In 2010, Floridians passed a constitutional amendment mandating that all congressional districts should be drawn without political intentions. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that Florida's current federal congressional districts don't meet the standards set by the amendment, which has led to a giant political mess about how to redraw them. Then the state legislature failed to reach a plan, and a judge will end up approving new congressional districts.
Well, adding a new twist to the drama is a recording that has surfaced in which state Rep. Janet Adkins talks about a plan to defeat longtime African-American Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown — by packing her new district with prisoners.
U.S. Rep. Brown's district has been one of the most controversial issues in the redistricting plan. The boundaries of her district as they stand now snake all the way from inner-city Jacksonville to Orlando and were drawn in order to include as many African-American voters as possible. The amendment's language mandates that new districts should be geographically tight and respect existing municipal boundaries.
Well, at last month's Republican Party of Florida quarterly meeting, state Rep. Janet Adkins was caught on tape telling activists that she believed Brown's district was being drawn in such a way as to ensure that Brown would be defeated by a Republican.
“Let me give you inside ball game. Are there any reporters in here?” Adkins asked the group before jumping into her explanation. “Any reporters? OK. So, inside ball game.”
"You draw [Brown's seat] in such a fashion so perhaps, a majority, or maybe not a majority, but a number of them will live in the prisons, thereby not being able to vote,” she continued.
As it turns out, however, the entire discussion was caught on tape and leaked to Politico.
In Florida, convicted felons must undergo an onerous process in order to get their right to vote restored. They certainly aren't allowed to vote from prison. However, felons are counted among the population of political districts, and they count in the district in which they're being held, not in the district in which they lived before being locked up.
Several proposals to redraw Brown's district includes a high concentration of prisoners.
So Adkins seems to think that the key to keeping Brown's seat as a minority-majority district, while still giving a Republican a chance to win, is to have as many African-American prisoners as possible in Brown's new district.
When contacted by Politico, Adkins says she was having a private conversation, is not on the redistricting subcommittee, and only has information that she's heard from the media.
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Rep. Brown, however, is not pleased.
Here's her full statement:
“I have been saying from the outset that the newly proposed boundaries of Congressional District 5 make it a non-performing district not only for an African American, but for a member of the Democratic Party. Clearly, those who drew up the map knew that the new congressional district has 18 prisons in it. And they also know that in the state of Florida, felons cannot vote; so not only was the black voting age population (VAP) decreased from 50-45%, many who were counted in this 45% are incapable of voting, so the number is, in reality, nowhere near 45%.
Indeed, the diminishment of the black voting age population in this newly drawn district, which consists of 18 prisons that holds 17,000 prisoners, would give the newly drawn congressional district 5 one of the highest prison populations in the state. Moreover, the percentage of black inmates is proportionally higher than in the rest of the state’s population, wherein African Americans make up only 16% of the total population, yet make up 46% of the prison population. And since the federal government requires states to count prisoners as residents of the towns where they are held, not where they are from, the official number of African Americans in the newly drawn CD 5 is completely distorted, again, making the district extraordinarily difficult for a minority candidate to win."