Small, historically-Black Florida town set to lose Black Congressman under DeSantis redistricting
Billie Margraves leans on his porch railing in Madison,, which will be affected by redistricting in the state. Image via Chasity Maynard/Fresh Take Florida.

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'It undermines the democratic process.'

A small, historically Black city an hour east of Tallahassee is in the crosshairs of a controversial redistricting plan by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The plan would radically redraw the state’s 5th Congressional District and could cost the Black Democrat who represents it his seat in Congress.

Madison is a rural community with a population of about 3,000 people, almost two-thirds of whom are Black. Its Congressman, Al Lawson, is a Democratic former longtime state lawmaker who won his House seat in 2016 and is one of five Black members of Congress from Florida.

If DeSantis’ redistricting plan was approved, Lawson wouldn’t represent Madison anymore. He could be vulnerable to losing his next election in the new mostly Republican and white district that would be created.

Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a plan different from the Governor’s proposal in a rare snub of the popular leader of the GOP in the state. The House was set to vote on the issue Tuesday.

In Madison, the political jockeying and partisan battles at the Capitol can seem distant to people on the city’s quiet downtown strip. Red brick sidewalks line the streets where locals grab coffee, shop at consignment stores or stop for lunch.

Some Madison locals expressed opposition to the Governor’s plan and fear losing their rapport with Lawson could cause Congress to neglect their city’s needs. Lawson lives in Tallahassee, just 60 miles west of Madison.

“When you lose that, then it’s almost like having to start all over again,” said Jerome Wyche, a 73-year-old lifelong Madison resident.

Wyche also serves as Madison’s City Manager. He stressed his comments about redistricting reflect his personal views, not those of the city government.

As a Black man, Wyche said the area’s demographics should determine the district’s representation. He called for more public debate about the impact of the congressional maps before any are approved in Tallahassee.

“If you don’t have the interests of the people at heart, then people have a tendency to lose interest in how” government works, said Wyche, who praised Lawson for being available to constituents — even on his personal phone.

Florida’s 5th Congressional District — where Madison is located — spans eight counties across Northern Florida, from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and is nearly 50% Black and 10% Hispanic. Under the DeSantis proposal, the district would be erased and absorbed into a handful of newly drawn districts that are mostly white and GOP. Only one Florida congressional district is majority-Black — Florida’s 20th, near Fort Lauderdale.

Florida’s 5th is largely Democratic — 57% of registered voters, compared with 24% Republican — and Lawson won his last election in 2020 by about 30 percentage points. He blasted the Governor’s plan, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“It is evident that DeSantis is trying to restrict minority representation, specifically African American voters,” Lawson said in a statement earlier this month just after DeSantis released his plan.

DeSantis’ unexpected and late intervention in mid-January in the Legislature’s effort to redraw the state’s congressional districts immediately ignited a backlash. Democratic lawmakers have sharply criticized the Governor’s proposal, saying it would diminish minority representation by cutting the number of heavily Black districts to two from four, including Lawson’s and one in Orlando. Critics also said the DeSantis proposal would weaken Hispanic representation.

As the Senate passed a different map, DeSantis — who is running for re-election this year and may mount a bid for the White House in 2024 — has hinted at a veto if the map approved by lawmakers doesn’t track with his.

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw characterized the current 5th Congressional District as an unconstitutional and flagrant gerrymander. The current boundaries were approved by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015.

A few blocks off Madison’s downtown drag, Billie Margraves, 60, sat on his porch watching cars pass by going in and out of town.

As he looked over the Governor’s proposed congressional map, his eyebrows rose.

“It undermines the democratic process,” Margraves said, referring to DeSantis’ proposed obliteration of the 5th district. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican.”

Margraves went door to door for Democrats in the 2020 election before moving from Monroe, Michigan, to Florida almost two years ago. A union electrician for 32 years and now a small-business owner, Margraves said he believes the Democratic Party best serves the needs of both the labor force and entrepreneurs.

Fairly new to the area, Margraves hasn’t had the chance to vote for Lawson, but said he will if the Democrat is on the ballot again.

Not everyone in Madison approves of Lawson or would mind if the district is redrawn.

One of those voters is Cindy Poiré, the 65-year-old owner of Madison Antiques Market and Interiors in downtown Madison. She is white, has lived in the city for 20 years and has owned her store for about 16 years.

“Hell yeah!” exclaimed Poiré, an enthusiastic DeSantis supporter, as she looked at the Governor’s proposal.

Poiré said revamping the district to give a Republican candidate an advantage would benefit her as a small-business owner.

“Lawson’s a Democrat,” she said. “Democrats don’t look out for businesses.”

Just around the corner from her antique store, Alex Vargas enjoyed an afternoon coffee at the Sunrise Coffee Shop and Wine. The 22-year-old Madison resident and registered Democrat said he’s not usually tuned in to politics.

Glancing over the DeSantis plan, Vargas saw not only the disappearance of the 5th district — but a power grab by the Governor.

“Obviously, you’re trying to do something by splitting it up,” Vargas said, who is Hispanic. “Just to keep the votes on your side, rather than keeping it actually equal.”

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Steven Walker reporting; produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected].

Fresh Take Florida


8 comments

  • Tom

    January 31, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    My understanding is that the Florida Sup ct found the 5th district to be improperly drawn due to its geographic outline. It’s called gerrymander. The Govs proposed CD outline apparently has been identified as
    legal. Just saying.

    • Anonymous

      February 1, 2022 at 1:32 pm

      The Supreme Court of Florida ruled that the 5th district as drawn in 2012 was gerrymandered and improperly drawn. As a result, the map was redrawn to have the current 5th district, which has been in effect and represented by Lawson since 2016. The courts have, in fact, never ruled on DeSantis’s map, as it has not passed into law and therefore cannot be challenged in a court of law.

      Just saying.

      • Tom

        February 2, 2022 at 9:05 am

        The 5th as provided is a ugly example of a gerrymandered district. It’s not compact and contingous. It takes in two urban cities from head to toe.
        The present Govs outline is not gerrymandered and stands a better chance of approval, as it has been been defined that way to date. Gifting a seat based on race is not in the democratic republics interest. Just saying. What the court said in 12 was that the previous was gerrymandered but even though theirs was later it’s acceptable. To suggest a district outline from Jacksonville to Tallahassee is acceptable under their microscope reflects the courts inability to separate itself from political gamesmanship. The far left Sup ct in 12, provided a political service to Dems and disservice to the residents with its interference. The present district as composed is a joke. Just saying

        • Anonymous

          February 2, 2022 at 10:35 am

          Everything you have stated is opinion, not fact. And you failed to sufficiently counter any of points, which are fact.

          Have a nice day, Tom. I hope things get better for you.

          • Tom

            February 2, 2022 at 12:15 pm

            Just saying you ass wipe. Who hides under a moniker that should say mental Alex. As if you say anything of substance. I’m telling you that under law a CD is to be contingous and compact. Which was drawn and approved by a corrupt liberal state Sup ct proved they don’t care. Furthermore, they disenfranchised residents under the guise of minority voting rights. Larson Is crying cause this Gov had a CD and knows what he speaks. Unlike you who hides under the table cloth.
            Go wipe yourself loser. You can’t hold a candid with a legend. You as always Alex know nothing. Btw, Biden and Dems getting ass kicked. Losing to America’s Gov by 6, 8, 11 pts. Biden disapproval 38 in Florida.. He’s dragging Dums everywhere In toilet. Wah Wah, LMAO. Reply so I can suffer you gladly more.

          • Tom

            February 2, 2022 at 12:32 pm

            Not all mental Alex, who hides under fake monikers and table clothes.

            The previous liberal corrupt state Sup ct threw out the old one. Fact
            The same court approved the present one that was gerrymandered and purposefully refused to follow the compact, contingous requirement. Fact
            U S Sup ct ruled on this last year. Fact
            Running a dist from Jacksonville to Tallahassee is ridiculous and disenfranchises over 700,000 residents. So no you are an example of a corrupt advocate as was the court. Lawson wants to be gifted that’s why he’s boiling. Facts.

  • just sayin

    February 1, 2022 at 10:40 am

    Many small towns in the South are majority black. Many are majority white. Someone is going to be slighted no matter what.

    I know the race card is good for clicks (your welcome for my contribution), but this seems awfully shoe-horned in.

    You could also write about sometime, the towns all over the South that were majority black, are now 50/50 black/hispanic and yet the city government is still all-black. Opa-locka, for example.

  • Matthew Lusk

    February 1, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    Lawson seems to think access district means guaranteed win. How does leaving the border wide open help labor Al? How does covering for the banking cartel help business or labor Al? How does sponsoring a bill to make atheist Charles Darwin a national holiday represent 90 percent of your constituents? How does suckIng down a annual $175, 000 retirement pension help tax payers Al? You are a fraud, a racist and a fat lazy conman.. A guaranteed win is unconstitutional.

Comments are closed.


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