If Andrew Gillum Makes History, One Floridian Won’t Be There to See It

If Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum defeats Rep. Ron DeSantis to become Florida’s next Governor on November 6, it will be an embarrassing defeat for Donald Trump and the Fox News fiends supporting the Republican’s campaign. It will be a tremendous victory for Sen. Bernie Sanders and those who have persuasively argued that the Democratic Party must choose progressive passion over centrist coolness. It will mark a historic night for political diversity in the United States, especially if Stacey Abrams, Ben Jealous, Jay Gonzalez and Christine Hallquist also win their gubernatorial elections in Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont, respectively.

However, if Gillum takes the stage on November 6 to celebrate his victory, it will be a profoundly bittersweet moment…because Trayvon Martin won’t be alive to bear witness to it.

It’s hard to believe that nearly seven years have passed since Martin was slaughtered by a supposed neighborhood-watch character who assumed that Martin’s youth and black skin automatically made him a criminal. That character unbelievably got away with taking Martin’s life, one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in modern American history. Martin’s murder is regarded as the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement; sadly, there is a counter-movement that disregards the importance of black lives—and the leader of that movement is currently the leader of the free world.

The Floridians who freaked out when former President Barack Obama proclaimed, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon” are the Floridians whose votes DeSantis desires. Those voters agreed wholeheartedly with DeSantis’s assertion that a vote for Gillum will “monkey this up” for the Sunshine State. Those voters believe that political power, in Florida and elsewhere, should be a whites-only franchise.

I’m sure Gillum knows what it’s like to have people ignorantly assume he’s up to no good, what it’s like to be racially profiled on a constant basis. DeSantis is encouraging such profiling, and will continue to do so as this campaign unfolds. The DeSantis strategy is as obvious as it is offensive: convince voters that a black man in power will lie, cheat, steal and go easy on criminals, especially criminals of color.

This was the Republican playbook a dozen years ago, when Democrat Deval Patrick campaigned to become the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. His Republican opponent, Kerry Healey, dealt the race card from the bottom of the deck:

In Kerry Healey’s recent attacks on Deval Patrick, the ghosts of America’s — and Massachusetts’s — racial history still lingers. Shortly after the primaries, the Healey campaign began to dig through Patrick’s past, eventually producing a series of ads that Ted Kennedy has characterized as “swiftboating” and that Barack Obama has termed “new lows.” In an incredulous response to the ads, USA Today asked: “How sick is this?”

The ads focused on Patrick’s actions in two cases. As an NAACP attorney in the 1980s, Patrick helped reduce the sentence of a man who murdered a Florida police officer. Carl Ray Songer avoided the death penalty, and is now serving life in prison. Healey’s ad included a rhetorical question with a subtly ambiguous syntax: “While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop-killers, do we really want one as our governor?”

More recently, Patrick urged Massachusetts to conduct a DNA test on convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer, whose guilt seemed in doubt. When the DNA evidence re-affirmed LaGuer’s guilt, Patrick dropped his support. In a major misstep, however, Patrick initially claimed that he wrote only one letter on LaGuer’s behalf. More letters have been discovered. Healey lambasted Patrick’s defense of felons, questioned his honesty, and alleged he was “soft on crime.” In an NPR interview, Michael Dukakis reflected, “It’s Willie Horton all over again.”

Healey’s most unseemly ad depicts Patrick as a friend of rapists. The camera films from the potential attacker’s point of view, and follows a woman walking through an empty parking garage. The ad then replays an interview in which Patrick described LaGuer as “thoughtful” and “eloquent.” The voice-over asks, “Have you ever heard a woman compliment a rapist?” The Healey campaign thus transported the darkest racial fear of the white American mind — the interracial rape nightmare — onto Massachusetts television screens.

Healey’s race-baiting failed miserably, as Patrick defeated her by 20 points. DeSantis’s sickening simian statement could backfire as well. If Gillum wins, however, it will be a damn shame that a young black Floridian who could have been inspired by Gillum to achieve his own dreams won’t have a chance to see history being made—because his own dreams were stolen from him by the same sort of right-wing hate DeSantis is stirring up.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.