Special Session: Here are five important things about Gov. DeSantis’ proposed congressional map
Ron DeSantis. Image via Colin Hackley.

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Some of these districts look very familiar.

Special Session offers one last chance for the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to agree on a congressional map. For the part of GOP leadership, there seems little remaining will to fight, with key Senators ready to support a map submitted by the Governor’s office last week.

Before lawmakers grab their last bite, here are five significant things spotted in the latest submission (P 0109) from DeSantis’ team.

Sprawling seats

“We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin,” DeSantis told press ahead of his map’s release.

But in his proposal, there are districts that stretch beyond or near 200 miles end-to-end. It’s a 215-mile drive, for example, from DeFuniak Springs to Steinhatchee, endpoints in the proposed Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. The district absorbs large sections of the current Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Of course, this is a Panhandle district bound by the Gulf Mexico on the south and the state line on the north, so there is arguably little to be done to make the largely rural district more compact. But it’s not the only large jurisdiction.

Florida’s 18th Congressional District covers an enormous portion of inland Florida from Polk County to Collier County. From its northwestern-most to southeastern-most points, it’s a 181-mile road trip, according to Google Maps. While race may not be the motivating factor, it’s quite a district that puts Winter Haven and Haines City in the Interstate 4 corridor with the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida.

Racial districts

For that matter, there are also still districts clearly drawn to protect racial minorities’ ability to elect candidates of their choice. While DeSantis and his General Counsel have repeatedly argued racially drawn seats violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Governor only seems willing to fight that war on so many fronts.

Prior maps, particularly his first submission in January, made significant changes to Florida’s 20th Congressional District. But the map DeSantis offered days ahead of the Special Session largely leaves intact the district as it looks now.

That’s good news for U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who scraped out a Special Election victory after winning a Democratic Primary by five votes. But it somewhat undercuts the arguments DeSantis waged against U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and the makeup of Florida’s 5th Congressional District. CD 20 on the DeSantis map is the least compact, according to the Polsby-Popper test developed by an expert DeSantis flew in during Session. Partisan analysis shows it’s a seat Democrat Joe Biden won by 50 percentage points in the 2020 election. About 50.1% of its voting age population is Black.

The other plurality Black seat on the map is Florida’s 24th Congressional District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson. It has a 42.2% Black voting age population and a 38.5% Hispanic one. But it scores better in compactness.

Looking familiar?

Actually, the final submission of the map looks a little more like the one approved by the Legislature (H 8019 and H 8015) than his prior proposals — at least in South Florida. For Florida’s 19th through 28th Congressional Districts, the map largely lifts the cartography approved by the House and Senate, one significant result of negotiations between the Legislature and Governor’s Office since the close of the regular Session.

Many in the Legislature have quietly suggested adopting the Governor’s map means lawmakers don’t have to defend some of the most controversial changes around the North Florida district. But this likewise may mean the Governor won’t own the cartography for South Florida that many conservatives like very much.

What incumbent protection?

While the DeSantis proposals have raised major questions about the diminishment of racial communities’ ability to elect candidates of their choice, the Fair Districts amendment also prohibits protection of incumbents. One of the most surprising things about the Governor’s last map is how much uncertainty it creates for many Republican incumbents in the state.

It’s unclear whether U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, will run in Florida’s 16th or 17th Congressional District, as his current constituency gets divided between the seats. That in turn raises questions where U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, will run.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a fixture of Pinellas County politics, sees his district rescind to north of the Pasco County line. And a redraw of Florida’s 11th Congressional District takes away U.S. Rep. Dan Webster’s coastal constituencies and splits The Villages while re-centering its power in South Lake County.

Another population center split would be Lakeland, which might leave U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin representing a sprawling district that extends all the way to Hendry County well south of Lake Okeechobee. Basically, it’s not just Lawson who may harbor resentment for a former congressional colleague.

Party like it’s 2012

Like a Magic Eye drawing, the longer one stares at the DeSantis map, the more another image pops out: that of Florida’s 2012 congressional map.

While the Governor goes a different direction with the Jacksonville area seats, there are conspicuous similarities to his map and the one put in place during the election cycle when he first won a seat in Congress. That map resulted in Democrats winning just six seats out of 27 up for grabs in Florida that year, and DeSantis’ map now has six of 28 districts where Democrat Joe Biden prevailed in the 2020 election.

In Tampa Bay, DeSantis wants to restore a configuration where downtown St. Petersburg connects with Tampa to make a single Democrat-leaning seat, with parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. His plans for the Panhandle look like the map approved by the Legislature a decade ago, with Lawson’s Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district erased.

Of course, that map was ultimately thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court, in part because it favored the Republican Party. That’s exactly the criticism legal experts suggest could undo DeSantis’ map, even if the Governor can argue the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution requires race-neutral districts and trumps anti-diminishment rules in the Fair Districts amendment.

P 0109

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]


2 comments

  • Teddy

    April 19, 2022 at 1:02 pm

    I just moved to District 5 and thought that district map looked ridiculous .

  • Matthew Lusk

    April 19, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    Why does Al Lawson support killing black babies? He’s black himself. Is this the minority’s candidate of choice? Why does Al Lawson praise and worship atheist Charles Darwin? Is this the minority’s candidate of choice? Why does Al Lawson support open borders so the third world migrants lower US Corporation labor costs? Is this the minority’s candidate of choice? Why does Al Lawson cover for the NAZI new world order international banking cartel? Is this the minority’s candidate of choice? Why? For the money. Al Lawson is a con-man sell-out.

Comments are closed.


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