TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A new congressional map submitted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' office that will likely swing Florida's representation in Washington even further to the GOP was approved by the state Senate on Wednesday.
The House is expected to send the map back to the governor on Thursday, ending, for now, a process prolonged by DeSantis' veto of the maps the Legislature originally sent him. Even supporters agree a legal challenge will continue after this week's special session ends.
The vote was 24-15 on party lines, with Democrats arguing that the governor's office crafted the map to benefit Republicans, while also making it more difficult for Black voters to elect Black representatives.
“This map will favor Republicans in 70% of the districts,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky. “But Republicans make up 36% of the registered voters in this state. So we are going to have an incredible imbalance in this state, and that is exactly what gerrymandering is, where the state does not represent its constituents. I think that speaks volumes about the intent of the bill.”
Right now, there are 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats representing Florida in the U.S. House. Many political observers have said the DeSantis map could give Republicans a 20-8 advantage, though Florida’s vast number of unaffiliated voters can swing elections. Still, such an advantage would help DeSantis, who is a potential 2024 presidential candidate, should he win the White House.
Of Florida’s 14,300,000 registered voters, about 36% are Republicans, 35% Democrats and the overwhelming majority of the remainder have no party affiliation.
The Republican-dominated Legislature didn't bother to take a second stab at drawing a map DeSantis would approve, but rather leaders asked the governor to provide one. The Senate essentially rubber-stamped it over objections of Democrats who said it was an overreach of DeSantis' power.
"He’s a bully and bullies don’t respect weakness. They only respect power and strength, and if we continue to do this, it’s only going to get worse," said Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy.
Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment Committee, defended the DeSantis map and the decision to accept it.
“We would abdicate our responsibility if we failed to pass a map and allowed the courts to do it. The governor has always had a role in districting. Not just governor DeSantis, but every governor in the state of Florida, because no reapportionment plan is complete for a congressional map until the governor has signed it,” Rodrigues said.
What's unprecedented, though, is the governor giving the Legislature a map to approve, rather than accepting a map drawn by the Legislature.
Rodrigues said the DeSantis map did a better job of following the state and federal constitutions than the Legislature did with the vetoed maps.
“This map is as good as or better than the map that I was so proud to present to you the first week of September,” he said. “I believe that this is indeed a constitutional map.”
Florida is adding a 28th congressional district because of population growth. Political maps are redrawn every decade after the federal census.
Black lawmakers said the DeSantis map also dilutes Black voters' ability to elect candidates to represent them, and argued that two districts now held by Black Democratic members of Congress will now likely flip to Republicans. Sen. Shevrin Jones said the maps “trample on marginalized people.”
“You have to do self-reflection on whether we are doing the right thing. We’re just not,” he said.
There are five Black Florida House members out of the current 27, including one who is Republican from a district that is overwhelmingly white and firmly Republican.
GOP Sen. Kelli Stargel said the map doesn't hurt minorities chances of getting elected.
“To say that these maps as they’re drawn today are hurting minorities I believe is not accurate,” she said. “These are constitutional maps. I think they’re very thoughtful. I don’t think any of us who vote for them today are racist or following the direct will of the governor. We’re doing our constitutional requirement.”