The special session to draw new political boundaries in Florida
Florida lawmakers are scheduled to be back in Tallahassee on Tuesday for a special session with one goal —redrawing the state’s congressional boundaries.
Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed maps OKed by legislators and called them back to do it again. Already, legislative leaders have endorsed the governor’s map, which gets rid of what his staff has called a "racially gerrymandered version of District 5.”
That district currently runs from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. It is a majority Black district represented now by Democrat Al Lawson. On Tuesday, DeSantis described his goal of new district boundaries.
"It will have North Florida drawn in a race-neutral manner. We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divides our people based on the color of their skin. That is wrong. That is not the way we've governed in the state of Florida," he said.
The map proposed by the governor redraws the district to include Republican-dominated Nassau County and splits Jacksonville. Critics say it will dilute the voting power of Black residents currently in the 5th District.
Florida is picking up an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and critics complain the governor’s map will eliminate majority Black districts.
Political districts in Florida could influence the balance of power on Capitol Hill during this year’s midterm elections and beyond.
Even before the special session is called to order at noon Tuesday, GOP leaders have signaled they will accept a map submitted this week by DeSantis. The governor took the unusual step earlier this year by inserting himself directly into the redistricting process. The Legislature is charged with approving maps and the governor must sign off on new congressional districts.
"The Legislature is still very much involved in the process and still has their own backbone to stand on," said Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami.
Two previous versions approved by lawmakers were vetoed by the governor, following through on his promise to reject any maps that failed to meet his requirements.
"This is all a farce," said Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami. "When we're surrendering our authority as a separate and equal branch of government to Gov. DeSantis on redistricting, it really is an abdication of our responsibilities as an elected body."
She has called for Democrats to boycott the special session, but few have publicly backed her. "I don't care if I'm all alone," she said. "I feel that it is important for me to stand up and to say 'I will not be a part of something that is so wrong against everything that the voters asked us to do.'"
Taddeo is vying for the Democratic nomination for governor. She did not slam the door shut to her participating in the special session next week. If home insurance reform, housing affordability or condominium reform are issues to be decided, she would join her colleagues.
The governor voiced support for a special session on home property insurance but has not issued a call to return, nor have the chamber leaders.
"If my colleagues and I work out some kind of a deal for all of us to together do something together to fight this unconstitutional power grab? Yes, I would work on them with that as well," she said.
"What we are seeing is the enormous power within the Republican Party today of Ron DeSantis," said former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly. "It is an exhibition of just sheer power, political power he holds within the party."
There are two legal challenges DeSantis is inviting. One is with the Fair Districts Amendment in Florida's constitution. The second is with the federal Voting Rights Act.
"I don't think that Gov. DeSantis' maps would have survived judicial scrutiny 10 years ago with the way the courts were populated," Jolly said. "But what he knows is he likely has a favorable court now to test this."
Of the seven members on the state Supreme Court, DeSantis appointed three of them. None of the current justices were appointed by a Democratic governor. Six of the nine U.S. Supreme Court judges were nominated by Republicans.
"We should accept what (DeSantis) is saying that he wants race-neutral application of how these lines are drawn," Jolly said. "What I think is open for a broad conversation among Floridians is, what is really the best public policy to pursue race-neutral?"
Duval County Democratic Chairman Daniel Henry called the proposed map a "disservice" to voters.
"I'm pretty passionate about making sure that my community has representation, and I truly find these maps a disservice to them," Henry said.