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Opponents to DeSantis' congressional map rally before special lawmaking session

Senator Rosalind Osgood Congressional Map Rally 0419.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Florida Sen. Rosalind Osgood (D-Broward) voices opposition to Gov. Ron DeSantis' congressional map from the steps of the Old State Capitol building as state lawmakers were preparing to take it up on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Cries for racial justice rang out from the steps of the Old Florida State Capitol on Tuesday morning as lawmakers prepared to take up Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial congressional map.

“The governor now has bulldozed himself into the redistricting process,” said Sen. Rosalind Osgood (D-Broward). “He wants to take us back to a time where rigging districts for political gain and running roughshod over minority voters was permitted in Florida.”

DeSantis submitted his own congressional map to the legislature for passage about a couple weeks after he vetoed the legislature’s bipartisan U.S. House plan. DeSantis’ map would eliminate districts represented by two African American Democrats: Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

“It hurts as an African American because we have fought for so many years for our rights,” Osgood said. “But we still have those who want to eliminate us, ignore us, make us feel like we’re not a part of this great country when it has literally been built on our backs.”

Speaking at the rally were constituents and community activists from Congressional Districts 5 and 10, the districts the governor is proposing to eliminate. Members of the state’s Black Legislative Caucus and representatives from voting rights groups also voiced opposition.

Despite vocal opposition to the governor's map, lawmakers moved the plan forward on Tuesday afternoon without making any changes to the way the districts are drawn.

The Fair Districts Amendments to the state constitution prohibit drawing districts “with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” They also require lawmakers to not draw districts “with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”

Opponents to the governor’s map have described it as a partisan gerrymander because it leans heavily in favor of Republicans. It would give the GOP a 20-8 seat advantage, even though the state’s registered Democrats and Republicans make up an almost equal share of the electorate. A court would determine whether or not the map was drawn with the intent of favoring Republicans.

Of the state’s registered voters, 35% are registered Democrat, 36% are registered Republican and the rest are either affiliated with a third-party or are registered independent.

Rally Opposing Congressional Map 0419.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Opponents to Gov. Ron DeSantis' U.S. House map rally outside Florida State Capitol on Tuesday morning before lawmakers convened in a special legislative session to pass a new congressional map.

Rally-goers didn’t just speak out against the governor’s map, they also called for DeSantis' removal from office at the ballot box in November.

“We are going to step outside our districts from Orlando to Key West to make it known that not only will you not be the governor,” Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones of Orlando shouted from the steps of the old Capitol building. “We’ll make sure you’re not the president of the United States.”

Democrats have accused DeSantis of hijacking the legislative process to further his long-term political ambitions. DeSantis is widely considered a possible presidential candidate in 2024 if he wins his re-election bid for governor in November.

“We are here to stroke and build the ego of a politically-ambitious governor who’s never cared about the workers, small business owners in the state of Florida,” said Rep. Tracie Davis (D-Duval). “Instead he’s more concerned with the folks on Fox News.”

In DeSantis’s re-election campaign, he’s facing three high-profile Democratic challengers: state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, state Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami and Congressman Charlie Crist, who served as governor as a Republican from 2007-2011.

“It’s up to us, all of us, not just to come out here to rally, but make sure we get people out to vote,” said Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. “The big game will be in November.”

Natalie Jackson, a Democratic candidate for Congressional District 10, also attended the rally. That's one of the districts the governor’s map would reconfigure. Jackson says she expected DeSantis to keep his promise and veto the legislature’s map, but she thought lawmakers would override that veto. “They can override any veto that he does,” she said. “I say do it. Do the will of the people.”

If DeSantis’ map takes effect ahead of the November 2022 elections, it wouldn’t disqualify her or stop her from running, even though the district would no longer favor her party, Jackson said.

State lawmakers are expected to pass a new congressional map by Friday. After that, they’ll send it to the governor for his signature. Opponents have already promised to challenge the governor’s map in court, but that litigation isn’t expected to get resolved before the November elections. U.S. House candidates must file their campaign paperwork in mid-June.

Jackson says the delay in enacting a new congressional map has made campaigning more difficult because the people she’d represent would change. “We still don’t know who our constituents are,” she said. “That is not how democracy works.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.