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What Tampa Bay lawmakers think about the upcoming redistricting special session

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s congressional redistricting maps, sending them back to Tallahassee in April.
Banners greet Florida lawmakers on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Tallahassee outside of Florida's Capitol complex.
Banners greet Florida lawmakers on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Tallahassee outside of Florida's Capitol complex. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Mar. 30, 2022|Updated Mar. 30, 2022

True to his word, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday vetoed the congressional redistricting maps approved by Florida’s Legislature, calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special session in April.

As of now, the special session will only focus on congressional redistricting. But lawmakers could choose to tackle other issues. Some have floated discussing property insurance woes, data privacy issues and letting gun owners carry concealed weapons without a permit.

The session will be held from April 19 to April 22.

Here’s how Tampa Bay’s lawmakers are feeling about the special session and the governor’s veto of the maps.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson dances during an election night watch party for mayoral candidate Ken Welch Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in St. Petersburg.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson dances during an election night watch party for mayoral candidate Ken Welch Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg

Voted no on congressional maps

Rouson, a member of the Senate reapportionment committee, said he thought the Senate’s congressional maps were drawn in a way that protected the rights of minorities to elect a representative, but that he was concerned about the final two-plan version presented by the Legislature.

Rouson said the fact that the session is only scheduled for four days suggests that there have already been conversations about what the new draft map will look like. He wants to ensure “that the Legislature honors its unique role in this whole process and that the governor respects that regardless of what comes out.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes, photographed at his district office, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in St. Petersburg.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, photographed at his district office, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg

Voted yes on congressional maps

Brandes said he thought the maps passed by the Legislature were constitutional and complied with all standards they had to meet.

He said lawmakers are sworn to uphold the Fair Districts provisions because Florida voters put it in the state constitution. The Fair Districts amendment prohibits diminishing minority voting strength.

He said he’s doubtful anything beyond the maps will get done during the four-day window that legislators will be in Tallahassee, despite what he said is an urgent need to focus on property insurance reforms.

“Unless the Florida House has an awakening, I don’t think you’re going to see much on property insurance,” he said. “I think they have shown lackluster interest in anything on that and unfortunately that’s hitting consumers the hardest.”

File photo of Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor.
File photo of Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor.

Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor

Voted yes on congressional maps

Hooper said he believes the Legislature approved two maps that meet constitutional requirements, but that the governor has a different opinion, “which is fine.”

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As for other issues like property insurance, he said he’s doubtful major fixes like that can be made over the span of a few days.

Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia
Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia [ The Florida Channel ]

Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia

Voted no on congressional maps

Beltran was one of a handful of Republicans who voted against the congressional maps, siding with the governor over House and Senate leadership.

“I would suspect and hope that we’re going to try to, the leadership of the House is going to try to, bargain with the governor and at least come closer to something that the governor would be comfortable with,” Beltran said.

Beltran said he also voted no because of his concerns about how the maps cut up Hillsborough. He said Hillsborough is already divided into three separate congressional districts and said the draft maps would have continued to sever the county.

Beltran said the governor’s call for a special session was narrowly focused on redistricting and he’d have to see what happens if that changes.

Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover
Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover

Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover

Voted yes on congressional maps

McClure, a member of the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, said the maps originally passed were a “well-vetted product” but that the governor’s veto didn’t come as a surprise.

“Now we go back and see if we can get a product that gets the governor more comfortable constitutionally and kind of meet in the middle,” he said.

Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon
Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon [ Learned campaign ]

Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon

Voted no on congressional maps

Learned said it’s disappointing that the Legislature is reconvening not to fix property insurance issues, but for the maps.

“I have very little faith in the Republican majority doing things that affect regular Floridians and instead they’re going to focus on, you know, their base politics and getting the governor set up for presidential run in 2024,” he said.

He said the Legislature intentionally created two draft maps knowing the governor would veto them, and he had concerns about the dilution of minority access in one of the maps. He also feels strongly that congressional districts should not jump across Tampa Bay.

He said he also hopes that in special session, lawmakers can discuss divesting Florida from Russian-owned assets.

Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa
Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa

Voted yes on congressional maps

Toledo is running for Congress in the redrawn District 15. When she announced her run on the last week of session, Toledo said she couldn’t control how the maps would turn out but was set on running for a seat that would represent Tampa Bay.

“I look forward to finalizing our congressional maps in special session,” Toledo said in a statement this week.

State Rep. Dianne Hart encouragers voters at Souls to the Polls, an effort to mobilize Black voters in Hillsborough County, at AlÕs Finger Licking Good Soul Food in Ybor City on Saturday, October 31, 2020.
State Rep. Dianne Hart encouragers voters at Souls to the Polls, an effort to mobilize Black voters in Hillsborough County, at AlÕs Finger Licking Good Soul Food in Ybor City on Saturday, October 31, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa

Voted no on congressional maps

Hart said she felt some of the districts in the maps the Legislature originally passed were drawn unfairly, especially when it comes to the North Florida district currently held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.

She said she doesn’t think a governor should attempt to draw his own maps and it should be the duty of the Legislature.

Hart said she hopes lawmakers can get to issues that matter to most Floridians during the special session. She said she gets frequent calls from constituents who are housing insecure, or who have to move and stay with family because they can’t afford their rising rent.

“Let’s get this done and over and talk about what’s really impacting residents,” she said.

Rep. Susan Valdés, D-Tampa
Rep. Susan Valdés, D-Tampa [ Valdes campaign ]

Rep. Susan Valdés, D-Tampa

Voted no on congressional maps

Though Valdés said she understands the maps need to be done, she said she wishes the special session were focused on addressing property insurance or rising rents.

Valdés said she’s not certain how the congressional maps will come out, but she hopes to share her thoughts with committee staff.

“I hope that we have a product that represents the different populations that we have in the state and the people have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice,” she said.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell
Rep. Fentrice Driskell [ Provided ]

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa

Voted no on congressional maps

Driskell, the House Democrats’ policy chair, called the special session a preventable waste of taxpayer money.

“The Governor’s decision to veto the Congressional maps is solely because he wants to diminish the voices of Black voters in north Florida, despite what federal law and the Florida Constitution require,” she said in a statement. “The Governor must remove his heavy hand from this process and concern himself with the real problems facing us today.”

Driskell said she thinks the property insurance rates and the cost of housing in the state are some of the biggest issues the Legislature left unaddressed, along with a condominium reform bill inspired by the Surfside disaster. She blamed the Republican-led Legislature for focusing on culture war issues instead of affordability issues.

State Rep. Ben Diamond announces he is running for Congress on May 10, 2021.
State Rep. Ben Diamond announces he is running for Congress on May 10, 2021. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg

Voted no on congressional maps

Diamond is another member of Florida’s Legislature with his sights set on Congress. Shortly after U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist announced he would vacate office to run for governor, Diamond announced his plan to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Diamond said he’ll evaluate redistricting proposals based solely on his duties as a member of the Florida House.

He said he believes minority access districts are important. The Fair Districts amendment is clear about what is constitutionally required, he said.

“I think what’s going on here is that the governor is trying to push new legal theories that I’m not sure have any real basis in the law yet,” he said.

Portrait of Michele Rayner, member of the Florida House of Representatives for District 70, on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Portrait of Michele Rayner, member of the Florida House of Representatives for District 70, on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2020) ]

Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg

Voted no on congressional maps

Rayner is another state lawmaker running for Congress. She’s also vying for the 13th District seat.

She said she’s not certain how much more the maps can change and still be compliant with the law.

She said it’s likely not feasible to try to tackle complex issues like the property insurance crisis in the short timeframe of the special session.

“This is something that we could have dealt with during session, but the governor was too concerned about playing culture wars than actually worrying about Floridians,” she said.

State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson
State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson [ Mariano campaign ]

Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson

Voted yes on congressional maps

Mariano said she doesn’t think the maps should land in the hands of the court, which would happen if the Legislature is unable to either override the governor’s veto or present a new plan.

“I think there’s legitimate concerns on both sides,” she said. “I think they’re two very different legal arguments and I see the point on both sides, so I think trying to find a way to blend the two would be a really great way to move forward.”

• • •

The following lawmakers did not return requests for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday: Sens. Danny Burgess, R-Zephryhills; and Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton; Reps. Traci Koster, R-Tampa; Nick Diceglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach; Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater; Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach; Will Robinson, R-Bradenton; Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota; Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes; Randall Maggard, R-Dade City; Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto; and Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.

• • •

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