FL Legislature prepares to consider DeSantis’ new congressional map; redistricting suit advances

Little appetite among Democrats to boycott next week’s special session

By: - April 13, 2022 5:50 pm

Florida’s Old Capitol and New Capitol, viewed from the Leon County Courthouse on March 21, 2022. Credit: Michael Moline

Gov. Ron DeSantis produced a proposal for redrawing Florida’s congressional districts on Wednesday — and, as he had promised, it eliminates what he considers to be a “racially gerrymandered” district in North Florida.

That means Florida likely will lose at least one Black member of its congressional delegation. The district at risk is CD 5, which closely resembles the existing CD 3 held by Al Lawson of Tallahassee, which runs for 200 miles from Jacksonville to Gadsden County.

Instead, the governor is proposing two new districts in the Jacksonville region, according to a memo by DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman. The proposal also adjusts the congressional districts in and around the Tampa region as well as the Orlando region, according to the memo.

FL State Sen. Ray Rodrigues. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who chairs the Senate’s committee on reapportionment, was briefed Wednesday by the governor’s staff.

“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,” Rodrigues said in a statement.

“I intend to introduce the map as a bill for consideration during the special session,” he said. “I have asked Senate Counsel Dan Nordby to prepare a legal memorandum outlining his analysis of the governor’s submission, which we will provide for your review.”

Lawmakers to be briefed

Lawmakers, legal experts, voters and advocates involved in the redistricting process will review the governor’s proposal in the days leading up to the start of the special session on Tuesday. Rodrigues said senators will be briefed Tuesday afternoon by the governor’s staff.

In a map the Legislature sent DeSantis during its recent regular session, lawmakers contained a Black-leaning CD 5 within Duval County, leaving though Blacks living in Florida’s old cotton plantation belt without a Black representative in Congress.

DeSantis called the special session after vetoing the Legislature’s plan.

His version would give the GOP 20 of the 28 congressional districts it’s entitled to under the 2020 U.S. Census.

“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,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

Lawsuit isn’t going away

Meanwhile, a federal judge has refused to put a hold on a lawsuit asking the court to draw new congressional district boundaries in Florida.

U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, assigned to preside over a three-judge panel hearing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, said it makes sense to proceed pending the outcome of the special session scheduled to open on Tuesday and run through Friday, if it takes that long.

Credit: Getty Images

He set trial dates for May 12-13.

Lawyers for Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who supervises elections in Florida, had asked Adalberto to delay the case.

No one can predict with any certainty what will happen in the special session.

– Adalberto Jordan, 11th Circuit

“But the Legislature and the governor have so far not seen eye-to-eye on this issue, so no one can predict with any certainty what will happen in the special session,” he wrote in an order issued on Monday.

“And if the political process does not result in a new congressional map, a court will have to step in and draw the map. Even by Secretary Lee’s timeline, there will be less than two months to accomplish that judicial task should it become necessary.”

He gave plaintiffs including Common Cause Florida and individual voters until Monday to propose congressional maps and Lee until April 26 to do the same — presumably with the fruit of the special session.

One group of plaintiffs, represented by Democratic litigator Marc Elias, filed a parallel lawsuit in state trial court but have withdrawn it and joined in the federal case.

Boycott proposed

Miami-Dade County Sen. Annette Taddeo, who’s running in the Democratic primary to oppose DeSantis in November, proposed a boycott of the special session.

“If the Governor wants to make a real difference in Floridians’ lives and tackle the insurance rate crisis or the housing crisis, I’ll see him in Tallahassee,” Taddeo wrote, opening a Twitter thread on Wednesday.

“But, I’ll be damned if I’m showing up to kiss his ring and waste taxpayer money for an unconstitutional map that erases Black and Brown voices from the electoral process.

“It’s too bad between the Senate President and the Speaker of the House they couldn’t put together one spine to stand up to DeSantis. I’m calling the rest of my Democratic colleagues in the legislature to join me in the cojones caucus and boycott this upcoming special session,” she concluded.

Rep. Evan Jenne. Credit: Florida House

The idea flew like a lead balloon among fellow Democrats contacted by the Phoenix. Evan Jenne, outgoing leader of the House Democratic caucus, said in a telephone interview that he’d heard rumblings about a boycott and discouraged it. Jenne is leaving the Legislature after 14 years in the Capitol.

“I’ve never been married. The only thing I’ve ever sworn on a Bible to is to be present and accounted for, barring some sort of medical emergency,” he said. “I don’t intend on violating it at the very end.”

Democrat Audrey Gibson of Duval County confessed over the phone that the other day she asked herself: “Why am I going when it’s not going to matter? But it does matter. It matters that I speak up for people that deserve representation at the federal level.”

She decided: “I want to make sure I get to debate and that I get to ask questions and that it gets on the record. Not showing up is not the answer for me.”

Get it on the record

Same for Sen. Darryl Rouson, representing parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

“If a special session is validly called through the mechanisms provided, even if I disagree with the purpose it is my constitutional duty and the responsibility placed upon me by the voters to show up and be counted. Anything short is a dereliction of duty,” Rouson said.

“It doesn’t make any sense to boycott.” Failure to oppose the governor “seems like its tacit agreement.”

And Sen. Linda Stewart of Orange County, a member of the congressional subcommittee.

“I don’t know how we can have input if we’re not there,” she said.

Gibson, Stewart, and Rouson all serve on the congressional redistricting subcommittee.

Furthermore, judges have been known to cite floor debates as evidence in challenges to legislation — as Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of Tallahassee did in striking major provisions in SB 90, last year’s voting law.

Florida State Rep. Fentrice Driskell. Credit: Florida House of Representatives

“Very rarely in my 14 years has the Republican conference been my audience that I am directly speaking to,” said Jenne.

“Typically, it’s folks like yourself, in the press; it’s the other chamber, the Senate; and, to be honest, a lot of times it’s for the record — for the eventual court case we know is coming. Because we don’t want anyone to be able to say every rock wasn’t turned over in the process of vetting this bill.”

“Someone needs to be there during special session to build the record in case these maps are challenged in court,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell of Hillsborough County, who sits on the House Redistricting Committee.

“And, based on the governor’s prior behavior and the things that he’s said in the media, we can anticipate that he will propose a map or maps that diminish Black voting power in the state,” she said.

Phoenix Editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.

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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.