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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting the congressional redistricting plan that he wants.
DeSantis’ office submitted a U.S. House configuration tailored to maximize Republican interests, and on Thursday Florida lawmakers left every proposed line intact and sent it back to him with their approval.
Thursday’s 68 to 38 vote in the Florida House came after Black Democrats staged a protest on the chamber’s floor, interrupting debate to demand that lawmakers draw a new redistricting plan. Earlier in the day’s debate, Democrats had been told to limit discussion of racist voting laws in Florida’s history.
“We have members who wanted to hijack our process today,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) said as he called for the vote over audible protests.
The map (S.B. 2C) would eliminate districts currently held by two Black U.S. House members, and pack voters in a way that will mean the likely election of four more Republican members of Congress—enough to eliminate gains Democrats made during the redistricting process in other states, including New York.
After adding a seat to account for population gains, the plan would create 20 districts that went for Donald Trump in the 2020 election and put voters who favored Joe Biden into eight districts. Republicans hold 16 of the 27 current districts. Florida gained a congressional seat based on population gains.
The map is almost certain to end up in court, either because of the state Constitution’s anti-gerrymandering provision, because of the impact on the ability of Black voters to elect their preferred candidates, or both. But even if it’s thrown out, Republicans could see a short-term gain from using the map in this year’s election.
DeSantis’s unprecedented involvement in the redistricting process is an overreach and disrespects voters who approved the state’s anti-gerrymandering amendments in 2010, state Rep. Kamia Brown (D) said on the House floor.
“His unchecked power has only continued to grow,” she said. “I have a serious problem with the governor and him meddling in the representation of Floridians for his own political gain.”
“I can hear the moans of Black people in this state because of this map,” state Sen. Darryl Rouson (D), who is Black, said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “And it’s difficult for me to make it make sense.”
“I don’t believe the governor is racist,” he said, noting Black appointees at several state agencies.
House Republicans said DeSantis’s map was vetted in an open and transparent process with no alternatives proposed by Democrats. State Sen. Kelli Stargel (R) said before the 24–15 Senate vote Wednesday that the map is constitutional, and “I don’t think any of us who votes for them today are racists or following the will of the governor.”
DeSantis (R) has said he wants Florida’s courts to rule on the anti-gerrymandering language approved by voters in 2010.
A new federal court challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 also is possible.
The governor vetoed a map that would have preserved a district created by a court in 2015 to remedy partisan gerrymandering. That northern Florida district, held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, would be wiped out under the lines drawn by the governor’s office.
DeSantis said the district should be drawn in “a race-neutral manner.” During a legislative hearing, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, J. Alex Kelly, called Lawson’s current seat “a racial gerrymander.”
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Kelly said he drew the map. The governor’s office, he added, also had hired Republican redistricting expert Adam Foltz, who previously worked on map-drawing in Texas last year and in Wisconsin in the previous redistricting cycle.
The governor’s map also would dismantle the Orlando-area district now held by Rep. Val Demings, also a Black Democrat.
It would leave Florida with just two districts that would reliably elect Black candidates. The state’s other Black member of the House is Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican elected in 2020 from the 19th Congressional District.
DeSantis recalled lawmakers to Tallahassee, Fla., this week for a special redistricting session, after vetoing their first try. Legislative leaders said they’d defer to him even though line-drawing is their responsibility and the governor has no defined role in the process other than the veto-or-sign decision.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at firstname.lastname@example.org