As we go into 2019 and fast approach the 2020 presidential sweepstakes, Florida Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis is getting a head start over Democrats in that key battleground state. He is showing that he is committed to rectifying racial injustice and having a diversified administration while Florida Democrats have shown they disrespect their black voter base.
DeSantis, who selected Cuban-American Jeanette Nuñez as his running mate, has already taken two major steps towards racial justice and diversity in government.
First, in a move that exemplifies leadership in rectifying past racial injustice in the state, DeSantis announced that pardoning the “Groveland Four” will be a “priority” when he takes office.
The Groveland Four case involved four young black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949 in Groveland. They were murdered, tortured, or wrongly imprisoned by a sheriff in Lake County. It has been called one of the worst acts of racism in the state’s already tarnished racial history including the infamous Rosewood massacre in 1923.
For perspective, according to a 2015 report from the Equal Justice Initiative on lynching in the American South reported in the Feb. 11, 2015, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Florida was “among the most brutal in the country when it comes to race-fueled executions of black people.”
The report states that, per capita, “Floridians lynched at a higher rate than any other state” and that of the 12 states analyzed, “Florida ranked fifth, with 331 terror lynchings …”
For a complete understanding of the horror of lynchings, the New Times link (browardpalmbeach.com/content/printView/6470940) shows a photo of the Fort Lauderdale lynching of 37-year-old Reuben Stacy with a smiling white girl in the crowd looking on.
The case has been a scab on the skin of Florida justice for decades. Last year, the legislature unanimously asked Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to pardon the men.
They refused to act!
In stark contrast, DeSantis applauded the legislature saying that “Justice was miscarried for the Groveland Four,” and that, “We should be shocked by the acts of evil that were done…” Most encouraging, he said that he looked forward to “making the cases of the Groveland Four a priority for the first meeting of the Florida Cabinet in January.”
Let’s see how many black and white Democrats, civil rights groups and black journalists give him any credit for taking this stand!
In addition to his comments on the Groveland Four, he has also moved to have a diversified administration. Among his first administration appointments are two outstanding black public servants — Jamal Sowell and Ken Lawson.
Sowell, current chief of staff at the Port of Tampa Bay, was tapped to be the president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida, the state’s main business recruitment arm.
Lawson, who headed the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) and Visit Florida under Rick Scott, was appointed to be executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
Hopefully, DeSantis will continue to make such appointments – especially to Judicial Nominating Commissions, the courts, public hospitals, and other boards and commissions. He has also reached across the aisle and named Democrats to head two other key agencies: the Department of Revenue and the Division of Emergency Management.
DeSantis’ exhibiting racial sensitivity and diversity in hiring is in stark contrast to the “Plantation”-style leadership of the Florida Democratic Party.
As quiet as it has been kept, Francesca Menes, a black Haitian-American immigrant rights activist – and treasurer of the Florida Democratic Party – resigned her position accusing the state party of ignoring black voices.
But for the Miami New Times, her story probably would not have even been noticed. As reported in that paper, she said in an online post:
“As a state officer of the Florida Democratic Party, there was no real respect towards me or the 2 other Black State Officers. We are always kept out of the loop, having to demand information only to get dismissed.”
She went on to state that she felt like the party treated her and others like “token black people, so they can brag that three of its four state officers are black, and that two have Caribbean backgrounds. But in reality, we didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was scary.”
She said that other black state officials had expressed similar concerns, but were choosing to remain quiet about the party in order to keep their jobs.
It appears that the Legislature’s Black Caucus and the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida left her twisting in the wind.
According to the most recent voter registration statistics from the Florida Department of State, blacks comprise almost 30 percent of the state’s registered Democratic voters – 1,406,000 out of 4,950,000 voters. Without blacks, the party would be in big trouble!
But, knowing that blacks are ignored by the Republican Party establishment, and that black Democrats make few demands in return for their votes, Florida Democratic Party leaders have nothing to fear in Menes’ resignation and criticisms and will continue to take “their”
blacks for granted.
If DeSantis continues to show empathy for black concerns as noted above, and on issues such as school choice, Democrats will take blacks for granted at their own peril in 2020!
Clarence V. McKee, a former co-owner of WTVT-TV in Tampa and former president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political, and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration and Reagan presidential campaigns.