TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday kept his promise and proposed a redistricting map that blows up the state’s current congressional districts, creates four additional Republican-leaning seats, and eliminates at least two districts now held by Black Democrats in North and Central Florida.
The map would create 20 Republican-performing districts and eight Democrat-leaning districts and is expected to be quickly approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature next week when it meets in a special session called by the governor. The current split of the Florida congressional delegation is 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats, and the state gets an additional district because of its population growth.
If approved, the map is expected to be swiftly challenged in state and federal court with claims that it violates the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and the voting rights provisions in federal law.
Under the proposal, Republicans would have the voting advantage in 20 districts, up from the current 16 and Democrats would have the advantage in eight: one district in the Tampa Bay region, two in the Orlando area and five in South Florida.
DeSantis vetoed a compromise congressional plan approved by lawmakers in March, declaring that their attempt to create a minority-access seat in Jacksonville was an illegal “racial gerrymander.” He called lawmakers back into special session to pass a plan that meets his approval and used his political clout to influence legislators, especially Republicans facing primary challenges.
Relying on what Florida House leaders called a “novel” legal theory, DeSantis and Ryan Newman, his general counsel, argued recent court decisions have determined that race should not take precedence over the 14th Amendment provisions of equal protection and changes to the Legislature’s map were needed.
“Because of these adjustments, the new proposed apportionment plan eliminates the federal constitutional infirmities identified by the governor and improves on several metrics relative to the maps passed by the Legislature,” Newman wrote in a letter that accompanied the map submission.
The new map was drawn after the governor’s staff consulted with the Senate’s redistricting staff and “reflects standards the Senate can support,” said Senate Reapportionment Committee chairperson Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, in a memo to senators. Rodrigues added that he will submit the map as a bill to be considered by the Senate.
This is DeSantis’ third map
This is the third map submitted by the governor, who broke with tradition in January and submitted two of his own congressional maps, only to have them rejected by legislators as potentially violating the Fair Districts provisions of the Florida Constitution. Those provisions prohibit lawmakers from drawing districts that favor incumbents or political parties or reduce the voting strength of racial and language minorities.
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Newman said in the letter to Rodrigues that the new plan “eliminates the racially-gerrymandered versions of Congressional District 5,” the North Florida district created in 2015 by the courts by linking communities along the former plantation territories. It is held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.
In Southeast Florida, Newman said the governor’s proposal “retains the exact configuration” of the districts proposed by the House and Senate and does the same in the Florida Panhandle west of Tallahassee. But the governor revises the congressional districts in and around the Tampa Bay region “to align more closely” with the governor’s original proposal, he said.
In Orlando, the governor’s map dismantles the current District 10, which links Blacks and Hispanic communities and is now represented by U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Black Democrat.
Democrats say ‘it is appalling’
Florida Democratic Party chairperson Manny Diaz immediately responded that the map, which leaves just two districts that would reliably elect Black candidates to office, will be challenged in court.
“It is appalling, but not surprising, that the Republican Legislature has abdicated its constitutional duty to draft and pass congressional maps to the governor,” Diaz said in a statement.
“As proven by the proposed map released today, Gov. DeSantis is hell-bent on eliminating congressional seats where Florida’s minority communities have the ability to elect representatives of their choice and he is imposing his own partisan political preferences on Florida’s congressional map.”
He warned that the map violates the Fair District standards of the Florida Constitution, the anti-gerrymandering provisions intended to prohibit lawmakers from approving maps that reduce the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
“If this map is enacted, Florida will be sued,” tweeted Marc Elias, a Democratic Party elections lawyer representing voters who have already filed a lawsuit in federal court.
In the letter to Rodrigues, Newman said that the proposed map “is the product of collaboration and consultation with the House and Senate leadership and draws from the maps that were recently passed by the Legislature.”
According to the documents submitted by the governor, it was drawn by J. Alex Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff who was the director of the House Redistricting Committee in 2010.
Speaking to reporters earlier this week, DeSantis justified his decision to eliminate the districts that have elected Black candidates to office by citing Cooper v. Harris, a 2017 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the North Carolina General Assembly engaged in “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders” by relying on race too heavily when it drew two congressional districts following the 2010 Census.
The 2020 Census showed that the percentage of Floridians identifying themselves as from more than one racial or ethnic group increased dramatically over the last 10 years, while the percentage of people who identify as white declined.
To make sure that Florida’s redistricting fairly represented the minority composition of the state, the House and Senate conducted a functional analysis, to review how a district voted in general elections and assessed the demographic makeup of the primary election to determine if the minority population could elect a candidate of their choice as the Florida Constitution requires.
The governor’s submission, however, was absent a functional analysis to determine if it was properly protecting minority voting strength.
Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said that the “Senate staff will perform the functional analysis where required” for the governor’s maps and include the results in the meeting packet when the redistricting committee meets on Tuesday.