GOP-controlled Senate completes work on redistricting plans; even Dems praise process, outcome

Gov. DeSantis’ alternative congressional map didn’t come up; the governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature

By: - January 20, 2022 5:48 pm

The Senate’s voting board records the tally on the chamber’s redistricting map for Congress on Jan. 20, 2022. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

The Florida Senate passed its plans to redistrict the state’s congressional and Senate seats, creating the political structure that will prevail for the next decade, on bipartisan votes Thursday.

Not a word was uttered about the congressional redistricting plan that Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped over the weekend.

“Because it’s not in play,” Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart of Orange County said after the body adjourned.

She meant that the governor’s plan hadn’t undergone the extensive vetting lavished on the chamber’s plans for adjusting Florida’s political map to reflect the results of the 2020 U.S. Census, which entitles the state to an additional seat in Congress — 28 in total.

The House and Senate each devise their own plans for redistricting their own memberships but will need to agree on the congressional map.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, of Lee County, who chaired the Committee on Reapportionment, said the panel took pains to avoid a repeat of the legal mess that followed redistricting 10 years ago, when the Florida Supreme Court struck down congressional and Senate plans for improperly weighting the scales toward the Republicans, who ran the process then.

“In this process, we followed what the court blessed,” Rodriguez said.

“Every step we’ve taken has been a step guided by the court to present a map to you today that will withstand a court challenge. And it is my belief that this map will withstand a court challenge,” he said during debate on the Senate map.

The vote on SB 102, the congressional map, was 31-4, with Democrats Janet Cruz of Hillsborough, Gary Farmer of Broward, Audrey Gibson of Duval, and Victor Torres, representing parts of Osceola and Orange counties, voting “no.”

SB 100, the Senate plan, passed, 34-3, with Farmer, Gibson, and Torres against.

Those critics complained the maps didn’t do enough to boost minority strength, especially regarding the surge in Hispanic population grown in Central Florida during the past decade.

Rodrigues said the congressional plan includes four districts in which African Americans represent either a majority or could strongly influence the outcome of elections. The plan provides for four majority-minority districts for Hispanics.

The Senate map includes one majority district for and four effective majority districts for African Americans, and five majority minority districts for Hispanics, he said.

“I feel that this process has been open and fair,” Stewart said before the votes. She called the maps “a wonderful product.”

In a written statement, DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw defended the governor’s map.

“We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements, 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,” she said.

The governor’s plan would produce more minority districts, especially for Hispanics, she added. It would completely redraw Congressional District 5, running between Jacksonville and Gadsden County, now held by Democrat Al Lawson, who is Black, but that’s a “flagrant gerrymander,” Pushaw said.

Still, as the Phoenix reported on Wednesday, analyses by Dave’s Redistricting and The Redistrict Network suggest DeSantis’ proposed congressional map favors Republicans in 18 districts and Democrats in 10. Under the existing map, Republicans control 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11.

The Senate draft contains 16 districts that went for Donald Trump two years ago and 12 likely to skew Democratic — a gain of one seat.

The Senate’s map for its own new districts included 23 that lean Republican, 13 leaning Democratic, and four competitive constituencies.

The Fair Districts Coalition, which includes Florida Common Cause, All On The Line, Florida Conservation Voters, Unidos U.S. and other organizations, released a letter it sent to the House and Senate reapportionment chairmen harshly asking them to trash the governor’s plan because it failed to comply with the rules for such submissions.

“Specifically, Florida citizens who wish to submit a map must provide a list with ‘“the name of every person(s), group(s), or organization(s) [they] collaborated with on [their] … submitted map.’ The governor and his staff have failed to comply with this requirement,” the letter, released as the Senate prepared to vote, reads.

“Our Florida Constitution provides no official role for the governor in the redistricting process. In fact, this is the first time in memory that a governor has inserted himself into a process that is constitutionally delegated to the Florida Legislature. Gov. DeSantis should not be exempted from policies established by the committees. He should be required to divulge the names of every person involved in any way in drawing his suggested map,” it says.

“In this specific instance, the governor’s choice to insert his office into the legislative process, at a minimum, creates an appearance of partisan intent. And his failure to disclose the identity of every person involved in drawing the map underscores that appearance of improper intent.”

Meanwhile, the Equal Ground Action Fund, which supports “building Black political power in Florida, issued a written statement from its founder, Jasmine Burney-Clark, accusing the governor of “diluting Black voters.”

“[W]e have serious concerns about the governor’s last-minute attempt to undo the progress that was made in 2015, when the Florida Supreme Court mandated the Legislature create new maps and increase the number of majority minority districts in the state,” Burney-Clark said.

“We’re calling on the Legislature to regain control of the redistricting process and not only remember the mistake they made a decade ago, but fulfill the obligation they have to follow the mandate given by voters in 2010 with the passage of the fair district amendments.

“We can’t have a governor who completely disrupts the redistricting process to guarantee votes in districts where he finds the most favor. We are committed to engaging our community in this process and ask that the Legislature do what is in the best interests of all Floridians and reject the governor’s shameless attempt to wield more political power at the expense of Florida voters.”

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.