Columnist Byron York: When a ‘travel advisory’ is partisan politics

Recently, the NAACP issued what it calls a “formal travel advisory” to warn black Americans against visiting Florida. “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the group said. “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

Just in case anyone missed the point, NAACP President Derrick Johnson added: “Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our nation was founded upon.” And then Leon Russell, chair of the NAACP’s board of directors, added: “Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida have engaged in a blatant war against principles of diversity and inclusion and rejected our shared identities to appeal to a dangerous, extremist minority.”

It just so happens the NAACP released its dramatic “travel advisory” at the moment DeSantis makes official his run for president. The Florida governor is reportedly planning to sign the papers making him a candidate for the Republican nomination. Then he will make some sort of statement, perhaps in the form of releasing a video announcing his run, on Wednesday. With its “travel advisory,” the NAACP has made itself part of the story.

Speaking of coincidences, another civil rights group, the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, just happened to issue what it called a “historic warning against Latinos traveling to Florida.” Like the NAACP “travel advisory,” the LULAC warning focused on DeSantis, accusing the governor of “creat[ing] a shadow of fear within communities across the state.”

What are the odds? Two splashy “travel advisories,” receiving lots of press coverage, right as DeSantis makes official his bid for president? The NAACP and LULAC are both “nonpartisan,” tax-exempt charities that are forbidden by law from engaging in partisan politics. With the “travel advisories,” they’re doing a good job of engaging in partisan politics without violating the complex rules that govern what such organizations can and cannot do.

Here’s the interesting thing: Even as the NAACP is warning black Americans not to travel to Florida, thousands of Black Americans are moving to Florida every year. They are so not concerned about the subject of the NAACP’s “advisory” that they are choosing to live in Florida. Presumably, the ones who have moved there in the past five years were aware that the governor was a man named Ron DeSantis. Before that, the governor was another Republican, Rick Scott.

The liberal Brookings Institution has done a study of black migration inside the United States. Last September, it published its findings under the heading, “A ‘New Great Migration’ is bringing Black Americans back to the South.” Brookings found that for the years 2015 to 2020, the most recent for which data are available, Florida was the third most popular destination in the country for Black Americans to move. (The two top destinations were Texas and Georgia.) In all, from 2015-2020, a total of 36,140 black Americans moved to Florida.

The Black move to Florida has irritated some ideological commentators. After the Brookings study came out, the Black-oriented site TheRoot published a commentary piece headlined, “Democrats: Why in the hell are black people moving to the red states?” The article was one long expression of irritation that black Americans are moving to Texas, Florida and Georgia in spite of all the media commentary that those places are hotbeds of racism and discrimination.

“Black people are driving U-Hauls to Texas, Georgia and Florida despite voter restrictions,” the article said. “Florida banned an advanced placement African American studies course. Texas and Florida are ending diversity, equity and inclusion in state agencies, and limiting the teaching of race in schools.” And yet, the migration continues.

As far as the LULAC “historic warning” is concerned, it is also true that thousands of Hispanic Americans are moving to Florida. First, the number of U.S. citizens moving from Puerto Rico to Florida has been huge. “The migration of hundreds of thousands of Latinos from Puerto Rico to Central Florida is reshaping the contours of Latino life in the state,” reports the Hispanic Federation, “creating the most important demographic development since the arrival of Cubans in the 1960s.”

Hispanic Americans are also part of the migration of Americans to Florida from other areas, as well. “States that gained the most Latino or Hispanic and Asian American residents ... tend to be states that historically attracted immigrant members of these populations, including Texas, California, Florida and New York,” writes Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. “Although both groups’ populations are dispersing across the country, overall gains are still heavily clustered in these states.”

So now, with thousands of black and Hispanic Americans flocking to Florida, and the governor of the state attracting more attention as he prepares to enter the race for president, two powerful black and Hispanic interest groups are screaming: Don’t go! Ron DeSantis is a bad man! Don’t go! With Gov. DeSantis a serious contender to become the Republican candidate for the White House, their motives could not be more clearly political. And people are not listening.