Florida 'is in a state of confusion and chaos': Black pastors condemn DeSantis during special legislative session

A crowd of Black pastors, NAACP members and Black legislative caucus members were angry Tuesday about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempts to dilute Black congressional districts, on the first day of a special legislative session in Florida.

The group, who came to the state capital on Tuesday, also prayed and quoted Bible verses, in hopes of trying to empower voters to get out and cast their ballots so DeSantis would not be reelected in 2022.

“I’m no longer calling it a culture war. It’s racist tactics,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, who was at the steps of the Old Capitol building prior to the opening of the special session. “We are more ‘woke’ than we have ever been,” Jones said.

The atmosphere was passionate, with chants and signs, such as “Say Black Voters” and “Say Fair Districts.” Another sign said: “Protect Black Representation.”

State Rep. Tracie Davis, of Duval, stressed the importance of young people voting in the 2022 election.

Pastor R.B Holmes Jr., of Tallahassee, said, “Our beloved state is in a state of confusion and chaos. You better wake up and open your eyes to see what’s happening to this state.”

In the Capitol building, Florida lawmakers in a special session Tuesday will take up a congressional redistricting plan designed by DeSantis that will boost Republican representation while cutting back on seats likely to be won by Black people.

And, thanks to a late expansion of the agenda by DeSantis, lawmakers will also consider revoking The Walt Disney Co.’s powers to run its own affairs across its 25,000 acres of theme parks and other developments in Orange and Osceola counties.

The House came to order a few minutes after noon, with Speaker Chris Sprowls telling members the plan was to review the governor’s redistricting plan and two Disney-related bills on Tuesday ahead of floor sessions set for Wednesday and Thursday, then go home.

In the Senate, Senate President Wilton Simpson went over procedures and schedules.

State Sen. Gary Farmer, of Broward, attempted to slow down the proceedings, especially since the Disney-related bills are now part of the special session. But he was unsuccessful.

In remarks to reporters, Sprowls suggested the Legislature is hung on the horns of a dilemma — it’s own preferred map protected Black representation in part by creating a 200-mile long district from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and Gadsden County, but DeSantis insists the district comprises a “racial gerrymander.”

“The House believes and has believed from the very beginning that there are minority-access districts that are protected. The question is, is that one of them when you have to go 200 miles, stretch across the state,” he said.

But the governor rejected the Legislature’s alternative plan to create a Black-access district within Duval County, he noted.

“The court’s going to have to make a decision — it’s either all yes or all no,” Sprowls said.

As to the Disney-related bills, the legislation (HB 3-C) would sunset any special district created before the adoption of the Florida Constitution of 1968 effective on June 1, 2023, unless the Legislature has reauthorized them since then. The Legislature could reestablish them after that date, however.

That definition applies to only five of the 132 active independent special districts now in operation. They include Reedy Creek, but also the Bradford County Development Authority; the Sunshine Water Control District in Broward County; the Eastpoint Water and Sewer District in Franklin County; and the Hamilton County Development Authority.

A separate bill (HB 5-C) would repeal an exemption for Disney that the Legislature included in last year’s law cracking down on social media companies deemed to have quashed conservative voices including political candidates.

“Honestly, it has come at us so fast that we’re still trying to wrap our head around what’s happening,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, policy chair for the House Democratic caucus.

She argued the move continues the culture war initiatives the Republicans, led by DeSantis pursued during the regular session and the expense of important state needs.

“Here they are, trying to attack Disney — when you hear the name Disney, you have to remember, there are tens of thousands of stories behind that in the form of the people who work there, in the people that visit there, the tourists who come and who spend their dollars at Disney and in the surrounding area so we have the benefit and freedom of not having an income tax in the state of Florida,” Driskell said.

“The governor, I think, is overplaying his hand here. And it’s gross overreach and it’s a real shame that the Legislature is abandoning its duty to do it’s damn job, which is to write legislation and to pass bills,” she said.

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