Charlie Crist: Gov. DeSantis maps erase minority representation in Al Lawson district

Crist lawson DeSantis
'If that doesn't look like discrimination, I don't know what does.'

U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says congressional maps proposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis discriminate against minority voters.

In a rare move, DeSantis’ office has proposed congressional maps. His team has argued the current 5th Congressional District, held by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, is an “unconstitutional gerrymander.” Calling Lawson a friend and colleague in Congress, Crist lamented that DeSantis is “wiping out his seat.”

“If that doesn’t look like discrimination, I don’t know what does,” Crist told Florida Politics.

State courts in 2015 drew CD 5, which spans from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, to provide representation to Black voters in North Florida. Although the Florida Supreme Court earlier this month declined to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of CD 5, DeSantis’ office has doubled down with a new proposed map that still would split Lawson’s district.

The Governor’s spokeswoman has said the district unnaturally connects communities in the two cities. DeSantis’ proposed map would, in North Florida, create seats that advantage Republicans. It would also split Crist’s home Pinellas County, grouping part of it with Tampa across the bay.

Crist says DeSantis is trying to take representation away from minorities with his proposal. Taking away Black representation could reduce the number of Black members of Congress, like Lawson.

“We have minority representation districts for a reason, so that their voice is heard, and they have actual representation, the likes of which Al Lawson is extraordinary,” Crist said.

In July, Lawson endorsed Crist over two other major candidates in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Primary polling has consistently shown Crist leading Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who was Crist’s running mate during his 2014 bid.

Polling also shows DeSantis beating all three Democrats in head-to-head matchups. However, Crist polls best against the incumbent, partly off his strength with Black voters.

The redistricting process puts DeSantis at odds with the Republican-led Legislature. Cartographers in the state House and Senate consider the district a protected minority access district, and a similar district appears on every map, including the one passed already by the Senate.

DeSantis immediately received pushback last month for releasing a map proposal. Crist, who was Governor from 2007 to 2011, is still questioning the move.

“I can’t remember a Governor that ever put forward a set of maps for redistricting,” Crist said. “I don’t know that it’s ever happened.”

Although the Florida Supreme Court declined to offer an opinion on CD 5’s constitutionality, all five justices concurred the Governor’s request involved complex matters of law, which DeSantis and Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls interpret to mean there’s a legitimate question about the seat’s legality.

Speaking to reporters in Tallahassee on Thursday, Lawson linked DeSantis’ draft congressional maps to his potential presidential ambitions.

“What the Governor is doing is trying to show other Republicans across the country that he’s going to be the heir apparent to run for President,” Lawson said. “But his major fight now is coming with Donald Trump — and I don’t think he can beat Trump.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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