The House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee advanced a map (P 0109) submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Office. Like in the Senate, the cartography moved forward on a party-line vote.
The tone of the meeting marked a sharp difference from the last time the subcommittee met. At the February meeting, House members from both parties pilloried Robert Popper, an expert flown in by DeSantis to lay out similar arguments as those presented by his staff Tuesday.
After that previous meeting, members moved forward with a map independent of the Governor, one he ultimately vetoed before calling the Legislature back for the ongoing Special Session.
DeSantis’ Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly spoke to the House subcommittee shortly after presenting cartography to a Senate committee. The House meeting started with conflict in part because, based on Kelly’s testimony to the Senate, Democrats wanted him put under oath.
“We have the ability to move to have members who are guests who are testifying in committee to be put under oath, and I feel that it is a fair motion under the circumstances,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
But Rep. Tyler Sirois, the subcommittee Chair, said that would make Kelly the first witness put under oath in the entire redistricting process. Ultimately, a motion was voted down.
“As far as my length of service in the Legislature, I think that that would be an extraordinary step that I don’t feel is necessary,” Sirois said. “And frankly, I find it absurd to seek to put a member of another branch of our government under oath.”
At the hearing on the map, General Counsel for DeSantis’ Office joined in explaining a rationale for the Governor’s veto of a map (H 8019) approved during the Legislative Session. Ryan Newman, the attorney who submitted two previous maps, argued the products approved by lawmakers violated the U.S. Constitution. He suggested the drawing of multiple districts violated the equal protection clause because they were primarily motivated by race.
He shot down arguments that Florida’s Fair District amendment, which prohibits diminishment of minority communities’ ability to elect a candidate of their choice, would trump the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Newman posed a hypothetical, asking whether states could overrule federal civil rights laws.
“If Florida has a law segregating the schools, would it somehow trump the equal protection clause because the Florida Constitution said so?” Newman said.
Rep. Dotie Joseph, a North Miami Democrat, also objected to language in the actual legislation that would limit any legal challenges brought against the maps to be filed in state court. Legal experts suggest that limit could not be enforced.
Joseph said it was ridiculous that DeSantis would raise concerns about the U.S. Constitution but then disallow the map being challenged in federal court. She filed an amendment to remove that language, but it was shot down.
Democrats also expressed frustration that DeSantis repeatedly raised concerns about racial gerrymandering, but limited those to North Florida. A veto message and a memo drafted by Newman during Session dealt exclusively with the composition of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.
Rep. Kamia Brown, an Ocoee Democrat, noted the Governor’s maps disregard the Legislature’s maps in areas throughout Central Florida and the Interstate 4 Corridor. “Why are we here messing with the Orlando area?” she asked.
Kelly and Newman said that while the veto message and legal arguments presented focused on CD 5 because it was the most egregious district, maps submitted by the Governor’s Office relayed greater concerns.
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Parkland Democrat, asked why, if the Governor objected to minority seats on principle, his map includes two South Florida districts considered Black-performing seats.
That led to an interesting moment in the context of relationships. Kelly noted that the Governor’s final map adopts the Legislature’s plan in South Florida. While Florida’s 20th and 24th Congressional Districts under the Governor’s map are both minority seats, he did not draw them. Any questions about those should be handled by House mapmakers, Kelly argued.
That means questions instead went to Leda Kelly, staff director for the House Redistricting Committee — and Alex Kelly’s wife.
Leda Kelly said the districts were preserved in configurations similar to the current congressional map so as not to diminish minorities’ ability to elect a candidate. She stressed a difference with Black districts torn apart by the Governor’s map, CD 5 and Florida’s 10th Congressional District. She noted Black residents make up a much larger percentage of populations in both CD 20 and CD 24.
Under the baseline map in place now, CD 5 has Black voting age population at 46.2%, while CD 10 sits at 26.7%. In comparison, CD 20 is at 52.4% and CD 24 is at 43.6%.
The official analysis of the Governor’s map puts Florida’s 4th Congressional District, the replacement for CD 5, with a Black voting age population of 31.7% and CD 10 at 26%. It leaves CD 20 at 50.1% and CD 24 at 42.2%.
Rep. Joe Harding, who voted “yes” on the Legislature’s maps, spoke in favor of the Governor’s proposal and said that’s just part of lawmaking.
“The Governor has the ability to veto,” he said. “That is part of the process.”
He also noted that Democrats in the House now decry the Governor for submitting his own maps, but no Democratic member of the House ever offered an alternative proposal of their own. Additionally, no House Democrats supported the vetoed maps now held up as a superior product.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Tampa Democrat, countered that while the Legislature’s maps were not perfect, they were better than what the Governor produced.
Skidmore, though, said the Governor’s maps are such an egregious violation of Florida’s Fair Districts amendment that members will regret letting him steamroll the process. She suggested there is no way the maps won’t be proven to illegally benefit the Republican Party.
“Members, it’s an Easter miracle,” she said. “All he was worried about was being race neutral, but remarkably this map has 20 Republican-performing seats and eight Democrat seats.”