Democratic members of the Florida congressional delegation are pressing Gov. Ron DeSantis to set up a Special Election to replace their late colleague, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.
Hastings passed away last week following a cancer battle. Though Hastings’ seat in Florida’s 20th Congressional District is a federal office, Gov. DeSantis has the authority to set the date and time for the Special Election filling such a vacancy. That goes for the respective party primary elections as well as the General Election.
“There are 800,00 people in his district who do not, now, have representation,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel on a Zoom conference call Friday.
“This is probably one of the most critical moments in all of our lives as we come out of the pandemic. And really, never has there been a bigger need for government to be there side-by-side with constituents helping them get back on their feet.”
Frankel was joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who backed a letter to the Governor pushing for a concrete timeline on when that election would take place.
The two most recent congressional vacancies came after Rep. Robert Wexler announced he would resign from his House seat, effective Jan. 2010, and when Rep. Bill Young passed away in 2013. Those seats were filled within three to five months of becoming vacant. That would put Hastings’ seat on track to be filled in the July-September range.
That former example saw former then-Gov. Crist charged with selecting the date to replace Wexler. On Friday, he said constituents’ needs come first when weighing how quickly to act.
“There doesn’t have to be much time between when it’s vacated and when you make that announcement. I lived it. I did it,” Crist explained.
But DeSantis is not required to follow past precedent, and with just over a week elapsing since Hastings’ death, he’s been mum as to when a Special Election might take place. That’s prompted congressional Democrats to urge DeSantis not to delay.
“Though we all represent South Florida, the needs of residents of Belle Glade may be different than those of Fort Lauderdale,” Deutch said.
“They deserve to have their own representative. All of Alcee’s constituents deserve to have a Representative in Washington. The Governor was a former Congressman. He knows the important role that a Representative can play in representing the unique needs and views of his or her constituents.”
The issue goes beyond replacing a lawmaker — who was Florida’s longest-serving delegation member at the time of his death — who many consider a trailblazer. DeSantis’ decision has political repercussions as well.
After Republicans ate into the Democratic House majority this past November, Hastings’ open seat leaves Democrats with just a six-vote majority. That could put in peril some parts of the Democrats’ agenda. Just a handful of defectors could kill a measure, and any additional vacancies would slash that margin further.
“I think our concern is that there’s such a close majority of Democrats in the House that any stalling, any less Democrats that are there…makes it more difficult for us to get what we think is a very commonsense agenda through,” Frankel explained.
Wasserman Schultz echoed those concerns. “Republicans might see a vacancy as one less vote in Washington to pass the American Jobs Plan that will put millions of people to work by rebuilding our crumbling national infrastructure,” she said.
“Some Republicans could see the Congressman’s passing as one less voice to speak up to protect our elections, or to demand we pass commonsense gun safety measures. These are all causes that Congressman Hastings felt passionately about — and that his constituents do as well — and that he fought tirelessly to bring about. Gov. DeSantis should not run out the clock on giving the residents of South Florida a voice in Washington to continue those fights.”
Candidates have already begun declaring their intent to run in the impending Special Election. A newly released poll from a Democratic consultant expected to work in the race showed Broward Commissioner Dale Holness and state Sen. Perry Thurston as possible leading contenders for the Democratic nod. It’s unclear how the race will shape out once the field is finalized, however.
Wasserman Schultz said those candidates — and Hastings’ constituents — should be given a timeline for the race as soon as possible.
“There’s no good reason — none whatsoever — to wait one more day to replace the giant shoes that Alcee Hastings left behind, unless of course you want to play petty partisan politics or have no regard for your own state’s constituents,” Wasserman Schultz argued. “That’s the only reason for DeSantis to delay calling an election.”