The 22-year-old suing Ron DeSantis for strangling democracy
And a conversation with the bright young candidate fighting for change
Welcome to a Friday evening edition of Progressives Everywhere!
Four voters in southern Florida sued Gov. Ron DeSantis in Broward County court on Friday, asking the state to compel DeSantis to schedule special elections in three legislative districts where legislators recently resigned.
The state Senator from District 33 and representatives from House Districts 94 and 88 stepped down this summer, as required by Florida law, to run in a special Congressional election to replace the late Rep. Alcee Hastings. All three of the districts have majority Black populations.
Florida’s constitution also requires the governor to schedule special elections when vacancies arise, and while DeSantis has been expeditious in declaring election dates in the past, even acting sometimes on the same day as a representative’s resignation, the governor has made the residents of these three districts wait for an unprecedented length of time.
“Left to his own devices, the Governor would deprive the residents of Senate District 33, House District 88, and House District 94 of their constitutionally-protected voice in the Capitol,” the suit alleges. “The Governor has failed to perform his statutorily proscribed ministerial duty to fix the dates of special elections for those three districts, where Petitioners reside. The vacancies in these districts arose over 75 days ago. No other Governor in living memory has waited even half this long to schedule a special election.”
Over the past 20 years, the average wait time has been just under a week.
DeSantis also waited 30 days to set a date for the special election to replace Hastings in Congress, resulting in a similar lawsuit. The primary in that race is scheduled for November, with a general election in January. DeSantis’s delay will ultimately result in locals having not had a voice in Congress for more than eight months, and because it’s a safe blue seat, it will also have robbed Democrats of a crucial seat in the closely divided US House as they fought to enact most of their domestic agenda.
Florida’s traditional legislative session stretches from January through March, so if a court does not compel DeSantis to call special legislative elections soon, the residents of those districts are likely to go without representation next year. Given the Florida GOP’s passage of a major voter suppression bill this year, none of this seems accidental.
Elijah Manley, a candidate in state House District 94, was instrumental in encouraging the lawsuit, which is hardly the first time he’s shown a proactiveness that belies his young age.
Manley ran for this seat last year, when he challenged state Rep. Bobby DuBose, the Democratic minority co-leader; DuBose resigned this summer to run in the special election to replace Hastings in Congress. Progressives Everywhere has endorsed former Rep. Omari Hardy, who also resigned this summer, in that race. And like Hardy, Manley is a young progressive candidate that balances idealism with a hardship-laden lived experience that informs his approach to politics.
Raised in poverty in low-income housing in Fort Lauderdale, Manley spent parts of his teenage years unhoused, sometimes living in a car. Failed by a system that routinely allows children to experience such wrenching hardship, Manley decided early on that he needed to play a role in a serious reimagining of our social contract.
He first campaign for elected office was a symbolic run for president in 2016, when he “ran” the Green Party’s nomination — even at 17 and ineligible to actually serve, it turned out that he would have been a better candidate than Jill Stein.
In 2018, Manley began a more earnest political career when he sought out a seat on the Broward County School Board. He came in third place, earning more than 43,000 votes, and used that experience to earn some recognition and plenty of votes in his primary challenge against DuBose.
As a 21-year-old, he took over 30% of the vote against the well-funded long-time lawmaker, who compiled a decent record but also readily accepted generous donations from some of the state’s most powerful corporations. Those donors include US Sugar, which plays a starring role in poisoning Florida’s environment.
Manley’s decision to run was a savvy move, giving him a leg up on name recognition and campaign infrastructure ahead of 2022, when DuBose is going to be termed out of office anyway.
I spoke to Manley about the election, the lawsuit, and his unique path to politics at such a young age. He did not hear from DeSantis about the schedule inertia before residents filed the lawsuit, and as one might expect, he’s yet to hear from the governor since.
I was interning and goofing off at 22. What brought you to running for state legislature?
I'm running specifically because I'm upset with what I saw in this past legislative session, which was the worst session for voting rights, the worst session for LGBTQ+ rights with the anti-trans bill that was passed, and it was the worst session for the right to protest. And being Black and being gay and someone that's been involved with social justice with protesting and organizing down here, I decided that I don't want to just complain about things, so I should run again for this seat. It made sense once the seat was open that I’d run again.
You primaried an established Democrat — what drove you to do that?
It was just two different types of politics. He is the type that wasn't really going to upset anyone or put anyone off. He had his ideas, he had his agenda, and it was a little different from mine with everything that was happening with the COVID-19 pandemic to the housing crisis and climate change. I definitely thought my district deserved someone a little bit more progressive than he was, so I decided to run against him. He was in leadership, so a lot of people didn't take that well, but I definitely think it forced him to move more to the left.
He’s running for Congress now and a lot of the ideas that he laughed at me about last year, he's now running on. He’s supporting Medicare for All now, which was a big surprise, and he’s supporting the Green New Deal. I definitely think that if I hadn’t run, he probably wouldn't be making those commitments.
You ran for the board of education in 2019, too.
I've always been inspired by Obama, from the first time he was elected. I was a senior in high school and I was watching his farewell address, and in that speech, he was specifically speaking to younger people, he said that if you’re disappointed, then lace up your shoes and grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself. And that really spoke to me.
You’re young and have a very distinct lived experience — which issues really matter most to you?
I think the big issues are definitely healthcare and the environment, which is the big elephant in the room in South Florida with sea level rise and saltwater intrusion. I was supported by almost all of the environmental groups last year, because they recognize that I was one of the loudest voices on this issue. And outside of that, our infrastructure and our education system. I think those are the biggest issues because those are the issues that really affect people on their day to day.
Housing, too, was probably one of the biggest ones I heard last year, especially during the pandemic with people not being able to afford to pay to rent and struggling afford to pay the rent. Housing was probably the biggest issue I heard from people outside of health care. It’s just too expensive to live down here in South Florida and the wages are not as high as I'd like to see them. So I've been consistently working with the Fight for 15 and SEIU to organize around this issue and we saw a big win last year.
Young people came out in record numbers for Democrats last year. Their priorities seem to be being ignored right now. Do Democrats risk losing them to cynicism or apathy?
I think young people think of these issues differently and sometimes the issues they care about are a lot different. Young people don't really care specifically about a political party winning, they're not invested in whether the Democrat is better than Republican, they just care about whatever it is they care about. They’re just getting their lives started and it’s very difficult to go into the professional world and move up and things are just too expensive for people.
I think more elected officials should try to campaign to them. I can't tell you how many elected officials and candidates have said that they won’t go after the young vote because [young people] don't vote. And that's a losing strategy to me. A consultant might say that and while that's true, in a sense, I think we're just giving up on that, that large amount of votes that's sitting there because they’re not being activated. A lot of young people have told me, “I don't go vote because nobody really asked for my vote, they just tell me you need to go vote, but no one actually comes and makes the effort to ask for a vote, no one knocks on the door, no one comes to me and they can tell me what they're going to do for me, so it doesn't really matter.”
I think that's gonna be a losing strategy for our party if you don't know to get around that.
I know things were tough for me when I graduated in the late 2000s, with the Great Recession, and it’s even harder now for young people. Along with running for office, what kind of work do you do when you’re not engaged in politics?
Literally all I do is just straight up community organizing. Whether that’s help organize a protest or are helping with some of the nonprofit organizations that need my help, from food sharing to the SEIU to the Black Lives Matter group down here. I’m attending government meetings, you'll see me probably every two Tuesdays at school board meetings or county commission meetings.
I've worked in the service industry, I've worked at a restaurant for a long time, but I just had to quit that because I understand now that if you're going to run for office, you can’t really work at the same time. So I left my job to pursue full-time campaigning. But I've worked in the service industry, I've worked for campaigns, and I've worked in the community organizing aspect.
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