Rontel Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer who is now running to take back her seat in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, issued the first salvo of the 2018 Democratic primary campaign against the incumbent Thursday evening.
That incumbent — Rep. Al Lawson, a moderate Democrat from Tallahassee — does not align with the priorities of the Congressional Black Caucus, per Batie.
Batie noted that this week, the CBC assembled on the East Capitol steps to honor HBCUs.
Among the Florida CBC Democrats in that photo op: Reps. Val Demings, Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings.
“While the overwhelming majority of Members were present for the photo honoring the contributions of HBCUs, there appears to be someone missing … Congressman Al Lawson. Seeing as though Rep. Lawson graduated from, and represents one of the largest HBCUs in the country, Florida A&M University (FAMU), his absence from this show of unity remains a mystery,” Batie writes.
Batie sees a pattern in Lawson’s no-show: “this ‘photo-op’ is not the first time that Al Lawson has broken with the CBC and went his own route.”
“For instance, Al Lawson also broke with the CBC in his support for vouchers and charter schools, as well as his desire to meet with President (Donald) Trump personally after the CBC decided that they wouldn’t meet with the Trump Administration as a caucus,” Batie observes.
Batie, an alumnus of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (a group that proved to be the pretext for much of the fundraising that sees Brown headed to federal prison in the coming weeks), notes that he has “spent many years working with the CBC and its stakeholders.”
“I know firsthand the importance of standing in solidarity with those who champion the issues that best serve our communities. Unfortunately, Lawson hasn’t taken the time to learn how Washington works and thus hasn’t been able to deliver much to Florida’s 5th district,” Batie writes.
Batie, who was one of the few defense witnesses for Brown in the trial that saw her convicted on 18 counts this year, is clearly trying to stake out the inside lane with the CBC before former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown gets in the race early next year.
Lawson is said to be more comfortable working with Republicans — such as Neal Dunn and John Rutherford — than with CBC Democrats.
Lawson also benefited from the financial patronage of Jacksonville Republicans ahead of the Democratic primary.
Sources tell us that Corrine Brown was in Washington with Alvin Brown earlier this year, giving CBC members the stamp of approval, should Alvin Brown primary Lawson as expected.
Corrine Brown is held in high esteem with CBC members, so much so that many of them wrote on Brown’s behalf, calling for leniency in sentencing.
Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from South Florida, spoke of a friendship going back to 1969 with Brown.
“Corrine has already lost just about everything by being convicted,” Hastings wrote, asking for a “second chance” for his former Congressional colleague.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, noted that at “some point in every life we all wish we had a do-over,” before asking Corrigan to show Brown a “small portion of the kindness, love, and caring” she has shown others.
Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, noted Brown’s “deep connection to her constituents … service for the most vulnerable members” of her district.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, lauded Brown’s “tireless work ethic, impeccable fortitude, and laudable achievements” as a “change agent for good who has earned the love and adoration of those she has served.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, wrote of Brown’s “long track record for standing for our nation’s most vulnerable communities,” citing her work after Hurricane Katrina.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, called Brown a “practical legislator who always wanted to fight for those with real needs … a colleague, a friend, a spiritual person” with “much more to contribute to our great country and the world.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, another Texas Democrat, lauded Brown’s “unbridled compassion” and asked Corrigan to take into account the “anguish” she experienced, to “judge her by the sum of her life, and not just by the mistakes that she made.”
Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, acknowledged that “lines were crossed” by Brown; however, “there was no malice or forethought on her part.”
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, called Brown a “friend, confidant, and mentor” who “cares deeply for those who have not benefited from the American dream.”
Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, noted that Brown is at the “twilight of her life and career” and — through community service — had an “opportunity to give back to her community and communities in need.”
Illinois Democrat Rep. Robin Kelly lauded Brown as a “mentor … a passionate advocate for her constituents.”
Florida Politics reached out to Lawson for comment Thursday evening; it will be added if received.