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Profile: Robert Watkins
Robert Watkins was a participant or observer in the following events:
A heated battle is brewing in Florida over state constitutional Amendments 5 and 6, which if voted into effect in November, would create stricter rules for Florida legislators to follow while redrawing state districts. Proponents say that Florida’s electoral districts are gerrymandered to create a few districts “packed” with African-American voters, and large numbers of districts dominated by white voters. As a result, the white voters, who tend to vote Republican, are able to vote in majorities of Republican lawmakers to the Florida legislature, and the US Congress, year after year. The amendments would ban the practice of drawing political districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Amendment 5 pertains to legislative districts, while Amendment 6 deals with congressional districts. The political action committee (PAC) Protect Your Vote (PYV) is one of the most powerful and well-financed groups opposing the new amendments; the amendments are being pushed by groups such as Fair Districts Now, which proposed the amendments and secured enough backing for them to get them on November’s ballots. PYV, which portrays itself as nonpartisan, argues that Amendments 5 and 6 would make redistricting a long, expensive process and would in the long run result in a decrease in minority representation in Congress and the Florida legislature. However, an investigation by the Florida Independent turns up information that may call PYV’s motives into question. The head of the group is former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a Republican who left the position after state laws governing retirement changed. Browning retired before the new laws could take effect, that would have prevented him from retiring and then returning to his old job and essentially drawing two salaries at once. Browning was a strong advocate for the controversial 2005 Voter Registration Verification Law, the so-called “No Match, No Vote” law that forced new voters to submit identifying numbers to the state before they are allowed to vote (see September 17, 2007). The law effectively disenfranchised almost 8,000 voters, the majority of whom were African-Americans and Hispanics, and over three-quarters of whom were registered Democrats. PYV’s honorary chairman is Representative Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville), believed by critics to be against the amendments “solely to keep the large majority she enjoys in her district in order to keep her seat safe from challengers,” according to a report by Sunshine State News. Critics say Brown gives PYV a veneer of bipartisanship, but the organization is funded almost entirely by Republican donors and the steering committee is made up of three Democrats and 12 Republicans. Two-thirds of the organization’s funding—some $1.2 million—comes from the Florida Republican Party. The listed address of the organization, in Tampa, is an accounting firm, Robert Watkins & Company; Robert Watkins’s wife Nancy Watkins is a veteran Republican political operative. [Florida Independent, 10/6/2010; Florida Independent, 10/22/2010]
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