TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Black congressman’s district would be dismantled under a map Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted to state lawmakers Wednesday ahead of a special session that was called after the governor vetoed maps sent to him by the GOP-dominated Legislature.
The Legislature has conceded control of the process to DeSantis, whose proposals would likely increase Republican seats in Florida while making it more difficult for Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson to maintain his north Florida seat.
Lawson’s current district stretches from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee. Before the map was submitted, DeSantis had said the 200-mile-long (320-kilometer-long) district, which would assure Black voters could choose a Black candidate, would violate constitutional standards for compactness of districts.
“We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin. That is wrong. That is not the way we’ve governed in the state of Florida,” said DeSantis, who has argued that a U.S. Supreme Court opinion said districts can’t be drawn with race as a primary factor.
Lawson criticized DeSantis’ approach.
“He’s always said that’s what he wanted to do,” Lawson said in a phone interview. “I know pretty much his agenda is that he wants all of north Florida to be Republican. None of these communities of interest have had any hearings on his plan. It’s really a major concern for minorities all over north Florida.”
The Legislature will open a special session on Tuesday to approve congressional maps in the once-a-decade process of redistricting following the federal census. Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment Committee, said in a memo to members that the new map looks like it meets constitutional requirements.
“After thoroughly reviewing the Governor’s submission and a discussion with our legal counsel, I have determined that the Governor’s map reflects standards the Senate can support,” he said.
In an unprecedented move, DeSantis, who is a potential 2024 presidential candidate, interjected himself into the process by submitting his own map just before the Senate was set to approve its map.
During the 60-day legislative session that ended last month, the Senate did not take the governor’s map into consideration, and the House approved two maps, a primary map to try to appease DeSantis and a second in case the first map was found to be unconstitutional.
While the House was debating its proposal, DeSantis used Twitter to say it would be dead on arrival. The Senate later approved the House maps and DeSantis kept his promise and vetoed the bill.
Earlier this week Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls said they wouldn’t again try to write maps and said they’d wait for the governor to do so, essentially abdicating the Legislature’s role to DeSantis.
The decision infuriated Democrats. Rep. Kelly Skidmore, who is the top Democrat on the House congressional redistricting committee, said DeSantis is simply trying to gerrymander to win more Republican seats, and admonished chamber leaders for letting DeSantis dictate the process.
“I’m ashamed of them,” she said. She said of DeSantis, “Play my game or I’m taking my ball and going home because I am a bully and a crybaby.”