Brown offers fiery rhetoric, but no data, for claims on new district

Marc Caputo | Politico Florida | 08/13/2015

TALLAHASSEE—Fighting to save her congressional district, Rep. Corrine Brown publicly addressed two state legislative committees on Thursday and predicted the new seat drawn by legislators will disenfranchise minorities.

But Brown, an African-American Democrat elected in 1992 to a heavily Democratic seat, offered no data to back up her claims and instead spoke of racial injustice — from Trayvon Martin’s shooting to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Brown’s current district, which zigs and zags from heavily black areas in Jacksonville to Orlando, has been held up as a poster-child for gerrymandering. Because so many African Americans vote Democrat, her current district helps “bleach” adjacent districts, making them more white and more Republican, giving the edge to the GOP, which also controls the Legislature, where the maps are drawn.

Citing the Fair Districts amendment that were approved by voters to prohibit gerrymandering, the Florida Supreme Court last month ordered the district to be drawn west from Jacksonville to Tallahassee to create a new minority-access seat that has fewer twists and turns. Brown claimed the proposed district only looked minority-heavy because it had a high number of prisons that were filled with African-Americans.

Brown wasn’t pressed for details by the committee of friendly state legislators, many of whom resent that the Legislature was ordered to redraw at least eight of 27 congressional districts by the justices.

After she testified, Brown told reporters that the new district “clearly” was drawn to lessen the chances of minority representation.

“District 5, they knew when they drew it, would not elect an African-American nor will it elect a Democrat," she said. "So I have no idea why they drew that district.”

Brown, who has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the redistricting effort, said that “we’re celebrating the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And it is under attack. And this is an example of the attack. … I guess you think that the African-Americans should be the sacrificial lambs.”

A Florida Times-Union reporter pointed out that former state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee might run for the new seat and that, if either he or Brown wins the primary, the district would still be represented by an African-American.

The reporter also noted that a new minority-heavy seat in Central Florida, District 10, could increase minority representation by a net of one member of Florida’s congressional delegation under the proposed maps.

“You don’t draw districts about who could win and who’s not gonna win. District 5 as it is drawn, an African-American is not going to win,” Brown said.

Brown insisted that was the case, without providing specific statistics, and the following is a transcript of her responses to repeated questions from POLITICO Florida and the News Service of Florida about her claims.

QUESTION: “The statistics don’t show that [an African-American would not win the district].”

BROWN: “Yes it does.”

QUESTION: “Let me read these statistics. … These were run by two analysts: The African-American share of the 2012 and 2014 Democratic Primary was 63 percent. The primary. That’s the voters in the primary: 63 percent. The African-American share of the 2014 general election is 42 percent and the general election in 2012 was 46 percent. That is a minority-access seat by definition. That’s just African-Americans in that newly drawn District 5. How can you say it’s not a minority access seat?”

BROWN: “Because of the number of people that’s in that district—"

QUESTION: “These are voters. Those statistics are voters. That has nothing to do with prisons.”

BROWN: “Excuse me. Because of the number of voters in that district and the history in that district. And let’s be clear.”

QUESTION: “These are black voters we’re talking about. This is a minority-access seat according to the voting percentages. How can you say it’s not a minority-access seat?”

BROWN: “Listen. I say it’s not.”

QUESTION: “Based on what?”

BROWN: “I say it’s a nonperforming district.”

QUESTION: “I understand that if you say something you think it’s true. What’s your statistics? What are your numbers?

BROWN: “The point is — I’m not giving you the numbers.”

QUESTION: “Because you don’t have them.”

BROWN: “Excuse me, who are you?”

QUESTION: “Marc Caputo, with POLITICO.”

BROWN: “OK. Let me explain something to you, we will get you—”

QUESTION: “Why don’t you explain to me what the statistics are since you’ve cited them up there [while testifying in committee] but you don’t have them?”

BROWN: “Listen, I’ll tell you what. I will be in court, with the case in court. And that’s where we’ll deal with this. Because the fact of the matter is, based on how the Florida Supreme Court drew the district, it disenfranchised the people that live in the Fifth Congressional District.”

NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: “Barack Obama carried that district by more than 20 points. How can you say it won’t elect a Democrat?”

BROWN: “It won’t elect an African-American one. And it won’t elect a Democrat.”

NEWS SERVICE: “But Barack Obama carried it by 20 points.”

BROWN: “Well, we’ll see.”


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