By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 13, 2010……….When Florida’s 27 electoral votes helped propel President Barack Obama to the White House, 13 percent of the votes were cast by African-American Floridians.
But without the opportunity to help elect the nation’s first black president, there is some question about whether they will return to the polls in numbers anything like that this fall, even with high profile races for the U.S. Senate and for governor.
One state lawmaker is trying to make sure they do.
State Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, announced Tuesday the creation of Florida African American Caribbean Empowerment (F.A.C.E.), a coalition of black lawmakers and civic groups he says will defy predictions that the percentage of African-American voters will decline this year.
“The so-called experts are predicting a huge drop-off,” Hill said during a news conference on the steps of the Old Capitol Tuesday. “We’re saying, ‘No.’ We’re going to turn out like never before so that the gains we’ve made will not be set back.”
Hill said the group would target 1.6 million voters in metropolitan areas across the state, with the goal of upping the 27 percent of registered blacks who casts ballots in 2008. But even F.A.C.E. acknowledges it could face an uphill battle, citing the National Committee for an Effective Congress’ prediction that number of the first-time black voters who turned out for Obama in 2008, but sit out 2010, could be as high as 33 percent.
Hill said Tuesday that such a decrease would allow lawmakers to take black voters for granted.
“Every time an election rolls around, folks who look like me start feeling the love from politicians,” he said. “This is about building a permanent infrastructure that will be a force before, during and after the election. We’re going to have to hold on and hold out for ourselves. That’s why we created Florida African American Caribbean Empowerment.”
African-Americans and Latino voters played a significant role in Obama becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Florida since 1996, making up a combined 27 percent of the 7.9 million voters in Florida in 2008 and voting overwhelmingly for him.
Former Florida Conference of Black State Legislators chairman Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, said black voters could play a similarly crucial role in determining Florida’s next governor if they turn out.
“(The black vote) will be extremely important, especially this cycle,” he said in an interview. “We can play a major role in electing Alex Sink.
“I think we can get very close to (the 2008 percentage),” said Gibbons. “Once you’ve got them, you don’t want to let them go. The nice thing is we got them and they tasted victory (in 2008). But they have to know that (voting) is not a one-time thing. It’s a lifestyle. We’ve got redistricting happening, the census is being taken, there’s a lot of things that can get people excited.”
To cement that excitement, Hill said that F.A.C.E. would to push early voting in addition to targeting new residents to register to vote.
“This is about mobilizing the entire community and voter education,” he said. “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Hill’s F.A.C.E. group is officially non-partisan, but only one member of the legislative black caucus, Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Fleming Island, is not a Democrat. Additionally, in 2008, Obama won 96 percent of Florida’s black voters.
The F.A.C.E. website is http://www.facealliance.org.