Democratic Congressional Special Election Winner Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick— She’s What the Voting Rights Reform Bills Are All About January 16, 2022
President Joe Biden’s 1/11/2022 powerful speech should have made it more than clear to any doubters that he has never seen voting rights reform as a trivial issue. Although Biden has spent nearly his entire first year on pushing through COVID relief and infrastructure bills, he has not forgotten his promises to get voting rights reform through Congress, and has been working hard on this as well. On 1/11/2022 in Atlanta, Georgia, Biden made it clear that “calm persuasion” is no longer an option for passing voting rights to protect many Americans from hardball GOP tactics. These GOP tactics have deliberately made voting, the most basic American right, harder, especially for middle- class people, minorities, and many Democratic-leaning voters. GOPers know they usually only win with low voter turnout. In the past nine months, GOPers in GA and 18 other states have enacted 33 such voting restriction laws. More than 30 states have concluded their redistricting processes. The redistricting by GOP-dominated states has also employed extreme partisan gerrymandering. This gerrymandering has locked in Republican control over state legislative and congressional districts in the electoral battlegrounds of Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas for another 10 years. The Justice Department has sued TX over its redistricting and suits in other states by affected parties have followed. OH “Red”- majority Supreme Ct. has recently rejected the initial GOP-dominated Buckeye redistricted maps (See nytimes.com, Corasaniti & Epstein, 1/11/22, daily kos, 11/12/2022).
In his emotional speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, a partnership of four historically Black colleges and universities, President Biden stated that Democrats have been debating voting protection legislation among themselves for nearly a year. Biden declared, “I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet!” Biden, who had served in the U.S. Senate for 36 years, usually backs congressional institutional norms. However, he declared he had had enough of GOP filibuster obstructions blocking voting rights. He said the Senate (by these actions) “has been rendered a shell of its former self.” Biden stated that if the GOP continues to block debate on two voting rights bills, “we have no options but to change the Senate rules…whichever way they need to be changed (latimes.com, Stokols, 1/12/22).” President Biden called for an end to the 60-vote threshold for voting rights bills, something he had not done during his campaign and throughout most of the first year of his presidency. He called for filibuster reform, including a possible “carve out,” or not using the filibuster when voting rights legislation is being debated. Under such a filibuster “carve out,” all the Senate would need is 51, not 60 votes to stop endless debate on this matter. The Senate recently passed the debt ceiling relief law with such a 51-vote filibuster “carve out.” Using a “carve-out,” a majority of the Senate or 51 votes, including VP Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, would be enough to pass voting rights reform. The two voting reform bills that the Democrats want passed are the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (nytimes.com, Corasaniti & Epstein, 1/11/22). These bills would turn back some of the more burdensome restrictions passed by state legislatures in 2021. They would set minimum requirements for early voting, decide just what forms of voter identification are necessary at polling places throughout the U.S., and ease the voter registration process. The Freedom to Vote Act would also make partisan gerrymandering illegal. Under this law, the Justice Department and outside groups would have more legal tools with which to challenge politically lopsided maps. In addition to reining in partisan gerrymanders in GOP-dominated states, the bill would prohibit Democratic gerrymanders in states like Illinois and Maryland. This bill would expand voting access, not only in GOP states, but in Democratic ones like New York and Biden’s own Delaware which have limited early-voting provisions. IMHO, a fair and equitable solution (See nytimes.com, Corasaniti & Epstein, 1/11/22).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and all his fellow “Team Red” members strongly oppose these bills. If his “precious” filibuster is tampered with, McConnell has threatened to drive Senate business “to a halt,” and has said that changing filibuster rules will “break the Senate (cnn.com, 1/11/21, nytimes.com, Corasanti & Epstein, 1/11/12).” Get real! McConnell has already “broken the Senate,” and halted much of its business. He has abolished the filibuster when he wants to, including when the confirmation of Supreme Ct. Justices is at stake. Frankly, all McConnell cares about is completely wrecking the Senate, now under Democratic control, so he can recapture it in 11/2022. Democrats are currently looking at many ways, besides the “carve out” to curb the filibuster. Remember, the filibuster was never a part of our Constitution. It was put into the Senate’s own internal housekeeping rules by Alexander Hamilton’s killer Aaron Burr. Some, including conservative Joe Manchin (D-WVA), are thinking of restoring the “talking filibuster.” That would make lawmakers take the floor and endlessly speak, even reading from the telephone book, until they physically collapse. I’m fine with GOPers making fools of themselves by uttering endless drivel that the media will cover. Southern Senators often did this in the 1940’s and 1950’s to stop civil rights bills. Other proposals include reducing the number of votes needed to break the filibuster, and limiting its use altogether in some circumstances (Hulse, nytimes.com, 1/11/22). Again, these ideas should be given strong consideration to reform the Senate and our democracy. As with his currently stopping progress on Biden’s BBB (“Build Back Better”) social and infrastructure programs, Sen. Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) remain the key hold outs to abolishing or reforming the filibuster. Sinema’s 1/13/2022 speech defending the filibuster was pathetic and rightfully panned by most media outlets. Manchin throws out good suggestions in this area, but has yet to commit himself to any real filibuster reform, the way he usually acts. Democrats, including the White House, and moderate “Blue” Senators are currently negotiating with Manchin and Sinema, and, hopefully, some progress will be made in this area. If not, we must elect more Democratic Senators in 2022 to make Manchin and Sinema irrelevant. Manchin believes that changing the filibuster rules must be done in a “bi-partisan” way, with GOP assistance (cnn.com, Foran & Raju, 1/04/22). On what planet does he live?
In the meantime, many pundits and most congressional GOPers emphasize that the current legislative gridlock will be blamed on Biden and his Democrats. The more gridlock, the “thinking” goes, the better their chances to recapture the House and Senate in 11/2022. However, the start of New Year 2022 still gives Democrats hope that people understand that the GOP is to blame for this extreme partisan dysfunction. On 1/11/2022, in the first special state legislative elections that took place in 2022, “Team Blue,” won all three seats in MA, “purplish” VA, and in a swingy Maine district (dlcc.org, 1/11/22). And even more important, a special congressional election took place in FL on that very same date. In that election, Democrat Shelia Cherfilus-McCormick handily crushed her GOP opponent Jason Mariner by a “humungous” 59.1% margin, 78.7%-19.6% (nytimes.com/interactive, 1/11/22). CNN gave prominent coverage to her victory. Cherfilus-McCormack will be replacing former 15-term House Democrat Alcee Hastings, who died of pancreatic cancer in 4/2021 (cnn.com, 1/11/22). Let’s meet Cherfilus-McCormick.
Shelia Cherfilus-McCormick (42) will be representing FL’s 20th Congressional District (CD). The present FL 20th is located in southeast FL. Sugar cane production bolsters the 20th’s economy. The 20th is a majority black district, with 52.9% of its population being African-American. Hispanics, mainly Cuban Americans, constitute 26.8% of the 20th CD. Whites, many of them Jewish-Americans, make up 38.4 % of the 20th (Cohen & Cook, 2022 Almanac, jewishinsider.com, Kassel, 10/20/21). The body of the 20th is FL’s swampy Everglades. The bulk of the 20th’ ‘s population resides in the two arms that extend east from the Everglades. The top arm moves through northern Palm Beach County into West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Lakes. The lower arm of the 20th reaches into Broward County to take in the African-American sections of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach. Tamarac, Miramar, and Sunrise are part of the 20th (See Cohen & Cook). The most recent Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gives the 20th a D+28 score. In 2020, Biden clobbered Trump here by 55 points, 77%-22%. The 20th was Biden’s best FL district (Cook Political Report, Cohen & Cook 2022).
Brooklyn, NY native Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick grew up in the NY borough of Queens, the daughter of Haitian immigrants. At age 13, Cherfilus-McCormick moved to FL to attend high school (Kassel, 10/20/21, jewishinsider.com). She received her undergraduate degree from D.C.’s historically black Howard University and her law degree from St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens (wiki, jewishinsider.com). She served as a project manager for the New York City Transit Authority. From 1999-2007, Cherfilus-McCormick worked as vice president for operations of Trinity Health Care Services, Inc. and then as CEO of Trinity Health. Second-generation Haitian American, Cherfilus-McCormick fulfilled the American Dream by earning millions at Trinity Health (wiki, jewishinsider.com, Kassel). In 2018 and 2020, she unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Cong. Hastings in the FL Dem. congressional primaries over his health problems and ethics issues but only obtained 26.4% and 30.7% of the vote respectively (nytimes.com, 8/30/18, npr.org/elections20-primaries). After Cong. Hastings died, Cherfilus-McCormick won an 11-way 11/02/21 fierce primary, which in this “Blue” district was equivalent to winning the general election. She poured $2.5 million of her own money into the race. After a hand recount, she beat her closest rival, Broward County Supervisor Dale Holness, who had a $575,000 war chest by five votes (cnn. Contorno, 1/11/22, jewishinsider.com). As was previously mentioned, the general election was far different. It was a nearly 60% “cakewalk” for Democrat Cherfilus- McCormick (nytimes.com, 1/11/22).
Unlike many candidates who achieve wealth, Cherfilus-McCormick has not forgotten her humble immigrant roots and become a right-wing reactionary. Both in the 11/2021 and 1/2022 primary and special election races, Cherfilus-McCormick campaigned on a very progressive platform. She stands in favor of the Green New Deal, a major issue sponsored by Congressmember Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC). Cherfilus-McCormick backs Sen. Bernie Sander’s (I-VT) Medicare for All. She is behind former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s $1,000 monthly checks to be paid to Americans with tax increases on the wealthy. Cherfilus-McCormick remains in favor of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Her campaign was supported by Brand New Congress, a progressive organization that backed leftist candidates /”Squad” members AOC and Rashida Tlaib (LeBlanc, floridapolitics.com, 6/11/22, cnn.com, Contorno, 1/11/22, jewishinsider.com, Kassel). In an ultra-“Blue” district, these leftist positions are not controversial. Cherfilus-McCormick also strongly supports Biden’s broad-based middle class reconciliation bills (jewishinsider.com, Kassel).
However, on one key issue, Cherfilus-McCormick correctly parts ways with members of the leftist “Squad” camp. She is a pro-Israel progressive who is aligned with the Democratic mainstream on this matter. Unlike some of the leftist “Squad” progressives, Cherfilus-McCormick would have voted for the U.S./Israeli developed Iron Dome missile defense system. The Iron Dome saved the lives of both Jews and Arabs living in Israel from terrorist Gaza-based Hamas’ indiscriminate missile attacks. Cherfilus-McCormick aptly stated that Israel needs the Iron Dome, because “it has a right to defend itself. More importantly, because Israel is one of our biggest allies, we actually play a part in insuring that they’re able to defend themselves. Our partnership is just too deep for us to even make an issue of whether we should or shouldn’t. That is a priority (jewishinsider.com, Kassel).” She rejects the BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel and one tainted by anti-Semitism. Her predecessor, the late Cong. Hastings, was a champion of Israel. Hastings was committed to advancing Black-Jewish relations. Cherfilus-McCormick has also pledged to continue such work (Kassel, jewishinsider.com). Yes, there is a strong group of Jewish-American voters in the FL 20th. However, to Cherfilus-McCormick, the Israel issue is not just smart politics. It is personal. Chefilus-McCormick is, remember, the first Haitian-American Democrat to serve in Congress (cnn.com, Contorno, 1/11/22). Cherfilus-McCormick strongly remembers the brutal “Papa and Baby” Doc Duvalier father and son dictatorship team that brutalized her people and left an indelible mark on her family. Because of this background, Cherfilus-McCormick stated she can deeply understand the phrase “Never again,” that Jews use when referring to the Holocaust (jewishinsider.com, Kassel). A strong Haitian-American Christian, Cherfilus-McCormick remembers from her childhood that her parents traveled to Israel every other year on religious pilgrimages (Kassel, jewishinsider, 10/20/21). She is for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and for keeping terrorist Hamas out of these negotiations. She is for Biden’s renegotiating the nuclear deal with Iran, mainstream Democratic positions (See jewishinsider.com, 1/20/21).
In order to get more Cherfilus-McCormicks into Congress, Democrats and their supporters must come out in droves plus to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Passage of the two voting rights bills will make that easier. We must also expand our base of voters to include more middle-class members, more naturalized immigrants, and people of color. Passing the Voting Rights reform bills will greatly aid us. Our base will be mobilized by Biden and his Democrats constantly fighting for voting rights and weakening the filibuster. Even if we repeatedly fail to break the filibuster before the midterms, because of Manchin, Sinema, and all the Senate GOPers, we will have a major rallying cry in 11/2022. That cry? Break the filibuster and pass voting rights reform by electing more progressive Democrats to the House and Senate. Fully 60% of the public, according to a Morning Consult/Poll, support expanding voting access and see this push by Biden as a top priority (americanindependent.com, 1/12/2022). On this weekend honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let’s aim to continue his legacy by enacting voting rights reform, even if this effort will take a long struggle. Our democracy is at stake.