I hope that this edition of Progressives Everywhere finds you healthy, comfortable, and royally pissed off. Pissed off that Donald Trump and his lackeys in DC have committed an American genocide by ignoring and now playing politics with the coronavirus pandemic. Pissed off that Republican governors are still refusing to protect their citizens. And pissed off that the GOP is using the pandemic as cover for the desecration and destruction of democracy.
What happened in Wisconsin is the Republican model: a gerrymandered legislature refuses to protect voting rights and then rigged courts uphold the voter suppression, sentencing tens of thousands of voters to death and stopping many more from voting. This is the only way Republicans will win — they’ve said as much. And so we have to fight back with everything we have this year, because it may be our last chance.
Here’s the good news: There is a very juicy target in Florida, a Republican legislator who is behind the most pernicious voter suppression scheme in the country and a score of other anti-democratic abuses.
Jamie Grant, the son of a former state senator, has “represented” Florida’s 64th legislative district since 2011. From the moment he got to Tallahassee, he got to work screwing over Floridians, loosening gun laws and fighting tooth and nail to stop a Medicaid expansion (his quotes about it are gross). And now he is known locally as Jim Crow Jamie, a nickname he has more than earned.
In 2018, Floridians voted overwhelmingly to approve a ballot initiative known as Amendment 4, which was intended to return the right to vote to a whopping 1.4 million people who had served time in prison. It was the single biggest extension of the franchise in decades… until Jamie Grant led the charge to eviscerate it almost entirely.
Grant was the lead sponsor on the bill that gutted the amendment, requiring that everyone who stood to regain their constitutional rights pay off every single fine, fee, and court cost levied against them by judges, even though they rarely had anything to do with their sentencing and were almost never actually tracked by the courts. It amounts to a poll tax, a revival of Jim Crow tactics meant to bar people of color from exercising their rights that could stop a million people from registering. The law is now winding its way through the court system and could decide whether Democrats or Republicans win the White House this year.
But it wasn’t enough to gut that specific amendment — Grant is also aiming to destroy the ballot initiative system as a whole in Florida, all under the guise of “respecting” the state’s constitution. Oh, and he’s trying to destroy unions in the state as well, with a bill that would force workers to recertify unions every year, give employers power over union formation, and other nasty cuts at workers’ power to organize.
Even more frustrating? He shouldn’t even be in office. In 2014, he side-stepped the voter-approved term limits with an inane legal argument that Republicans tacitly approved, all so he could push even more mendacious laws to really turn the screws on working people and the nation as a whole.
But Jessica Harrington, a middle school teacher in Hillsborough County, is going to put an end to Grant’s reign of terror. In fact, she almost did it in 2018, nearly pulling off a miracle after a ragtag, last-minute campaign that she launched out of frustration that no Democrat had run against Grant since he first got elected in 2010.
“I thought, how the hell are we fighting for these progressive values and we’re letting seats go unchallenged? How is that possible?” Harrington told Progressives Everywhere last week. “It was the week of the filing deadline, and no one was stepping up. So I literally drove the four-and-a-half-hour drive to Tallahassee. I ran to the office and said, ‘Am I too late? Can I file this paperwork to put my name on the ballot?’ and I was just in time.”
Harrington only had a few months to run in 2018 and raised little money for the race against one of the most prolific corporate money fundraisers in Florida. She served as her own campaign manager, field director, and treasurer, doing everything on top of her job as a teacher. And yet despite all those disadvantages, she came within just 5,000 votes of unseating Grant that November.
Now, she’s working with experienced hands, including some former Obama campaign staffers, and has put together a solid small-donor pipeline (though it’s dried up a bit since the pandemic, as it has for everyone else). She’s a progressive Democrat on all the major issues, from Medicare for All to gun control and education funding, which is one of the subjects that most animates her.
Florida has spent years diverting money from public schools to underperforming, for-profit charter schools, and as a public school teacher, she’s seen the devastating impact. Arts programs are gutted, charter schools shut down and abandon kids mid-year, and testing has become the focus (until this spring, anyway).
The pandemic has made campaigning difficult, but it’s also illustrated the toxic stew of cruelty and incompetence in Florida’s Republican leaders. Governor Ron DeSantis infamously allowed beaches to stay open and welcomed spring breakers to the state as the virus was spreading like wildfire throughout the country, a deadly decision that Grant did nothing to challenge. In fact, Grant has been almost entirely silent on the biggest disaster in modern American history.
“He’s not hands-on in the community at all,” Harrington says. “He shows up for a ribbon-cutting, parades, to the Chamber of Commerce events where there are big donors, but he’s not doing anything about COVID. He’s not helping constituents. There’s nothing on his website. His website hasn’t been updated since 2018. He just does not care. He’s just in cruise control right now. And there are people that need help.”
If you check out Grant’s Twitter feed, it’s almost entirely about Auburn sports, which is particularly pathetic because all college sports are suspended at the moment. Harrington’s website, on the other hand, is filled with local resources for people who need relief during the crisis. It’s par for the course for her — Harrington is active with a number of causes, including the Moms Demand Action push for assault rifle bans. As a school teacher, Harrington is far more connected to the community — in fact, she was named Teacher of the Year at her school last year.
With some help, she can win an even bigger prize this year — and guarantee that in the future, millions of people will have their voting rights protected and Democrats have a fair shot at winning national elections.