Last week’s election proved a lot of things we already knew. The most obvious: Florida is the battleground state. It’s big, diverse and politically split right down the middle.
Not geographically down the middle, of course. Like much of the nation, our great state is split along the usual town-and-country lines. The cities vote blue; the spaces in between vote red—with one historical exception. Despite being Florida’s largest and most populous city, Jacksonville has always voted with those in the hinterland.
All that changed last week, when the majority of Jacksonville voted Democratic, at least in the high-profile statewide contests. In the case of the gubernatorial race, Duval County went for Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum by nearly a 5-point spread.
This is really the big news to come out of the 2018 midterms here in Florida. (Recount? Yawn. Been there, done that.) As of Nov. 6, 2018, Jacksonville has officially joined the cosmopolitan club, taking its rightful place alongside Florida’s great urban areas: Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Tampa-St. Pete. (Tallahassee and Gainesville, those bastions of higher learning, are honorary members.)
Why did it take the state’s biggest city so long? Probably because Jacksonville isn’t really Florida’s biggest city. That designation is a statistical byproduct of onsolidation. The 1968 annexation of Jacksonville by Duval County sought to stymie the city’s progressive evolution by overpowering the urban vote with not just suburban but downright rural demographics.
This may have handicapped the urban core for a half-century but no longer. Now, a full 50 years after Consolidation, Jacksonville is finally fulfilling its progressive promise.
When I sat at the media roundtable on First Coast Connect last week, I was asked if the Duval County Republican hierarchy bears some blame. They were hardly enthusiastic about their gubernatorial candidate, Ron DeSantis.
But, then again, the same could be said for Republicans across the state. Former U.S. Representative (also Republican) David Jolly said it best in the run-up to Nov. 6.
“I’ve turned in my ballot,” he told The Tampa Bay Times. “I voted for Andrew Gillum. The reason is simple: it’s because I’ve served with Ron DeSantis.”
Yet DeSantis did underperform in Duval County. The statewide result gave him a provisional victory, by a mere fraction of a percentage point. It’s a tenuous claim that must now weather an automatic recount. Watch this space.
I think there’s another reason why Duval went blue: white flight. Consolidation could ever only be a temporary bulwark against diversity. As the decades wore on, certain white residents fell back, albeit belatedly, on tried-and-true demographic tactics. They simply left and fortified their majority on the periphery.
So surrounding counties—Nassau, Clay and St. Johns—went all-in for the fear-mongering, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Like the resentful denizens of Detroit’s inner-ring suburbs, our entirely willing transplants will never forgive their free choice to leave “the ghetto.” Good riddance.
(Although, poor St. Augustine remains a long-suffering island of thoughtfulness and diversity in the sea of St. Johns County So far from God, so close to Orangedale!)
There’s lots of work still to do, then. House districts remain gerrymandered in favor of one side. The state electorate as a whole is hopelessly deadlocked, hence the spate of automatic recounts in the wake of last week’s election. But at least Florida’s cities—those densely populated urban areas where people have to learn to live with one another, in real life, not in some Ayn Rand-inspired fever dream—now stand shoulder to shoulder.