TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a move that will likely trigger a huge legal fight, is pushing ahead with a new congressional map for his state that could allow Republicans to pick up an additional four seats this year.
The DeSantis administration formally submitted its plan Wednesday to the GOP-controlled Legislature where leaders in that chamber have already signaled they would accept whatever proposal was offered to them. Legislators are scheduled to hold a three-and-a-half day special session next week to adopt a new map after the governor vetoed a previous plan.
The move by the governor — a rising GOP star and potential presidential contender in 2024 — was quickly cheered by conservatives, but more importantly could spark a challenge that may lead to demolishing Florida’s anti-gerrymandering standards that voters approved in 2010. Any challenge in state court would wind up before the state’s Supreme Court, which has undergone a huge rightward shift due to DeSantis appointments.
Wednesday’s move is a signal of the power DeSantis wields in the now-Republican-dominated state. Redistricting in Florida may help shape the composition of the U.S. House for at least the next decade.
Christian Ziegler, vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, hailed the proposal on social media, proclaiming that DeSantis “lets no fight go unfought for conservatives.”
The map prepared by the governor’s office would dismantle the North Florida seat now held by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, and instead create new districts across the entire region that would likely elect Republicans. The map would potentially lead to flipping the seat in the Tampa Bay area now held by Rep. Charlie Crist, who is not seeking a new term because he’s running for governor. The central Florida district held by retiring Rep. Stephanie Murphy would also become a GOP-friendly district.
Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said the map would be immediately challenged if adopted.
“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.”
In a memo discussing the new map, Ryan Newman, general counsel for DeSantis, said the “compromise” plan “eliminates the federal constitutional infirmities identified by the governor and improves on several metrics relative to the maps passed by the Legislature.”
DeSantis has asserted for weeks that Lawson’s current seat — which stretches from Jacksonville to just west of Tallahassee — runs afoul of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions because it was drawn to guarantee the election of a Black candidate. The new map instead comes up with two new Jacksonville-centered districts that were won by former President Donald Trump.
The governor’s map not only removes Lawson’s district, but his proposal would also remake the Orlando-area central Florida seat now held by Rep. Val Demings so white voters would make up the largest portion of Democratic primary voters, according to analysis by Matthew Isbell, a Democratic data consultant.
Republican legislators were initially reluctant to make large changes to districts held by Black Democrats because that could run counter to Florida’s Fair Districts standards approved by voters. Those standards maintain minority districts cannot be “diminished’ when they are redrawn.
State Senate Reapportionment Chair Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero), however, maintained in a memo sent Wednesday to senators that “I have determined that the governor’s map reflects standards the Senate can support.”
State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) countered that “this map is garbage and is a direct assault on Fair Districts that Florida voters overwhelmingly approved supported a decade ago and would not stand federal legal muster either.”
During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers set out to have a smoother redistricting process than they did in the previous decade. Ultimately the congressional map in use for the past six years was put in place by the Florida Supreme Court after the court found the process had been tainted by “unconstitutional intent” to favor Republicans and incumbents.
But DeSantis — breaking from how previous Republican governors handled redistricting — in January proposed his own maps that called for dismantling two seats now held by Black Democrats. Florida picked up one congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth for a total of 28. Republicans hold a 16-11 edge, but a map approved along party lines and sent to DeSantis would have boosted the number of seats won by Trump in 2020 to 18.
The governor vetoed the proposal in part because it still included a minority access district in the Jacksonville area.
This week, state House Speaker Chris Sprowls and state Senate President Wilton Simpson told their members they were not drawing up their own proposal and were instead going to accept whatever DeSantis proposed.
Democrats, who are outnumbered in both the state House and state Senate, can do little to stop Republicans from muscling through their new map during the special session.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami), a candidate for governor, said Wednesday that Democrats should boycott the entire session, even though it’s not clear how many will follow her lead. “It’s too bad between the Senate President and the Speaker of the House they couldn’t put together one spine to stand up to DeSantis,” she said in a statement. “I’m calling the rest of my Democratic colleagues in the legislature to join me in the cojones caucus.”
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