TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis couldn’t have made his message clearer: “I will veto the congressional reapportionment plan currently being debated by the House. DOA,” he wrote in a tweet delivered just minutes after legislators began final debate Friday.
But the message didn’t matter.
The House voted 67-47 to approve SB 102 and shortly after, the Senate followed and voted to approve the plan 24-15, along party lines.
If the governor vetoes the bill, he can call lawmakers back in special session to come up with a new map.
If legislators refuse to revise their approach, they can try to find enough support from Republicans as well as House and Senate Democrats to override a veto. There are 78 Republicans in the House, and 80 votes are needed to override a veto. There are 24 Republicans in the Senate and 26 votes are needed for an override.
If neither of those options play out, they can declare an impasse and petition the court to draw the maps for them — as legislators did in 1992 when a federal court hired a special master and the court drew the state’s congressional map.
Republicans voted to send the governor two maps. One creates a Duval County-centric district that diminishes Black voting strength in North Florida. The other is similar to the map that the state Senate originally passed but favors more Republicans than the Senate plan by splitting Black voters in Orlando.
Once the governor receives the bill, he will have up to 15 days to sign or veto the bill. Under the plan, the first map becomes law unless it is challenged in court. If the first map is challenged in court, as expected, the court will decide which proposal should take effect.
A map has to be in place by June 17, the last date candidates can qualify for the congressional elections. The primary election is Aug. 23, and the general election is Nov. 8.
Democrats warned that the maps display an unconstitutional gerrymander because they were drawn to intentionally favor Republicans, in violation of the Fair District provisions of the Florida Constitution.
Republicans said it’s a constitutional alternative that was designed to address the concerns raised by the governor.
“We believe these maps to be constitutionally valid,” Senate Appropriations Committee chairperson Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, told the Senate. “By moving closer to our position, they have left us in a position where we now preserved minority access seats and can say that this is indeed a constitutional map.”
He defended it as “performing as an effective minority opportunity district,” but he also said he was prepared for a veto and hoped that the governor would spell out his reasons in an accompanying veto message. But, Rodrigues added, he also expected “an opportunity to have it signed.”
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Senate goes along with House map
By joining the House strategy, the Senate jettisoned its map that had received only four votes in opposition, which left the Republicans with 16 likely seats and the Democrats with 12.
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat whose district is dismantled under the primary map, warned that the plan is unconstitutional.
“The primary map adopted today by the Florida Legislature was drawn with the clear intent to create additional seats for one political party at the expense of Black voters,” he said in a statement. “This unconstitutional map violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Districts provision of the Florida Constitution by diluting the voting power of minority communities of interest in North Florida and diminishing the ability of African American voters west of Jacksonville to elect the representative of their choice.”
Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, complained that the primary map also “cracks” her community and “undermines the opportunities for racial minorities” in Tampa Bay.
Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, noted that by putting all of Polk County in a single district, the map was “robbing the rapidly growing Hispanic population along the I-4 corridor for the next 10 years.”
Some opposition from House Republicans
In the House, seven Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the map, some of them embracing the governor’s argument.
After the vote, House Speaker Chris Sprowls held his ground: “The product and the process represent the integrity and character of the Florida House,” he told the chamber. “And because of the great work that you all have done, I’m proud of the product that you just passed.”
For the first time in Florida history, a governor publicly injected himself into the redistricting debate by proposing maps that reduce the number of Black districts from four to two and increase the number of likely Republican districts from 16 to 18.
DeSantis has worked with the conservative group Judicial Watch to raise the argument that they believe the Fair Districts provisions in the Florida Constitution, which require the state not to diminish minority voting strength, may violate federal law.
During the House debate on Friday, several Republicans were called down to the governor’s office where they were urged to vote against the House plan, said Rep. Kelly Skidmore of Boca Raton, the ranking Democrat on the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee.
“There was a lot of pressure. There were threats of primarying (candidates mounted against them),” she said. “They were scared. They were worried.’’
She said that Republicans are talking about holding the redistricting bill as long as possible before sending it to the governor, even after they send him the budget.
“The scuttlebutt is, if the governor calls us back in a special session, we will gavel in and gavel out and let the court handle it,” she said.
DeSantis told reporters that he issued the tweet because he was concerned that legislators might have thought he was “bluffing” about his earlier threat to veto the House redistricting plan.
Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, acknowledged the governor’s leverage over legislators.
“I know that there is pressure,” he said. “I understand that but, for what it’s worth, with all my heart, I believe we are doing the right thing.”
Clarification: This story was updated after it was originally published to clarify that SB 102 has not been transmitted to the governor yet.