Jacksonville congressional district key to Florida redistricting fight

The once-a-decade tradition of redrawing the U.S. Congressional districts in Florida continues to drag on in Tallahassee.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The once-a-decade tradition of redrawing the U.S. Congressional districts in Florida continues to drag on in Tallahassee. Following the 2020 Census, the Sunshine State’s legislators are looking to rework the map -- redrawing the boundary lines of the people who represent you in government. It’s called redistricting and this year Jacksonville is taking center stage.

It’s a political hot potato as some say the lines are being drawn to favor one political party over the other. That’s called gerrymandering. Gov. Ron DeSantis is threatening to veto any map that he says is gerrymandered or is not compact and in line with two constitutional amendments approved by Florida voters in 2010.

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Members of the House Redistricting Committee met in Tallahassee Friday afternoon and approved a new plan. Under one map from the House, minority voters would have a strong say but not a majority in the 5th Congressional District currently represented by Democrat Al Lawson. It’s different than the Senate plan and another the governor is proposing.

These are Florida's current U.S. congressional districts. (WJXT)

In that meeting, the committee chairman laid down the law.

“I will tell you again that the partisan analysis of these maps of not protected districts will lead us down to a road of disaster,” said the Redistricting Committee Chair, Rep. Tom Leek, a Republican from Ormond Beach.

That’s because many of those involved believe this will all end up in court.

“Let’s stop the political theater. Let’s stop focusing on moving pieces across the litigation chessboard and let’s just do our work,” Leek said.

During that meeting a new U.S. congressional map for District 5 was presented that puts the urban core of Jacksonville in a compact district that includes much of Duval County. According to statistics from state lawmakers, the proposed district would be a Democratic stronghold.

This map shows the Florida House of Representatives proposal for new U.S. congressional districts. (WJXT)

Surrounding that would be District 4. It’s a Republican-dominated district, covering some of the eastern parts of Duval County, plus a portion of St. Johns County, and all of Clay and Nassau Counties.

While the House is still trying to approve its final proposal, the Florida Senate already passed a map. State Senator Audrey Gibson, a Democrat from Jacksonville, is on that redistricting committee and I asked her today where this thinks all of this is going.

U.S. congressional districts map passed by the Florida Senate.

“It seems that the idea or the requirement to draw a constitutional map is being pushed aside for personal power,” Gibson said.

Gibson is referring to DeSantis who has submitted his own plan and promised to veto maps that are not similar to his.

Dr. Michael Binder, a political science professor at the University of North Florida, has been following the process.

“It’s really strange and it kind of smells like it’s a PR stunt more than anything else but who knows. It looks like the maps are going to change coming out of the House. I don’t know what the Senate is going to do,” Binder said.

Map showing the U.S. congressional districts proposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The House did take an unusual step – offering an “alternative” map – that keeps District 5 running from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. Redistricting leaders say if the courts tossed out the map that’s their first choice – this map could then take effect. The committee approved the proposal that included both maps.

An "alternative" map for U.S. congressional districts proposed by the Florida House chamber.

“I am disappointed that Speaker Sprowls caved to the demands of Ron DeSantis to push a partisan, unconstitutional congressional map. Never in our state’s history has the Florida Legislature submitted two maps for review - one that is clearly unconstitutional and a second ‘in case we get caught’ map,” said Lawson. “The proposed Congressional District Five divides minority communities of interest across North Florida, leaving all Black voters west of Jacksonville unrepresented.”

Lawson continued, “Following the Civil War, newly freed African Americans remained in what is now the I-10 corridor where many of their descendants continue to reside. House Bill 7503, as amended, adopts the intent of Ron DeSantis’ unconstitutional map by denying these communities of interest a voice in Congress.”

State lawmakers hope to have the new districts approved before the current session of the legislature wraps up March 11. A special session might have to be called if that deadline is not met. The new districts are needed for the upcoming congressional election with primaries in August.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.