The Legislature has approved a controversial congressional map from Gov. Ron DeSantis, set to take effect ahead of the 2022 midterms unless a court quickly decides otherwise.
The cartography (P 0109), which creates 20 Republican-leaning seats and eight Democratic seats, will next head to the Governor for his signature. Once he approves the map, Florida comes off a list of just three states that have yet to complete their redistricting process.
The House on Thursday picked up the reapportionment bill passed the prior day by the Senate. The lower chamber of the Legislature passed the bill through a party-line vote of 68-38.
That only occurred after a protest disrupted proceedings. As Democratic debate time ran out, Rep. Yvonne Hayes, a Gainesville Democrat, was comparing the fight for minority access seats to the Civil Rights movement. As her mic was cut, Black lawmakers including Reps. Angie Nixon, of Jacksonville, and Tray McCurdy, of Orlando, began a sit-in on the floor, both revealing T-shirts that read “Stop the Black Attack.”
That came after just over an hour of debate, primarily dominated by Democrats leveling criticism for the Governor’s end-run on the political process.
“We know that this map will pass this Legislature with less than 48 or 72 hours of scrutiny in a Special Session in which this body’s own Redistricting Committee did not even meet to consider it,” said Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat and congressional candidate. The Governor’s map drew Diamond’s state House district out of the congressional district where he’s running.
In a veto message, his General Counsel, Ryan Newman, laid out concerns about the preservation of a North Florida district, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. Florida’s 5th Congressional District spans from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. The Governor’s team believes the district was drawn based on racial motivations in violation of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
Lawson attacked the map and the logic.
“Once again, DeSantis is showing Florida voters that he is governing the state as a dictator,” Lawson said. “DeSantis bullied the Florida Legislature into approving his Republican-leaning congressional map during special session. It is alarming that state legislators cannot fulfill their constitutional duties without political meddling.
“Florida House Democrats demonstrated courage today by protesting the DeSantis’ drawn map on the floor. They comprehend that this map violates the Voting Rights Act along with the U.S. and Florida Constitutions. Minority voters in Florida deserve congressional representation. It is astounding that someone tasked to lead the state is playing partisan politics for his own political aspirations.”
Democrats argue that employing that equal protection language — inserted in the Constitution during the emancipation era — serves as dark irony as the Governor advances a map that eliminates two Black-performing districts.
“The concept of equal protection under the law is a key underpinning of our modern democracy,” said Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat.
Republicans in the House defended the map. Rep. Kaylee Tuck, a Sebring Republican, said the Legislature followed a reliable process in crafting its own maps, and that included the Governor’s veto. She praised DeSantis for devoting a qualified staff to participate in hearings.
“How many bills do we encounter where the Governor sends an entire team?” Tuck said.
But that comes after months of tension between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office. During Session, Tuck and other Republicans pushed against the Governor’s arguments, most notably when the Governor flew in conservative expert Robert Popper to discuss issues with CD 5 at a House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee meeting in February.
Following the Session, redistricting staff worked with the Governor’s Office to address concerns and produce maps that complied with state and federal law and that DeSantis would sign. But a week ahead of the Special Session, legislative leaders announced their own staff would not produce new maps, and instead would let the Governor take the lead.
Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly, who drew the Governor’s map, presented the proposal in committee this week as a compromise map. He said the plan preserves 10 districts from the primary map approved by the Legislature during Session, but seeks out race-neutral boundaries for CD 5 in the Jacksonville area and Florida’s 10th Congressional District in Central Florida.
A partisan performance analysis by MCI Maps shows the Governor’s map has 20 congressional districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential Election and just eight voted for Democrat Joe Biden. It also leaves only two districts the Legislature’s analysts believe will be controlled by Black voters.
The Legislature’s maps all worked to comply with both federal and state law, most notably the Fair Districts amendment in the state constitution approved by Florida voters in 2010. That amendment prohibits districts drawn to favor or disfavor a political party or candidate, and also prohibits the diminishment of minority communities’ ability to elect a Representative of their choice.
DeSantis’ team has argued the latter provisions conflict with the U.S. Constitution, which trumps state law.
But Rep. Joe Geller, ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting Committee, argued on the floor that the Legislature must work within the confines of the laws as written. “Members, our job is to pass something that complies with the Florida Constitution, including those Fair Districts provisions, and the federal Voting Rights Act,” he said.
He said anyone who feels a redistricting plan violates the Constitution should make that case in court.
A number of Black Representatives suggested the maps overtly attack representation directly and intentionally.
“I’ve had enough of being kicked around in this building and in this chamber and still being expected to smile and shake your hands and engage in conversation with the same people who are trying to oppress my people,” said McCurdy.
But Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, asserted that drawing districts with racial concerns in mind demonstrates “inherent racism.”
“Today, we pass maps that are constitutional, and they will be litigated, and we will learn whether the U.S. Constitution reigns supreme over the Florida State Constitution,” he said. “That is the discussion at hand.”
Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, who also is running for Congress in a Tampa Bay district redrawn as Republican-leaning on the map, said the map wasn’t drawn with noble intent.
“Yes, I have a vested interest,” she said. “I have a vested interest because I’m a Black woman in the state of Florida. I have a vested interest because I’m a Black resident in the state of Florida. I have a vested interest because I have Black constituents. I have friends who are Black in Jacksonville and are concerned about what their representation is going to look like.
“I have a vested interest because I know the struggles of Black and Brown folks over the course of 200-plus years in this country, but most certainly in this state. I have a vested interest because I understand it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act that my parents were able to vote.”