By Bryan Boggiano
Vice Mayor Joshua Simmons spoke out against Florida’s governance at Wednesday’s city commission meeting, decrying what he sees as political stunts and a slip toward authoritarianism.
“If you know me, you know I take our government very serious[ly], especially when it comes to the foundations of our government and what they’re built on, he said. “What we are seeing here in Florida is a dangerous trend.”
Florida’s separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches are eroding according to Simmons, specifically, he said that out of fear, the legislature caved to the executive branch.
For Simmons, Florida’s current government goes against what he learned in school.
While Simmons said he does not want to fearmonger, he said that the country’s founders set up the three branches to prevent an all-powerful or authoritarian leadership, but in Florida, this separation of powers is eroding.
Simmons cited the state’s proposed congressional maps as an example.
“When the legislative branch of our Florida government decides to give up their authority and their job…and give it up to one person so that this one person can carry out their own agenda…to challenge a federal law…they did that,” he said.
The state legislature proposed multiple maps, which DeSantis vetoed.
Florida’s 5th Congressional District was at the center of the controversy. The legislature initially proposed keeping the district intact, which stretches from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, to provide Black voters representation in Congress.
DeSantis vetoed the map, claiming it was a racial gerrymander. The legislature then redrew the map to include only Jacksonville, but DeSantis vetoed this, too, according to FiveThirtyEight.
The legislature originally fought back, claiming that taking away Black representation in the state would violate the state’s 2010 Fair Districts Amendment.
But once DeSantis began to threaten vetoes, the legislature gave in to his proposed map.
The current district’s voting population is 44 percent Black and 40 percent White. The newly approved district’s voting population is 55 percent white and 30 percent Black.
Simmons claimed that the legislature gave up their authority and jobs to give it to DeSantis, whom he did not mention by name, to carry out his own agenda against voting laws that protect minority representation.
“That goes back into the Voting Rights Act, that goes back into accessing the ballot box, that goes back to what so many Black Americans fought for in the civil rights movement,” he said. “All of that is…under attack for one person’s political ambitions.”
Simmons also took aim at other state legislative priorities, namely Disney’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill.
He said that the state should be focusing on skyrocketing rent, elevated homeowners insurance costs, affordable housing, and homelessness.
“How is it that we’re having a special session to address getting rid of a predominantly Black congressional district and then opening up to attack the House of Mouse?” Simmons said.
The bill, which the Florida legislature approved and DeSantis signed, will ban classroom instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation between kindergarten and third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Critics dubbed the bill as “Don’t Say Gay,” claiming that it goes against Florida’s LGBTQ community by being vague and potentially overreaching.
After the bill passed, Disney vowed to challenge the law’s enactment.
In response, DeSantis expanded the state’s current special session on redistricting to include possibly revoking the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a parcel of land that Disney independently operates through the Reedy Creek Improvement Act.
The state legislature voted to repeal the act in both the house and senate. DeSantis signed the repeal on Friday.
“We are in a place now where one person is acting with political retribution,” Simmons said.
Simmons said that although he speaks out against issues that others might deem controversial, he does not oppose people for their political affiliations or differences in opinion.
He said that he welcomes an open dialogue with everyone, even those he disagrees with. He strongly condemned divisiveness pervading the country.
“I respect everyone’s opinion, I respect who they vote for, I don’t get mad at anyone for who they vote for, I don’t care that’s your right to vote,” Simmons said. “But when something is wrong, and it’s something that is attacking the foundations of what this country is built on…we have to push back against that.”
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- A University of Florida journalism graduate, Bryan is pursuing his masters in geosciences at Florida International University. He has a strong interest in weather, entertainment, and journalism.
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