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DeSantis congressional map splits St. Petersburg, reduces Tampa Bay competition

Here are 5 ways the new map would affect Tampa Bay.
A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from just north of the North Shore Aquatic Complex.
A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from just north of the North Shore Aquatic Complex. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2016) ]
Published Apr. 14|Updated Apr. 15

A new congressional map proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis splits St. Petersburg and makes two congressional districts in the heart of Tampa Bay’s most populated areas less competitive.

The map packs Democrats in parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas into the already Democratic-leaning Congressional District 14. That would benefit Republicans by making the now-competitive 13th District, currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, more reliably red.

The move to have the 14th District jump the bay to include both Pinellas and Hillsborough voters is not unprecedented. But the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 specifically threw out a congressional plan that did so, saying it unnecessarily packed Democratic voters together.

“This is repression of voters in the state of Florida in 2022,” said Ellen Freidin, leader of Fair Districts Now, which successfully passed a ballot measure in 2010 that prohibited political gerrymanders in the state and the dilution of minority voting power.

“The way the governor has treated the Tampa Bay area, it’s an obvious political gerrymander,” Freidin said. “That’s exactly why we passed the Fair Districts amendments: to stop politicians from advancing their own political interests at the expense of citizens.”

Under the new map, several Tampa Bay candidates running for Congress no longer live in the congressional district they are seeking to represent — though residency in the district is not a legal requirement — potentially changing the calculus of their campaigns.

Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, said that criticisms of the proposal “are outside efforts to taint the facts” and that the governor’s map didn’t eliminate any majority-minority districts. That is a different definition of minority districts than the Florida Supreme Court used in 2015.

DeSantis has said he thinks drawing districts to protect minority representation under the Fair Districts amendments violates the U.S. Constitution’s clause granting every citizen equal protection under the law. He’s focused particularly on districts around Central Florida and North Florida created to give Black voters the opportunity to elect representatives and recently argued the maps should be “race-neutral.”

Related: DeSantis says he wants ‘race-neutral’ map of congressional districts

Lawsuits challenging the maps are expected, but there is little time before districts must be finalized on June 17, the end of the candidate qualifying period for this year’s congressional elections.

Even if the maps are hung up in litigation, it’s likely the version passed by DeSantis will be what’s used in 2022, said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Throughout the redistricting process, the governor has inserted himself in unusual ways by proposing his own maps. He later vetoed the congressional redistricting plan passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and called for a special session, which begins next week.

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Lawmakers deferred to DeSantis to draft a new congressional map ahead of the special session. He released it Wednesday, and Senate leaders have already signaled their support.

 
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Color shows how voters in precincts entirely or partially in each proposed district voted for president in 2020.

Times   |   LANGSTON TAYLOR
Source: FloridaRedistricting.gov, Times analysis of election results collected by the University of Florida and Wichita State University.

Here are the biggest takeaways for what the map, if passed, would mean for Tampa Bay.

1. St. Petersburg is split

The proposed map splits St. Petersburg in two along 34th Street.

Currently, all of St. Petersburg is represented in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which runs from Clearwater to the south end of Pinellas.

But in the governor’s new map, the west area of St. Petersburg, which includes the Childs Park and Disston Heights neighborhoods, would be part of the 13th District. The eastern part of St. Petersburg, which includes downtown and midtown, would be part of Florida’s 14th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat.

The 14th District would also include South Tampa, Town ‘n’ Country and unincorporated areas in Hillsborough.

St. Petersburg voters would make up only 13 percent of the District 13 electorate and 25 percent of the 14th District — causing them to lose the prominence they had as an anchoring part of the 13th District in the current congressional map.

2. The 14th District becomes even more Democratic ...

Castor’s seat has long been reliably Democratic. The new configuration that lumps in part of St. Petersburg and east Hillsborough’s coastal communities makes it even more blue.

In DeSantis’ map, the proposed 14th District would have gone for Biden with about 60 percent of the vote, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of the plan and election data collected by the University of Florida and Wichita State University. Under the current configuration, that district went to Biden with 58 percent of the vote.

Li, with the Brennan Center, said, “It’s a time-honored tool of gerrymandering to pack voters.”

3. ... And the 13th District becomes redder

The 13th District would extend north to the Pasco County line, adding Republican-leaning sections of north Pinellas but excluding some reliably blue neighborhoods in the eastern half of St. Petersburg.

That would likely make the district, which voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 by a margin of 4 percentage points, more reliably red and could complicate the candidacies of several Democrats vying for that seat.

Had the proposed boundaries been in place in 2020, the district would have gone to Donald Trump over Biden by 6 percentage points.

4. Black residents would make up a smaller portion of the 13th District

Black voters are currently about 11 percent of the electorate in the 13th District, according to voter registration data from the fall. Under the new plan, that share in the 13th would be cut by nearly half, to 6 percent. The share in the neighboring 14th District would increase only slightly, from 18 percent to 19 percent.

The way the proposed map divides up the St. Petersburg Black community is a racial gerrymander, said Terri Lipsey-Scott, executive director of The Woodson African American Museum of Florida.

“It just really saddens me that there is the constant desire to diminish and to deprive African Americans of an opportunity to have impact in the political process,” she said.

5. An open Tampa Bay seat takes shape

Because of population growth in the 2020 census, Florida was awarded an additional seat in Congress. Redrawing the map to include 28 districts created an open seat in Tampa Bay, the 15th District.

DeSantis’ plan for the 15th District would encompass northeast Hillsborough — including parts of Tampa near the University of South Florida and Temple Terrace, Thonotosassa, Lutz and Plant City — as well as southeastern Pasco areas like Zephyrhills, plus a slice of western Polk County.

The proposed district leans Republican, and would have voted for Trump by 4 percentage points in 2020.

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