With veto looming, House passes a Florida congressional map — two, actually

The House now heads into negotiations with the Senate.

The Florida House in a 67-47 vote passed its own draft map for Florida’s now-28 congressional districts. Actually, it passed two of them.

Attaching both a primary and secondary map to a bill in a controversial strategy, the House set up discussion of both cartography and legislative structure as it heads into conference with the Florida Senate.

“The two-map solution is a creative solution that captures the feedback of all our stakeholders, the public, the members of this chamber and the Governor,” said Rep. Tyler Sirois, chair of the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee. “The congressional maps provide representation for the people of this state.”

The House now heads into negotiations with the Senate with two of their own maps, as well as a repeated promise by Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the cartography. As lawmakers debated the House contribution to the redistricting process, Florida’s Republican executive took the GOP-dominated Legislature to task.

“I will veto the congressional reapportionment plan currently being debated by the House. DOA,” he tweeted Friday. He expounded later at a public event.

“They (lawmakers) have their prerogative,” DeSantis said. “My prerogative is when it hits my desk I have to take action on it.”

That leaves Republican leadership holding maps being battered by DeSantis on the right and House Democrats on the left. Democrats’ concerns have to do with the protection of minority access seats, and with a controversial and unprecedented bill structure that would offer principal cartography and a fallback provision if courts don’t like the main map’s lines.

The House’s primary map (H 8019) controversially reconfigures a North Florida district represented now by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat. The map reconfigures the Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district into a jurisdiction contained entirely within Duval County, but which House cartographers believe still allows Black voters there to control the Democratic Primary.

That puts this map at odds with the product produced by the Senate, which passed its own map (S 8060) in January. It leaves Florida’s 5th Congressional District largely in the same configuration it holds today. The upper chamber has maintained that CD 5 is a protected minority seat, and a significant change could diminish access in a way that violates the federal Voting Rights Act and the Fair Districts amendment of the Florida Constitution.

That said, Senate President Wilton Simpson on Thursday signaled he considers the House map constitutional, and said the Senate is open to taking up those lines. The bill was amended in such a way that the Senate could take up the House-passed version in messages and send it straight to the Governor.

The House has acknowledged concerns courts may find that reconfiguring Lawson’s district constitutes illegal diminishment of minority voting power. In that event, the House-crafted bill also offers up a second map (H 8015). The backup map maintains a district similar to the existing CD 5.

That move seems also to respond to court decisions in 2015, when Senate and congressional maps produced by the Legislature were tossed out. When the Florida Supreme Court rejected the congressional map produced legislatively in 2012, it replaced it with cartography submitted by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state.

But DeSantis’ office has its own problems with either map produced by the House. Ryan Newman, counsel to the Governor, has submitted his own draft cartography for consideration, though House and Senate mapmakers largely ignored it. Newman submitted two draft maps on, and neither includes any minority seat in North Florida.

Indeed, the latest proposal (P 0094) also eliminates a minority seat in Central Florida, Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Coincidentally, it produces 20 districts where Republican Donald Trump won more votes for President in 2020 than Democrat Joe Biden, and just eight where Biden prevailed, according to an analysis by MCI Maps.

By comparison, both House maps have 18 Trump districts and 10 Biden jurisdictions.

Trump won Florida in 2020 by three percentage points. The Senate map has 16 districts Trump won and 12 where Biden came out on top.

House Democrats may argued the Governor’s veto threat offers as good a reason to stop this process as any. But they don’t want the Legislature to defer to the chief executive.

“The Florida House of Representatives just got played,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat. “We had maps that looked a lot better than what we’re seeing today. And we scrapped all of that to satisfy the whims of our Governor.”

Rep. Kelly Skidmore, ranking Democrat on the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, suggested as much. After the House initially moved forward with maps that ignored DeSantis’ legal arguments, she said he felt optimistic a good map was attainable. “We were inches away from that until the Governor got his way,” she said.

Generally, Democrats slammed the two-tier map structure as an acknowledgement the primary map likely violates the law. Rep. Dan Daley, a Sunrise Democrat, dismissed it as “ranked choice legislating.” Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat, described it as a two-timing bill.

“You don’t ask two dates to go to prom. You ask a single date,” she said. “You don’t put forth two maps and call it a plan. You put forth a single map.”

House Republicans, though, said the plan was practical and addressed the concerns of voices on all sides. Rep. Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican, noted Florida’s constitution calls for a reapportionment plan, not simply a map.

Rep. Randy Fine, vice chair of the House Redistricting Committee, also said lawmakers had to at least attempt to address arguments the Governor leveled against the maps.

“I’ve heard this debate this morning, the notion that we are either doing the Governor’s bidding or that the Governor has no place in this process. And we hear a lot about separation of powers,” Fine said. “On every bill that we pass through here, he gets a say. And if, when you’re running a bill, and you don’t go talk to his office about what your bill is going to do, it’s hard to get a bill.”

Democrats also continued charges that both maps do too little to preserve, or appropriately expand the number. Outside groups including Latino Justice have threatened to sue over that fact, as Florida saw 1.5 million new Hispanic residents in the state but adds no Hispanic seats in its congressional map, despite adding a new district as a result of growth measured by the U.S. Census.

Rep. Joe Geller, ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting Committee, slammed the entire process, from holding no virtual public meetings to adding a shortened statute of limitations to challenge maps in court. He took particular issue with the fact that outside counsel for the House funded a racial polarization study that Republican leadership could look at but which was never made available to Democrats or the public.

But the bill drew Republican detractors too, some of whom expressed sympathy to the Governor’s legal argument. Both Reps. Mike Beltran, a Lithia Republican, and Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican, spoke against the cartography on the floor. Notably, Speaker Chris Sprowls previously removed both of the members from the Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee last month, citing the potential both would benefit from districts on the Governor’s maps.

Beltran took issue with the way Hillsborough County gets divided, an issue he raised in committee after the first House maps were published. Fischer, meanwhile, said he was troubled by the House’s shifting definitions of diminishment, at first saying a North Florida district must be protected and later offering a map with a lower Black population in CD 5. The approach was flawed regardless, he said.

“The maps are unconstitutionally driven,” he said. “Gov. Ron DeSantis also believes that the maps are unconstitutional. His comments are well known and he has even provided solutions to resolve these issues.”

Fischer and Beltran were among seven “no” votes from Republican members, along with Reps. Cord ByrdBrad DrakeTommy Gregory, Blaise Ingoglia and Anthony Sabatini. No Democrats voted yes. Rep. Yvonne Hinson, a Gainesville Democrat, did not vote.

But Rep. Tom Leek, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said the final maps were something the House could take pride in, regardless of what happens now. And he suggested the process was as transparent and accessible as participants made of it themselves.

“If you vote ‘no,’ and you have engaged, I respect you. We’ve reached a different conclusion on the same information,” Leek said. “But if you vote ‘no’ and you did not engage, either for purposes of legal strategy, or just lack of interest, what are you doing here?”

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].


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