Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday trashed the redistricting process in Democrat-controlled states. While signaling he intends to play a role in shaping Florida’s congressional districts, he took to task more liberal mapmakers.
“It’s really, really unbelievable to hear some of these people carping for all these years and then to see kind of what these monstrosities are that they created,” he said.
The Governor’s Office surprised lawmakers and political observers last month by submitting a proposed map for 28 Florida congressional districts. DeSantis shortly after suggested his office had legal concerns about maps under consideration in the Legislature.
Communications staff specifically labeled the existing Florida’s 5th Congressional District as “an unconstitutional gerrymander.” That district is one the Florida Supreme Court put in place in 2015 after determining a map produced by the Legislature in 2012 didn’t adhere to the state constitution. Every draft map under consideration by the Legislature includes a district analogous to the North Florida jurisdiction.
Outside observers have generally panned the DeSantis map (P 0079). The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, for example, gave the draft an “F” in partisan fairness for giving a significant Republican edge in 18 of 28 seats.
Still, DeSantis at a Tuesday press conference said his office has continued to work on redistricting.
“Obviously we want a map that’s going to withstand legal scrutiny,” he said. “We’re in the process of working through. It’s really legal issues. It’s not really political issues. I think we’re going to be able to get to a good spot and have a good product.”
But he quickly segued to the work of other states, namely New York and Illinois.
“Did you see what they did in New York City with some of these maps? I mean they literally squiggle around and all this stuff,” DeSantis said. “It’s really unbelievable what they’ve done.”
Indeed, watchdog groups agree. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight finds the map under consideration by New York state lawmakers would produce 20 safe Democratic seats compared to five safe Republican seats, with two competitive seats that leaned Democratic.
But DeSantis’ specific complaint about “squiggle” in the maps may hint at his problems with Florida’s existing cartography. His office’s map not only discards a North Florida district spanning from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, but also significantly reshapes a South Florida district analogous to Florida’s 20th Congressional District. That district collects several predominantly Black communities in the Broward-Palm Beach area into a single minority access seat. The Legislature has largely kept a similar design, adjusting only for population, and has treated the district as protected by the federal Voting Rights Act.
DeSantis alluded to the fact New York is “supposed to have similar provisions to us” regarding redistricting.
In addition to federal law, Florida has a Fair Districts amendment passed by voters in 2010 that prohibits drawing lines to favor or disfavor a party or a candidate.
New York similarly has state laws in place intended to create a more fair process, though it works differently mechanically. But as members and political leaders butted heads there, the Democratic Legislature has effectively taken over the process and drawn a map more favorable to Democrats.
DeSantis also slammed maps in Illinois, where the Legislature approved a map with 13 Democratic seats, three GOP-leaning seats and one swing seat, FiveThirtyEight analysts report.
The comments from the Governor echo thoughts of conservative activists, who have argued Republican-controlled states need to respond in kind to Democratic strong-arm tactics. Many argue that unlike maps produced by the Legislature a decade ago, maps produced this year will be reviewed by a court made up entirely of justices appointed by Republican governors, including three justices appointed by DeSantis.
The Florida Senate already has approved a congressional map (S 8060), one generally praised by outside groups with 16 GOP-leaning seats and 12 Democratic ones. Florida went to Republican Donald Trump in the last presidential election by three percentage points.
The Florida House has only produced two draft congressional maps, neither of which earned the same praise for fairness.
The House Congressional Redistricting Committee will meet again Friday and, based on publishing patterns so far this year, a new draft of congressional districts should be published by staff on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the House will debate its own legislative map Tuesday, and expects to vote that off the floor Wednesday. The plan is for the map to be amended to the same piece of legislation and the Senate map.
The political boundaries for the Florida Legislature, once approved, will go directly to the Supreme Court for review and are not subject to Governor approval or veto. But DeSantis, if he’s unhappy with a congressional map, can veto it and force lawmakers to start over.