JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida redistricting proposals are stirring controversy in Tallahassee.
The Florida Senate voted 31-4 to approve new congressional districts on Thursday, and the Senate’s plan for 28 districts does not follow lines recently proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Critics say the governor’s proposal, which was quietly released the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, would dramatically impact the representation of Black and Hispanic voters.
DeSantis said he put out his own proposal for a congressional redistricting plan because he rejects the legal guidelines adopted by Senate and House Republicans. And there are big changes in store for Northeast Florida if it’s approved.
The biggest changes affecting our area include Congressional District 5, which is represented by U.S Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat.
Right now, the district includes a big chunk of the urban core of Jacksonville and stretches all the way past Tallahassee.
Under the governor’s proposal, it would basically dissolve the current district — with Districts 2, 3 and 11 filling the void — and move District 5 south.
Lawson was critical of the governor’s proposal when News4JAX spoke to him on Thursday.
“And you know for a fact the governor’s plan is a violation of the Voting (Rights) Act and at the same time a violation of the constitution,” Lawson said. “It’s been in federal court before that’s why they drew the lines the way they did before.”
Lawson said it is evident that DeSantis is trying to restrict minority representation, specifically African American voters.
A spokesperson for DeSantis called the current drawing of District 5 an unconstitutional example of gerrymandering that unnaturally connects communities in Jacksonville with communities hours away in Tallahassee.
“We believe our map is within constitutional requirements and performs better than the other maps on the tier 2 constitutional requirements, including compactness and preservation of boundaries, all while increasing the number of minority districts,” the spokesperson added.
Ryan Newman, General Counsel for the Executive Office of DeSantis, said in a statement to News4JAX: “We have legal concerns with the congressional redistricting maps under consideration in the Legislature. We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements and addresses our legal concerns, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations. Because the Governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner.”
Dr. Michael Binder, a political science professor at the University of North Florida, said DeSantis’ proposal is unprecedented.
“Governors, to my knowledge, have never done this in the past the proposing of their own congressional district map, typically, that is left to the legislature to handle and then ultimately, the governor will veto it or accept it,” Binder said. “I have zero doubt over history’s governors have been involved in the process, but publicly coming out with a map is one thing, but the fact that it was so different from the Senate version that was voted on advanced is really striking.”
Binder added that for much of his term, DeSantis has been able to keep the Senate and the House in lockstep with his agenda, but in this case, it appears to be different.
“So I think the Senate is saying, listen, we like what we’ve got, these are districts we’re comfortable with, we’re familiar with them, we’ve added in an extra district, we haven’t changed the racial makeup, the likely racial makeup of elections and congressional seats, we have our eyes potentially on running in some of these seats already, because we’re looking down the road for our careers. We like the status quo. And that’s not surprising,” Binder said.
The Florida House proposal, which is about a week behind the Senate, is expected to look more like the governor’s but that remains to be seen. The House and the Senate will then have to negotiate a final congressional map.
And after that, DeSantis could still veto or it could end up in the Florida Supreme Court.