Social change comes slowly to Jacksonville. Exhibit A of this decade on that front was the tortuous and torturous journey of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion from concept
Even a modified compromise version in 2012, one that excluded the T from LGBT, couldn’t clear the City Council.
It took two passes for the City Council to clear the bill in the current term. The first push was stalled out to sell the pension reform referendum; sponsor Tommy Hazouri pulled it, helped to push the pension tax, and then (as if in exchange) Mayor Lenny Curry’s office did nothing to stop the bill from becoming law.
Christian conservatives, such as the Westside Republican Club folks, have never gotten over it. They see Curry’s non-veto as having sold out the base. However, Curry, a pragmatist, knew it was time for the bill to become law. The Jacksonville Chamber, the Civic Council—those redoubts of men and women who stand atop the rest of us, like giants walking amid a field of discarded, delimbed thrift-store action figures—needed that bill to get through.
And principal to that push was new Council President Aaron Bowman.
Bowman, who has the kind of candor natural to those who enjoy and expect the burdens and prerogatives of leadership, was pushing for the HRO even when running for City Council in 2015. I covered a forum involving him and another Republican candidate, one who was favored among those in the conservative wing of the local party. Bowman said it very clearly: “I can’t support any type of discrimination—period. The HRO’s intentions are aligned with my beliefs.”
Bowman, a VP at the JAXUSA business recruitment branch of the Chamber, won his district by more than 20 points. He went on to co-sponsor the HRO version that passed.
The issue of LGBT protections was dominant in this decade locally. The bill has been law for a year and a half; contrary to the cavils of critics, there has not been a wave of frivolous lawsuits over violations.
As ever, it is possible for a city to move toward social progress without loosening the bonds of civil society. Currently, Jacksonville has a lot of problems, a lot of inequities.
And the question, as we stand eight months from the city’s “first election,” is whether exponents of solutions will get any traction in said election. Because in terms of social change/progress legislation, there’s nothing in the City Council hopper at this moment.
In other words, was the HRO “it”?
There’s no remedy (nor really, can council offer one) for what looks to be a pattern of killings of local transgender women.
There’s no remedy (though council could offer one, through changing laws to move away from the stop-and-frisk modalities that predominate through large swaths of Duval County) for the issues that led to the “walking while black” apprehensions by JSO officers.
We maintain the drug laws of 1987, without even the first filing of a bill that would decriminalize cannabis. Our sole advancement has been setting up treatment for people who fall into the web of opioids, whose gateway drug more often than not was pushed by the friendly folks at Big Pharma.
There is an affordable housing crisis locally. Working single parents feel the pinch. The isolated homeless and dispossessed people under awnings of Downtown buildings are increasingly in groups of two or three, sometimes with children.
Does this council have a fix to that?
The social order, in Eastside and Northwest and Mid-Westside, is seen as Jim Crow as ever by many activists. The Confederate monuments still stand in Jacksonville, where we canonize in our city’s name the man best remembered for the genocidal “Indian removal” policy. An anti-lynching monument in Hemming Park, the last priority of former Council President Anna Brosche, will be a heavy lift also.
We often see local Democrats walking a careful path. Former mayor Alvin Brown, who’s done everything but wear a Che Guevara shirt on the campaign trail, yoked himself to Rick Scott more than Barack Obama while in office. Now he’s rebranding, even taking credit (in an interview with me) for getting the HRO (!!) through.
There are no progressives on the City Council. Mayoral candidate Connell Crooms has essentially deemed Garrett Dennis (Curry’s chief nemesis) indistinguishable from the mayor.
And here’s the thing: On the issues that have been resolved in many major cities, and ignored in this one, Crooms is right.
The concerns of the young, the marginalized, the Millennials who will choke on the legacy costs and the missed opportunities of the Xers and Boomers and codgers—these concerns are not part of the current policy debate.
It’s up to the young folks to change it. The old folks don’t even have talking points for what the young fear most.