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Ron DeSantis’s Race Problem

In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida appointed Jeffery Moore, a former tax law specialist with the Florida Department of Revenue, to be a county commissioner in Gadsden, the blackest county in the state.

On Friday, Moore resigned after a picture emerged that appeared to show him dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Neither Moore nor DeSantis have confirmed that Moore is in fact the man in the picture. When Politico reached out to Desantis’s office for comment, his communication director responded, “We are in the middle of hurricane prep, I’m not aware of the photo you sent but Jeff did submit his resignation last week.”

This is not the first, shall I say, “awkward” racial issue DeSantis had encountered. But throughout, he has had much the same response: Instead of addressing the issue directly, he — or his office — claims to be oblivious. That’s the DeSantis M.O.

In a 2018 gubernatorial debate, the moderator asked DeSantis why he had spoken at several conferences hosted by David Horowitz, a conservative writer who the Southern Poverty Law Center says is a “driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Black movements.” Horowitz once said that President Barack Obama was an “evil man” who “will send emissaries to Ferguson for a street thug who got himself killed attempting to disarm a police officer, resisting arrest.”

There, too, DeSantis claimed obliviousness, responding, “How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement someone makes?”

It was in that debate that his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum said, “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

The problem, of course, is that DeSantis’s unfortunate associations keep stacking up.

In 2018, he appointed Michael Ertel, then a county elections supervisor, to be his secretary of state. The following year, Ertel resigned after a picture emerged of him in blackface wearing a T-shirt that read “Katrina Victim.” He appeared to be mocking Black women in particular, because he wore fake breasts, a scarf wrapped around his head and large gold earrings.

Hurricane Katrina killed more than a thousand people, a slight majority of whom were Black.

DeSantis responded to the controversy by saying: “It’s unfortunate. I think he’s done a lot of good work.” He continued, “I don’t want to get mired into kind of side controversies, and so I felt it was best to just accept the resignation and move on.” Not a word of condemnation for the act or sympathy for the victims of the storm. Also, not a word of his ownpersonal regret for appointing him.

Now, maybe the pool of possible Republican appointees in Florida is hopelessly polluted with white men who like to dress in racist costumes. That’s damning, if true. Maybe DeSantis is simply doomed by appalling options. That could well be the harvest of the Republican Party sowing hatred. Or maybe DeSantis is just too dense to do his homework. That may well be true, although I have no sympathy for it.

This is a man who championed and signed Florida’s ridiculous “Stop WOKE Act,”restricting how race can be discussed in the state’s schools and workplaces. You can’t live in the dark on race and then try to drag your whole state into the darkness with you.

I have always thought of DeSantis as reading the rules of villainy from a coloring book and acting them out. Nothing about him says clever and tactical. He seems to me the kind of man who must conjure confidence, who is fragile and feisty because of it, a beta male trying desperately to convince the world that he’s an alpha.

But there is a way in which race policy reaches far beyond being merely racist-adjacent. DeSantis, for instance, has actually tried to strip Black Floridians of their power and voice.

In 2010, Florida voters, by a strong majority, approved a constitutional amendment rejecting gerrymandering. The amendment made clear that “districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”

Yet Florida’s Republican-led Legislature produced a gerrymandered map anyway. In 2015, the state Supreme Court struck down much of the Legislature’s proposed map, and demanded that eight House districts be redrawn. Among them was the Fifth District, which at the time snaked up the state from Orlando to Jacksonville. The redrawn map allowed Black voters to elect four Black representatives.

In the decade between 2010 and 2020, there was a 14.6 percent increase in the population of the state, nearly twice the rate of growth of the country — and enough to earn Florida a 28th congressional district.

But when the Legislature drew its map this cycle, it didn’t increase the number of minority districts, even though minorities had driven 90 percent of the population growth in the state — growth that had earned Florida its new district. (Most of that growth was among Hispanics.)

As the staff director of the Florida Senate’s Committee on Reapportionment told The Tampa Bay Times, state legislators initially set out to keep the number of Black- and Hispanic-majority districts the same as they had been for the past few years.

That wouldn’t have been fair, but at least the number of minority seats wouldn’t be cut. That wasn’t enough for DeSantis. He submitted his own redistricting map that cut the number of Black-controlled districts in half, taking them from four to two. The legislature went along and approved DeSantis’s map.

DeSantis may pretend to be oblivious to the racial acts and statements of the people he associates with and appoints, but eliminating Black power and representation was a conscious act.

Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying this: He has targeted Black people, Black power and Black history.

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