© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Florida lawmakers take up Gov. DeSantis' congressional map, despite public opposition

colorful map of the northern Florida area
Executive Office of the Governor
Gov. Ron DeSantis' latest congressional map would eliminate an African American opportunity district in North Florida. DeSantis' office submitted the plan on April 13, 2022.

Updated Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. EDT

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial congressional map is moving along in the Florida legislature despite vocal opposition from the public.

The Senate passed the map (24-15) on Wednesday, the second day of the special lawmaking session. The draft that passed didn't contain any revisions to the governor's drawing.

The map was still under discussion and debate in the House when it passed in the Senate.

State lawmakers are meeting in Tallahassee this week with the primary goal of passing the governor's map, which would eliminate two U.S. House districts belonging to African American Democrats: North Florida Congressman Al Lawson and Orlando-area Congresswoman Val Demings.

The likely erasure of North Florida’s African American U.S. House district has drawn public opposition, but the legislature is moving ahead with a map from DeSantis’ office that would eliminate the region’s Black representation in Congress.

Critics of the plan argue that it violates the state constitution because it would eliminate two minority-majority districts with African American representation. The Fair Districts Amendments ban the drawing of 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.”

 Tallahassee resident David Van Williams, right, stands with a sign outside the Florida State Capitol on Tuesday, as lawmakers were preparing to meet and pass the governor's congressional map.
Valerie Crowder
Tallahassee resident David Van Williams, right, stands with a sign outside the Florida State Capitol on Tuesday, as lawmakers were preparing to meet and pass the governor's congressional map.

Tallahassee resident David Van Williams, 58, attended a rally in front of the Old Florida State Capitol Tuesday to voice opposition to the governor’s congressional map.

“It’s really an unconstitutional map, and we want it to be rejected by the state legislature. And we want to either leave it like it is or make the districts more fair, and even to increase voter representation for African American people, rather than reducing it.”

DeSantis said North Florida’s congressional districts would be drawn in a “race neutral manner" the day before he sent his map to the legislature.

Speaking on Tuesday before a House committee, DeSantis’ Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly explained what DeSantis meant: "essentially not factoring in race as I’m drawing a district.”

North Florida’s Congressional District Five is considered an African American opportunity district and a majority-minority district because Black and Hispanic voters combined outnumber white voters.

Democratic Congressman Al Lawson represents the district, which stretches from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County.

“That’s where District Five goes wrong because it’s clearly cobbled together," said Ryan Newman, the governor's senior legal counsel. "It’s clearly gerrymandered.”

Newman played an active role in drawing the map.

The governor’s office argues that District Five violates the federal constitution based on more recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have struck down some districts that were drawn on the basis of race.

Dozens of people voiced opposition to the governor’s map in writing and in person during committee meetings. Far fewer expressed support for the plan. Lawmakers will discuss and debate the map this week, with the goal of passing it by Friday.

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.