It's darker here.

The Death of Democracy in Duval County

DTG: 05:59 Wednesday, 22 March 2023

They held an election in Jacksonville Florida last night. Ennui won walking away in a landslide.

It wasn't an ordinary election, it was something un-ironically called a "jungle primary." In this peculiar institution, a candidate who receives fifty percent of the vote plus one is declared the winner. Failing that, the top two vote-getters advance to a run-off in May.

Roughly three quarters of Jacksonville's registered voters couldn't be roused to cast a ballot, either by mail, early voting or on election day. Despite the expenditure of the most money in a municipal race in the city's history. Despite having one candidate with a clear, positive vision and message, a compelling personal biography and a lifetime of personal and family connection to the city. She did earn the most votes, but not enough to win outright.

Instead, she will face a wooden white man. A caricature of the status quo. An inert, perpetual politician, seemingly groomed by the donor class to eventually be mayor some day. A man who spent millions of dollars trying to destroy his Republican opponents, succeeding in dispatching one, and likely improving the election performance of his closest Republican rival.

If democracy isn't dead in Duval County, it's on life support, hanging by a thread, if not a chad. (Though Daniel Davis, leading Republican candidate, has "Chad" written all over him.)

What kind of democracy is it when nearly three quarter of the citizens don't vote? And this isn't a new phenomenon in Jacksonville. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it seems like someone's been holding a pillow over the face of democracy for some time around here.

What does "democracy" even mean when the majority of the citizens don't vote? It means "self-government" is government by the will of a minority. It's a message to any administration that the majority just doesn't care.

If democracy is dead in Duval, did it die of natural causes? Was it an accident? Or was it killed? If so, was it suicide, negligent homicide, or murdered with malice aforethought?

In any obituary, democracy's early life and young adulthood in Jacksonville would be seen as at least, "troubled." A part of the Confederacy and, later, Jim Crow, Jacksonville never embraced democracy for all its citizens. And yes, my little Republican friend, the power that imposed that was wielded by Democrats. It's about the only fact of history you seem to have mastered and can recall at will.

Not long after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Jacksonville decided that it would become a "Bold New City of the South," by consolidating Jacksonville city government with Duval county government. There were many reasons for this, and the city's defenders will say that race had little or nothing to do with it. The net effect, however, was to dilute the voting power of the city's Black population.

To be sure, Black voters were courted in the referendum; promises and assurances were made, which ultimately resulted in an on-the-record approval of consolidation by Black voters, providing white politicians with a solid alibi for decades to come.

Nearly contemporaneous with the beginning of Jacksonville's experiment with consolidated government was Nixon's "southern strategy." Whether or not it was Nixon's design to court disaffected racist southern Democrats, it began the process by which racist southerners found a welcome home in the Republican Party.

Writing this now, I'm wondering if this is where the fear of democracy began to infect the Republican Party. Because one thing is clear, Republicans today do fear democracy, and that wasn't always so.

If democracy was murdered in Duval, perhaps we have our motive.

If it was murder, was it a crime of passion? A lone, deranged killer?

Or was it a conspiracy?

Jacksonville has a civic and political culture. It's not particularly pretty, especially lately. It's a monoculture of Republican politics and governance. There is a Democratic Party in Duval county; but it's riddled with an auto-immune disorder that has left it nearly as dead as democracy.

If it was a conspiracy, it's to be found in the leadership of Jacksonville's civic and political culture, which is a Republican one.

In agriculture, a monoculture is a field or region that is cultivated to produce just one species of plant. This specialization offers greater efficiencies and greater profits for the planter. But it makes the crop especially vulnerable to disease and parasites.

The same is true in a political monoculture.

Any observer of Jacksonville's city government, whether it's the city council or its "strong mayor," Lenny Curry, would have to note the fecklessness and faithlessness that defines its actions. Embarrassing spectacles that would shame any rational political party or office are a routine occurrence. The public has grown inured to the farce that routinely plays out on the public stage.

There is a leadership vacuum in Jacksonville. There are no elder statesmen that command respect, who can criticize the people in power and direct public attention and opprobrium to their conduct and failures. The last one was Jake Godbold, and he played the part brilliantly in his last public act.

There are former mayors still around. The most visible one is John Delaney, a man who is seemingly most proud of his popularity as mayor, still able to quote his approval ratings nearly twenty years after he left office. Abandoning politics for the academy, Delaney is sometimes active on Twitter, though he demonstrates little talent for the platform.

When engaged about politics on Twitter, Delaney stakes out a bold stance, feet firmly planted on "both sides" of any issue, defiantly proclaiming, "I shall not be moved."

There will be no leadership from Jacksonville's most popular former mayor.

There are no civic institutions that call local government to account. They're all insiders. There's this thing called the Jacksonville Civic Council, which seems to mostly be a vanity effort by some local business leaders. It doesn't do much, if anything, to weigh in on issues. It did get excited about Lenny's plan to spend city money to build a University of Florida graduate school in Jacksonville, racing to city council as fast as it could to endorse that idea. And it did manage to rouse itself on the JEA debacle, late in the game. Mostly though, it's just a web site and a bullet in a bio.

The local chamber of commerce? Headed by the Republican favorite to succeed Lenny Curry to be what many expect to call "Lenny's third term."

How about the media? Well, we have some excellent reporters and commentators in Jacksonville. Nate Monroe, A.G. Gancarski, Mark Woods, Melissa Ross, and many others. But traditional journalism outlets are competing for attention in an attention economy that is saturated with competitors. While they have a pretty clear assessment of the dismal state of affairs in Duval, they don't command a following that can move the needle. They're lucky if they can make payroll.

It seems the public can't be bothered to pay attention to local government, and local government likes it that way. With only a quarter of the electorate willing to make the effort to vote, local pols, mostly Republicans, only have to target their "super-voters." Their messages narrowly tailored to the fears and prejudices of their most rabid supporters.

Lenny Curry likes to call the toxic cesspool of Jacksonville politics, "the arena." Well, Jacksonville has a septic tank problem. A holdover failed promise to underserved neighborhoods, that threatens local health in an increasingly flood-prone city, and water quality in the city's largest asset, the St Johns River.

A better writer than I could probably do something with that metaphor. Suffice to say, democracy's death may be due to criminal negligence. An insufficient attention to duty to guard the public health.

I don't know who the public authority is to declare democracy officially dead in Duval. Perhaps it'll be kept on life support, because, you know, Republicans are "pro-life." At least that way, there'll never be an autopsy to determine the official cause of death.

Damned by distraction, indicted by indifference, condemned by complacency, democracy was put to death in Duval County.

True North

DTG: 10:15 Thursday, 16 March 2023

Governor DeSantis made something of a revealing statement in the closing of his State of the State address, "Keep the compass set to true north."

There are many things in that address to take issue with, but this particular construction got my attention immediately.

You see, DeSantis likes to make something of a deal about his brief service as a JAG officer in the United States Navy. I liked the JAGs I met in the navy. We had one on the staff of Cruiser-Destroyer Group Twelve when I was assigned there, and we were good friends.

As a JAG, he actually went to sea, deployed. To the best of my knowledge, DeSantis spent his entire time in the navy ashore somewhere. If he ever went to sea, he might have learned about "compasses."

In the navy, a "compass" refers to the magnetic compass, a device that has helped guide mariners for centuries. A magnetic compass points to the north magnetic pole, which is not "true north." To determine one's course based on "true north," one must make certain corrections to the reading of the magnetic compass, accounting for phenomena known as deviation and variation. (See below.)

A sailor, a navigator worth his salt, doesn't "keep the compass set" anywhere. It points to the magnetic north pole. The device one "sets" is the gyrocompass, commonly referred to simply as "gyro." Nowadays we have GPS, but I'd guess that helmsmen still steer by gyro. Gyros have to be "set" and given time to "settle" if they've lost power.

So the whole phrase just irritated me because it displays the ignorance of a man who wore the uniform for the sole purpose of serving his selfish ambition. That whole schtick may work with the uninformed, but he's not fooling anyone who actually went to sea and was responsible for the safe navigation of a ship.

But what about it as a metaphor? What's he saying there?

I guess it's a more frothy way of saying "Stay the course!" Implying though that "true north" is some special, superior value to which one must adhere ("keep the compass set").

But even that's wrong, which is unsurprising, given the shallow vanity of this odious figure.

The utility of a compass or gyro is its ability to give you some knowledge of your direction over time. Even if the compass isn't set to "true north," but you know the error, you can still steer the correct course to arrive at your destination.

The problem is the destination, the direction the state is headed; and if he's elected president, the direction the country will be headed.

There is no "true north" in DeSantis's moral compass, apart from the direction his blind ambition is driving him.

DeSantis is a poser. A fake. A fraud.

That doesn't make him any less dangerous.


Occurred to me after I posted this that there's an appropriate mnemonic we learned to convert from compass to true: "Can dead men vote twice at elections?"

Compass Deviation Magnetic Variation True Add East.

Compass reading plus deviation gives magnetic heading, and variation yields true. Easterly errors are added, westerly errors subtracted.

Perhaps he'll assign his secret elections police to look into this.

On Mark from St. Augustine, the Good German

DTG: 09:07 Wednesday, 1 March 2023

We have a public radio station within FM radio range of the 'chuck hole, (It's also available as a streaming broadcast, and shows are recorded and available as podcasts.) and it has a morning news, culture and policy call-in show, First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross. The marmot is a fairly regular listener (and sustaining member) and has called into the show once or twice.

Monday's show included a segment on the rise of far-right extremism and increasing public expressions of hate in the region, so I was especially motivated to tune in. The first portion of the segment is an NPR report on the recent projections of anti-semitic messaging on buildings by laser projectors. It's a lengthy report, but if you're unfamiliar with the issue, it's worth your time.

One of the first callers, and the subject of this post, was Mark from St. Augustine. You can listen to his comment beginning at the 13:47 mark in the show. Since I'm not going to embed the recording, and I'm only going to paraphrase his comment, I'd strongly urge you to click on the link and listen to him in his own words. The portions in quotation marks are direct quotes.

Mark's comment was prefaced by his assertion that he doesn't condone, believe in or subscribe to the racist messaging being discussed. (It was anti-semitic messaging.) He then gives child-raising tips about not trying to reason with a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, that ignoring them is the smart way to parent, so as not to give them "satisfaction."

He then refers to a guest that had been on a month or two ago who made a similar comment to that effect, that she wouldn't give these groups the satisfaction of even using their name.

He then goes on to describe NPR as a national news outlet that highlighted what was going on in Jacksonville, pointing out that the piece even mentioned that the subject of the report said they started out with three members, and now they're up to twenty.

Mark said he didn't think that was huge, and in his opinion, they were all "idiots." He said that the group even admitted that the large projections made the group look bigger than they even are.

He then asserts, "I understand the topic that you're discussing." (After conflating anti-semitism with racism, but I guess bigotry is all the same to him.) But he thinks that "we're giving them what they want, by even having this discussion in the first place."

He then goes into some word salad about what the effect would be if the news simply didn't give them the coverage. "You can't make stupid thoughts illegal."

He ends, "I just wouldn't give them the satisfaction of even havin' a discussion like this. But that's just my $.02 worth."

And I got well and truly pissed off. So I tweeted some replies, (Yes, I'm still on Twitter. I know, I suck.)

And then I called in, and you can listen to my comment at the 22:50 mark, "Dave in Ponte Vedra."

I'm happy that I sounded far more composed than I felt. I went live just as I was trying to take a deep breath and relax.

If you don't listen to the recording, what I said was that ignoring the group legitimized remaining silent about them. It validated the "do nothing" response. It made complacency acceptable.

Mark from St. Augustine would have been a "good German." He would never have espoused those awful Nazi views.

But he never would have spoken out against them either.

Consider this, was Mark from St. Augustine roused to speak out against the hatred contained in those anti-semitic messages?


What roused Mark from St. Augustine to pick up his phone and dial into the show was the NPR report, the national correspondent reporting on what was taking place in Jacksonville.

What truly offended Mark from St. Augustine, what exercised him so much that he spoke out, was "the media."

You can ignore them all you want. By the time it's impossible to ignore them, it's too late.

It's darker here.

Growing darker by the day.