The GOP has suffered from a pathological fear of Black folks enjoying the full rights of citizens

Photo by Hill Street Studios/Getty Images.

Let’s talk about Democracy.

It’s as endangered as the Florida Panther.

Gov. Ron DeSantis could have granted a full pardon to the former felon who’s devoted his life to helping other former felons regain the franchise, but he wouldn’t, instead saying he’d “take it under advisement.”

Desmond Meade. Credit. Screenshot, Florida Channel.

Desmond Meade, a former drug user who was dishonorably discharged from the military, has done precisely what the state asks former inmates to do: reform.

He was named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2019, he won the Bob Graham Center for Public Service’s Floridian of the Year award, and was the driving force behind Amendment 4—approved by 65 percent of Florida voters.

Nevertheless, he had to stand before the governor and Cabinet, sitting as Florida’s clemency board, asking to become a full citizen.

Meade can vote — thanks to Amendment 4 — but though he’s a trained lawyer he can’t practice law until he’s pardoned.

Meanwhile, he has to put up with the sneering likes of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis, a man with no call to lecture anyone on good behavior, insisting he needed to know whether Meade’s ex-wife, who’d accused him of domestic violence 24 years ago, had “forgiven him” before he could get all his rights back.

Since the 1960s, when Democrats, the old party of slavery and Jim Crow, switched brains with Republicans, once the party of Lincoln and emancipation, the GOP has suffered from a pathological fear of Black folks enjoying the full rights of American citizens.

As DeSantis perhaps sees it, Amendment 4 forced the state of Florida to spend a lot of your money in court defending their determination to thwart your will, so why not spite Meade by denying him a pardon?

Florida Attorney Ashley Moody (from the Florida Channel)

And now that sinister busybody billionaire Mike Bloomberg is dropping a lot of cash to pay off the fines and court costs to help a bunch of ex-felons vote, DeSantis, Patronis, and Attorney General Ashley Moody want an investigation of “potential violation of election laws” while distinguished legal scholar Matt “Brewski” Gaetz hollers that Bloomberg’s committing “bribery,” buying votes for Democrats.

Gaetz worries that most of Florida’s ex-felons will vote Democratic, what with them being disproportionately people of color.

Some of us might call this karma: Back when white folks took back power in post-Reconstruction Florida, they designed laws to disenfranchise Blacks (and later Latinos); and, thanks to the state’s persistent Old South vision of minorities as somehow inherently criminal, means that people of color still receive far harsher sentences than whites.

Bloomberg’s bucks go to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which, in turn, pays Florida courts what an ex-felon owes — if they can figure out what that is.

No potential voter gets to pocket the money; nobody forces an ex-felon to register to vote; nobody extracts a blood oath to vote for Joe Biden.

To say otherwise is silly and petty (see Matt Gaetz above).

Not to be outdone in trying to stop Americans voting, Florida’s junior senator, the ever-mendacious Rick Scott, has concocted what I’m sure he thinks is a cunning plan to disenfranchise millions, especially those with the effrontery to vote by mail in the middle of a global pandemic.

Scott’s  “Verifiable, Orderly, and Timely Elections Results (VOTER) Act” would take effect this year, forcing elections officials to wait till the morning of election day to begin counting mail-in ballots (even if they receive them weeks earlier), mandating that all votes be tallied and reported within 24 hours of the polls closing on election day.

If supervisors of elections offices can’t manage this herculean feat (and Scott knows they can’t) too bad: Leftover votes get tossed.

Existing Florida law allows counting of mailed-in ballots 22 days before and 10 days after election day, so Scott’s unworkable piece of boneheadedness would disenfranchise thousands of military voters, among others.

Republicans who can actually do math know that if everybody’s legitimate vote gets counted, Republicans lose.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina cottoned on to what was happening back in 2012: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

But that doesn’t mean they’re going to cave, demographics or no demographics, and if you don’t like it, they’ll have you arrested and thrown in jail.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has compared protests over George Floyd’s death to more frivolous gatherings as vectors for COVID-19. Shown is a recent protest in Tallahassee. Credit: YouTube.

Seriously, Ron DeSantis’ newest unconstitutional idea is to push his tame Legislature to pass a protest-quashing bill: If citizens hit the streets of Miami or Tallahassee or Ocala or Jacksonville to manifest their displeasure, the governor promises to get medieval on them.

He threatens to charge organizers of “the mob” with racketeering, coming down hard on anyone who strikes an officer, hitting demonstrators with felony charges, and giving motorists the green light to commit vehicular homicide.

Even some cops think this is a bit much.

DeSantis will not be deterred — a bunch of pinkos shouldn’t get to exercise First Amendment rights, anyway: “They’re all scraggly-looking ANTIFA-types. They get their mugshot taken, then they get released.”

Not anymore! If DeSantis gets his way, these unwashed AOC-loving, Portland-style ne’er-do-wells will be looking at jail with no bail for blocking traffic, and if convicted, they can’t ever get a state job or benefits.

Dang hippies!

But no worries, clean-cut Floridians: As long as you keep quiet and never try to use those old-timey civil liberties and rights and stuff (speaking out, demonstrating, voting), DeSantis will take care of you.

In what he called “an act of executive grace,” the idiots who’ve been swanning around Hooters or Publix without masks won’t have to pay a fine, and all the restaurants are now totally, fully open (with some caveats)!

Wait, there’s more!

No more worrying about social distancing and all that sciencey crap: The whole state is open.

Well, almost: The Governor’s Mansion — which belongs to the people of Florida — is still closed to visitors.

Wonder why that is?

Novel coronavirus SARS CoV2, which causes COVID-19. Microphotography by National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Never mind: More than 700,000 Floridians have been infected with COVID-19 and 14,000 have died; nevertheless, the governor, upset that some universities have threatened students with suspension if they get caught at huge bacchanals, will fight for your right to party.

DeSantis, a proud Delta Kappa Epsilon bro at Yale, knows from experience that indiscriminate drinking, anonymous hook-ups, and piling on each other like puppies is “what college kids do.”

As long as they’re having fun, who cares if more people die?

Makes for fewer votes to count, too.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.