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Fernandina Beach GOP Lawmaker: Prisons Key To Defeating Rep. Corrine Brown

Florida House

Update 9:51 am: In a statement emailed to WJCT Wednesday night, Adkins "apologized if her statements offended anyone," but said that her "comments regarding the proposed realignment of congressional district five (as recommended by the Florida Supreme Court) were an attempt to explain some of [the] issues that came up in debate during the redistricting special session."

State Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) made headlines Wednesday for comments she made at a closed-door GOP meeting.

POLITICO Florida published a secretly recorded tape of Adkins’ statements. She told meeting attendees Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL5) will soon be more vulnerable because her proposed new district includes a larger prison population, taking some minority voters out of the equation.

The recording came from a recent North Florida Republican Caucus meeting.

After first checking to make sure no reporters were in the room, Adkins explained why Brown’s new prison-heavy district could be key to defeating her. Though Brown would still have a large percentage of black constituents, Adkins said, many of them aren’t eligible to vote.

“Perhaps a majority, or maybe not a majority, but a number of them will live in the prisons, thereby not being able to vote,” Adkins said.

Brown herself has raised concerns about the 18 prisons in her proposed district. It’s part of why she’s suing to block the change from her current district that runs south to Orlando.

But Duval County Republican Chairman Lake Ray said the controversy surrounding Adkins’ comments has been largely overblown.

“She’s saying, ‘Look, this is the reality that’s out there, and maybe there’s an opportunity to put a candidate up,'” Ray said.

But Ray also says, even with fewer minorities in Brown’s district, it would still be an uphill battle for a potential Republican challenger.  The amount of black voters in the proposed Panhandle district is around 45 percent.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Brown’s north-south district was gerrymandered to include too many minorities, making several surrounding districts safer for Republican candidates. Florida lawmakers responded by switching the district’s orientation to east-west.

Brown, who’s been in the House for more than two decades, is challenging the new configuration, saying it violates the Voting Rights Act by reducing minority voters by 5 percent.

Brown did not return requests for comment on this story.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.