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Lawmakers defer to DeSantis on redistricting; North Florida minority district targeted

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Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to consolidate Congressional District 5 in Jacksonville. It currently stretches to Tallahassee.

Lawmakers are going to let Gov. Ron DeSantis design the state’s new congressional lines, a decision that could vastly alter a North Florida district drawn in the past to help elect a minority candidate.

DeSantis has been adamant that he wants to condense Congressional District 5 in the Jacksonville area. The district now stretches from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee, a seat held by Black Democrat Al Lawson.

DeSantis’ general counsel said the Legislature’s approach to the sprawling district — which DeSantis vetoed — would violate the Equal Protection Clause because it “assigns voters primarily on the basis of race but is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.”

DeSantis’ plan also targeted what is now Congressional District 10, which is held by Democrat Val Demings, in the Orlando area.

State Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat, blasted the legislative leaders’ acquiescence to the governor.

“Wow! @GovRonDeSantis is taking part in some serious executive overreach and now doing the state legislature’s job by having his office communicate the type of map he wants,” Nixon tweeted Monday. “Removing two Black Congressional Districts … I’m appalled.”

In a joint message to members ahead of next week’s special session, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, wrote Monday that their aides won’t be tasked with undertaking a second effort on the once-a-decade congressional redistricting process.

“Our goal during the special session is to pass a new congressional map that will both earn the governor’s signature and withstand legal scrutiny, if challenged,” the joint memo said. “At this time, legislative reapportionment staff is not drafting or producing a map for introduction during the special session. We are awaiting a communication from the governor’s office with a map that he will support. Our intention is to provide the governor’s office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees.”

Lawmakers anticipate that any map coming out of the special session will face legal challenges.

State and federal lawsuits have been filed asking judges to step in to revamp the congressional districts, in part because of the impasse between the governor and lawmakers over the lines.

DeSantis vetoed an initial legislative proposal, which consisted of a primary and backup map, on March 29.

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The current District 5.

Legislative leaders have argued that their maps followed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments, which voters passed in 2010 to prevent gerrymandering. But DeSantis contends that the way lawmakers have interpreted the constitutional amendments doesn’t comply with the U.S. Constitution.

Maps for state House and state Senate districts drew relatively little controversy, but DeSantis targeted the congressional map and took the unusual step for a governor of pushing his own district designs.

Two days after issuing his veto, DeSantis said that if lawmakers wanted to find common ground with his office on congressional redistricting, they should look to the maps his office proposed.

“There's been a couple proposals that folks in the governor's office have done, some of the lawyers have done, those will get my signature,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Ponte Vedra Beach on March 31. “If they (lawmakers) depart from that, you know, we'll see.”

DeSantis’ proposals would be more favorable to Republicans than legislative plans.

Based upon 2020 voting patterns, the Legislature’s proposals would make 18 of the state’s 28 congressional seats favorable to Republicans. Currently, Republicans hold a 16-11 edge in the delegation, which is adding a seat because of Florida’s population growth over the past decade.

Under designs pushed by DeSantis, 20 seats would lean toward the GOP.

New lines must be in place by mid-June, ahead of congressional qualifying for the August primary and November general election.

The special session kicks off April 19 and is slated to end April 22.