House votes to move ahead with two-map congressional redistricting bill

House leadership believes one map satisfies Gov. Ron DeSantis and constitutional concerns. But just in case...

The House formally voted to advance a controversial two-map plan as part of Florida’s congressional redistricting legislation.

The plan was crafted in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ expressed concerns about a North Florida congressional district. House leadership argued it’s worth taking those concerns into account if lawmakers don’t want DeSantis’ veto pen to send them back to the drawing board.

“Members, we don’t legislate in a vacuum,” said Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican. “The Governor has provided his own perspective but so have many of you.”

Sirois, chair of the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, sponsored the actual House legislation (HB 7503) that carries the maps. Lawmakers on the House floor Thursday voted to pass that legislation as an amendment to a bill already passed by the Senate (SB 102).

The Senate in January passed its own map (S 8060). In the upper chamber, senators ignored any public submissions of cartography by the Governor’s Office.

None of the maps produced by DeSantis’ General Counsel Ryan Newman have included a district analogous to Florida’s 5th Congressional District, represented now by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat. But staff for the House and Senate have maintained CD 5 is a Black-performing district protected by the federal Voting Rights Act and the Fair Districts amendment to Florida’s Constitution.

DeSantis threatened to veto any map with “unconstitutional districts.” In a letter to Sirois, Newman said CD 5 falls in that category.

With those concerns looming, the House produced a primary proposal for Florida’s 28 congressional districts (H 8019) that replaces Lawson’s seat with a Jacksonville area district that should preserve the ability for Black voters in North Florida to elect a candidate of their choice.

Rep. Tom Leek, House Redistricting Committee chair, said that’s practically necessary. But he also said the Governor isn’t alone in his desire to see a map without a Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district.

“There are also many members in the chamber who would like to give the Governor the opportunity to make his legal argument, which is a novel legal argument and an expansion of the law,” Leek said. “This map configuration you have before you puts that squarely within his ability to make those challenges.”

But in the event the court rejects that argument and holds that CD 5 must be preserved, the legislation offers a fallback map (H 8015).

Democrats argued it’s irresponsible to submit a map in response to concerns lawmakers don’t all share.

“This is embarrassing,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a Boca Raton Democrat. The ranking Democrat on the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, Skidmore said the House should submit only one plan, and it should be one the House has confidence would pass legal muster.

“My only comfort is that after we do this, there’s still an opportunity to meet with the Senate and try and hash out a map that we can all agree on,” she said.

Leek defended the two-map solution.

“The primary map is put forward as a way to address the legal theory raised by the Governor while still protecting a Black minority seat in North Florida,” Leek said. “If this configuration of CD 5 in the primary map is struck down by a court, the secondary map is postured to take immediate effect and contains a district configuration similar to the benchmark district.”

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican and Senate Reapportionment Committee chair, expressed some interest in a two-tier bill structure.

“I don’t think we’ve seen that done in redistricting, but given a tight timeline, it makes sense to go in with as much preparation as possible,” he said.

The House expects to hold a final vote on its map on Friday, and after that, the chambers must come together in conference. From there, both chambers of the Legislature must agree on and pass a final bill that will be sent to DeSantis. He can then sign it, veto it or allow it to become law.

But of note, the Governor’s Office has not embraced either map, and DeSantis threatened a veto even after the House Redistricting Committee moved forward with a plan.

Rep. Dan Daley, a Sunrise Democrat, questioned the House plan on the floor. He wondered why, if the House had greater confidence in the secondary map, it wasn’t being offered as a first choice. He dismissed the approach as “ranked choice” redistricting.

But Skidmore and Daley ultimately withdrew amendments from consideration that would have favored the Senate map or made the secondary map the primary one.

Through the redistricting process, Democrats have questioned whether any maps produce enough minority representation. Rep. Ramon Alexander of Tallahassee said the map reconfiguring Lawson’s district presents a whole new set of racial issues. He noted that by condensing the minority seat to the Jacksonville area, it moves Florida A&M University, the state’s largest historically Black university, out of a historically Black-held district. It also cuts Gadsden County, the only majority Black county in Florida, from the district.

“Is it safe to say that it would diminish the ability of the only majority African American county in the state of Florida to elect a Representative of their own choice?” Alexander said.

Leek argued the primary map does not diminish overall minority access because it simply shifts the Black seat to the east. He also said the top-tier minority protections in Florida’s Constitution aren’t based on county lines but population centers.

There are significantly different numbers behind the Black district on each map, however. The primary map produces a district where 35.27% of the voting age population is Black. The secondary map produces a 42.6% Black district.

Separately, Rep. Fentrice Driskell took issue with House language limiting the time frame for parties to challenge maps in court to just 30 days from the maps taking effect. Leek and Republican leadership in the House have argued that’s a timeline similar to challenges on ballot language, and said a shortened period makes sense because these maps will go into effect for the 2022 election cycle. The House ultimately shot down amendments from Driskell to leave a four-year statute of limitations in place or to reduce the period to one year.

H 8019
H 8015

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Matthew Lusk

    March 3, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Democrats are so racist. And the joke is Conman Al Lawson protects the Nazi banking Cartel. Leaves the borders open to allow South Americans etc to take black jobs and lower their wages, plus he supports planned unparenthood killing black babies and sell their unfrozen carcass for lab experiments. Not to mention he co-sponsored a bill to make atheist Charles Darwin a National holiday, a man who thought blacks evolved from apes. What a joke the democrat race baiting is. During the creation of CD5, the Supreme Court went with the international fascist banking crime syndicate to help keep there black boy on the banking committee in a no lose district. How pathetic a sell out.

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