We don't mention the word gerrymander every day here in Northeast Florida. When we do, however, it's always in conjunction with the name Corrine Brown.
The congresswoman's district sprawls down the map like democracy etherized on a table, stretching from Orange County through Orange Park and the non-Town Center/gated-community parts of Duval, segmented according to the color bar and a complex algorithm. District 5 is a cartographical cluster fashioned from the fever dreams of the Florida Republican Party — pack African-Americans in one district, diluting the power of the Democrats' vote to ensure that their walking flag pins can win everywhere else.
The GOP happily will cede a few minority-majority districts to fulfill their corporate conservative agenda. And here, Corrine Delivers, and has for years. Since 1992, Corrine Brown has benefitted from the most egregiously gerrymandered district of the modern era — despite public grousing, judicial challenges, and even a state constitutional amendment. But then, with the stroke of a pen, one federal judge changed all that.
Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, a Democratic appointee from the Chiles administration, shredded the Florida congressional maps, drawn by the state Legislature, in a recent 41-page ruling. Lewis found that the construction of two Florida congressional districts — Brown's, and one belonging to Republican Dan Webster in Central Florida — came about through a "secret, organized campaign" by GOP operatives, and that the "shadow redistricting process … made a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting." (Last week, the Legislature decided not to appeal, but asked the judge not to order the districts to be redrawn until after the November elections. Convenient, that.)
Brown's district now hangs in the balance. As she has since 1995, when the judiciary first took issue with these maps, Brown went ad hominem, blasting the Democratic appointee as an "activist judge" (deftly lifting language from the GOP hacks whose dirty work she is doing).
"Minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter-like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district ‘compactness,' while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state," Brown said in a response to the ruling.
Corrine's case boils down to the idea that her district is somehow an entity, a real community, solely because of its shared representation (i.e., her). This is a disenfranchising delusion, abetted by the Florida Republican Party, which decorously has failed to mount a serious challenge to her since the days of 1200 Baud Modems.
For more than two decades now, Corrine has held her seat with the help of the Florida GOP's fielding of piss-weak "bum of the month" chumps to run against her. The logic? As former GOP chair Tom Slade said in 2003, "We've tried and failed to whip Corrine Brown on any number of occasions. But there's an old saying in Southern politics that there ain't no education in the third, fourth or fifth kick of a mule."
And there ain't no reason for the GOP to dispatch that mule to pasture either, no way no how. She more than earns her keep.
Corrine siphons off minority voters from other districts, protecting Ander Crenshaw and the rest from legit competition. But she confers other benefits across the aisle as well.
For credulous crackers in Northeast and Central Florida, she is the face of the Democratic Party and a heat magnet nonpareil. Most discussions about Rep. Brown among low-information white voters tend to be of the "Can you believe she said this?" or "I'm glad she's not my congresswoman" variety. She pushes the buttons of the Republican Party's target audience, this New Country Walmart Patriot Crowd. It's been thus for a quarter-century.
There are 540,000 more registered Dems in Florida, yet seven more Republicans than Democrats from this state in Congress — a tangible consequence of this gerrymandering. Meanwhile, Northeast Florida has no chance at electing local senators (as we are politically disempowered), and we have two representatives for life in Ander and Corrine. Why not just dispense with the ballot entirely?