Florida’s new Secretary of State — who has been immersed in a racially charged debate over restoring voting rights to large numbers of minority citizens — abruptly resigned after a newspaper obtained 14-year-old pictures of him posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim in blackface at a Halloween party.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was elected in November, appointed Michael Ertel as secretary of state but the cabinet official with jurisdiction over voting resigned after the offensive photos emerged.
Blackface is inextricably linked to systematic social and political repression during the “Jim Crow” era, when rigid segregation laws were in force between the end of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement.
DeSantis, a former congressman representing Jacksonville, defeated Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who would have become Florida’s first black governor, in the nationally watched race that galvanized progressives across the country.
Republicans have benefitted from racist attitudes since Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, causing many Americans in states that formed the Confederacy to join the GOP.
In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for exploiting racial polarization to win elections and ignoring the black vote.
The Southern Strategy allowed Republicans to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans.
That electoral ploy has reached a crescendo as President Donald Trump routinely stokes racist and other xenophobic emotions to rally a fragment of the nation to his support.
Voter suppression, ballot rigging, gerrymandering and intimidation tactics are generally considered an affront to democracy but these activities have proved valuable to keeping Republicans in power and not likely to end.
Hours after the photos, which were obtained by the newspaper Tallahassee Democrat, were shared with the governor’s office on Thursday morning a statement was issued saying governor DeSantis accepted Ertel’s resignation.
Before he resigned, Ertel testified before a state legislative committee about lawsuits facing the state over election challenges.
Ertel, 49, admitted he was the white man in the photos wearing blackface and red lipstick, earrings and a New Orleans Saints bandanna, and falsies under a purple T-shirt that had “Katrina Victim” written on it.
The Secretary of State’s Office is immersed in a racially-charged debate over how to implement a consititional amendment that restored voting rights to some 1.4 million ex-felons.
Desantis, who was against the amendment before the election, wanted to delay registering those citizens until lawmakers enact legislation but some counties have already begun processing registrations.
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