Democrats Angered by Gov. DeSantis' Refusal to Schedule Election for Open House Seat Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media during a press conference at PortMiami on April 08, 2021, in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Wednesday, 28 April 2021 09:34 AM
Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., has angered Democrats by not announcing when a special election will be held to fill the seat previously occupied by late Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
Hastings died April 6 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He represented South Florida's 20th Congressional District, with a majority of Black voters, for nearly three decades.
Florida law gives the governor broad authority to set a date for the special election to replace Hastings, The Hill reported. And so far, DeSantis has remained silent on when such an election will be scheduled.
With Democrats owning a slight 6-seat majority in the House of Representatives, the vacancy could have an impact on the party's ability to advance and approve President Joe Biden's agenda.
DeSantis' inaction on the matter worries some Democrats that the seat could go unfilled for months.
"It's really annoying," said Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, who is running for Hastings' seat. "It's unfair to leave the residents of the 20th District without a congressperson and without representation."
Sharief suggested that a primary could be held in August and a general election on Nov. 2, when several other elections will be held across the country.
DeSantis, a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, has emerged as a contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination after his work leading Florida through the pandemic.
The governor's silence about a special election has caused some Democrats to believe he plans to keep the seat vacant for as long as possible.
"That's been at the top of everybody's mind," Sharief said. "And based on the silence, I'm kind of leaning in that direction — that maybe this is a political opportunity for the Republicans to continue to stall on legislation that needs to go through."
South Florida's top elections officials have said they want a special election sooner rather than later.
Wendy Link, the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, suggested a Sept. 14 primary and a Nov. 9, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week. Joe Scott, the Broward County supervisor of elections, has suggested a Nov. 2 primary with a Jan. 11 general election.
Scott also has sent a lobbyist to push DeSantis to call the special election.
The last time a death resulted in a vacant Florida House delegation seat was in 2013 with Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla. Then-Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., moved quickly, signing an executive order that set the schedule for a special election less than two weeks after Young died.
States have the power to set procedures for filling vacant congressional seats. However, while some states have their own rules regarding timelines for such special elections, Florida law says only that the governor has the ability to call special elections for vacant seats – there's no direction on a timing.
Democrats last week attempted to require that the governor set a special election date within 14 days of a vacancy, but the effort failed in Florida's Republican-controlled legislature.
DeSantis' silence on the special election "tracks with the disturbing patterns of behavior that we've seen from this governor," said Thomas Kennedy, a Democratic National Committee member from Florida.
"He's just a very punitive guy with an authoritarian streak and I wouldn't put it past him to slow-walk it," Kennedy said. "Even if that's not the intention, the failure to act and schedule this leaves the people in the district without a representative. He's forfeiting responsibility and denying representation."
Only one Republican, Greg Musselwhite, has announced a bid for Hastings' seat. Musselwhite previously sought the seat in the 2020 election.
More than a dozen Democrats either have announced or are weighing a run for the seat. They include Sharief, state House Minority Leader Bobby DuBose, and state Sen. Perry Thurston.