The Florida House, Feb. 2, 2022. Credit: Michael Moline
The Florida House has set up a floor vote on a new redistricting plan for itself that would cement Republican control for the next decade, notwithstanding that party’s near parity with Democrats among registered voters.
Technically, and in a voice vote, the House agreed to combine a redistricting plan approved in committee onto the Senate’s plan for redrawing its own districts — traditionally, Speaker Chris Sprowls explained, each chamber draws its own new maps and they collaborate on congressional redistricting.
The move set up a final floor vote on Tuesday, but the Senate would still need to OK the House’s plan for itself.
Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court opened a docket to manage all-but-inevitable litigation testing whether the new map, plus the state Senate’s map for its own districts and a joint plan to reapportion the state’s congressional delegation, are legally and constitutionally sound.
The justices asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to submit the Legislature’s maps to the court and gave critics five days after she does so to file any objections. Parties supporting the new maps would have another five days after that to file with the court.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, asked the Supreme Court for legal guidance regarding his own ideas about how to redraw district boundaries for its congressional delegation, which will grow to 28 total seats, according to House Republicans.
DeSantis can veto any legislative redistricting for Congress, although he has no say over state House and Senate plans. His specific request of the court wasn’t yet posted on the docket as of Monday evening.
“We want a map that’s going to withstand legal scrutiny. We’re in the process of working through — it’s mostly legal issues, it’s not really political issues. I think we’re going to be able to get to a good spot and have a good product,” DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday in Miami.
Republican Tyler Sirois, of Broward County, who chairs the House congressional redistricting subcommittee, thereupon scrubbed plans for that panel to consider the House map on Friday morning. Tom Leek of Volusia County chairs the full redistricting committee.
“Speaker Sprowls, Chair Leek, and I have repeatedly maintained the importance of complying with the law in this process, and it is not in our interest to proceed until such a time that the court indicates whether it will provide additional guidance,” he said in a letter to his subcommittee members.
According to reporting by Florida Politics, an MCI Maps analysis suggests that, under the House plan, Republicans could control 71 and Democrats 49 out of the total 120 districts, based on voters in each who opted for Donald Trump against Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
The lineup now is 78 Republican-leaning and 42 Democratic seats.
Some 18 districts of the planned new districts are either majority-minority Black or lean toward them, including two for Haitian Creole speakers, and 12 lean Hispanic, according to the Republicans who oversaw their assembly. The overall number of protected Black and Hispanic seats would be unchanged from the old maps.
“We did not diminish in any way the minority population’s ability to elect a candidate of its choice in those protected districts,” Leek said.
Black Democrats argued that enough Blacks live in Florida to justify 20 seats for them, going by their percentage of the population.
“I know that we’ve been careful to make sure that there’s no retrogression but, from what I can see, there’s been no progression,” said Geraldine Thompson of Orange County.
The problem, Leek said, involves the way those voters have distributed themselves across the state. In fact, he acknowledged, a district in Volusia County is no longer a “performing” district for African Americans. The same thing happened to an Hispanic district in Miami-Dade, but another Hispanic district has emerged in Central Florida, he said.
The reapportionment plans must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, approved by voters in 2010 and intended to prevent partisan gerrymandering. The idea is to bar the Legislature from creating districts that protect incumbents or partisan majorities but do protect ethnic and language minorities.
The Senate approved its maps for itself and Congress on Jan. 20, with Democrats mostly commenting that the plans seemed fair. That map favors Republicans in 18 districts and Democrats in 10. Under the existing map, Republicans control 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11.
During floor debate in the House, Democrats pressed Leek regarding the process behind the map. They wanted to know whether any partisan political considerations prevailed — none did, Leek said.
Who drew them, then, Christopher Benjamin of Miami-Dade County wanted to know.
“You did. We did. We all did, and utilized staff to help us,” Leek responded.
But Speaker Sprowls insisted that members restrict their questions to the details of the proposed districts and leave the policy questions for final debate. “I promise you, there are plenty of questions that could be asked about these 120 districts that span our state that includes 22 million people,” he said.
Leek cut off Democratic questions about the Senate’s maps, noting that most Democrats in that chamber had voted for it.
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