of words in a song written by Thomas Demerritte of the Admit Program. The program provides music intervention projects for youth in the community.
“On August 28, 1963, Dr. King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, tweeted
Gillum before the primary. “On August 28, 2008, President Obama accepted his nomination for President. On August 28, 2018, I’m going to win the Democratic primary for Governor of Florida.”
Gillum won the Democratic primary, his first step to making his pronouncement ring true.