DeSantis pushes Florida redistricting map that heavily favors Republicans

By Steve Contorno, CNN

For political watchers who have wondered for months how far Republicans should push their edge in Florida when drawing the state’s new congressional borders, they now have an answer from Governor Ron DeSantis: see you through.

DeSantis threw a surprise wrench into the state’s redistricting process late Sunday night when his office submitted for review a new congressional map that heavily favors his party. The highly partisan bid pins Democratic-leaning seats in three urban areas — Tampa, Orlando and Miami — and gives Republicans the edge in at least 18 of the state’s 28 districts and as many as 20.

Dave Wasserman, editor of The Cook Political Report and redistricting guru, called DeSantis’ proposal on Twitter “the most brutal gerrymander proposed by a (Republican) from Florida yet.”

If the purpose of this unusual step was to energize Republicans who were watching the redistricting in Florida closely, then mission accomplished. DeSantis, widely considered a candidate for the White House in 2024, received immediate cheers from party activists across the country who wanted the GOP to run a map.

“A ton of people came up to me at the Trump Rally in ARIZONA asking me about the Florida Congress cards and if DeSantis was going to get involved,” Florida GOP Vice Chairman Christian Ziegler tweeted Sunday night. . “24 hours later… Looks like we have an answer!

The governor’s foray into the redistricting struggle surprised even some members of his own party.

“This is news to me,” Sen. Ray Rodrigues, the GOP point man on redistricting, told CNN on Monday. Rodrigues added that anyone in the state is allowed to submit a map proposal through the Legislative Assembly’s online portal.

Deliberations in Tallahassee have been closely watched as Florida represents one of the few places where the GOP can use the redistricting process to significantly improve its chances of winning seats and reclaiming the US House of Representatives in November. State Republicans control the state House, Senate, and governor’s office. And the state Supreme Court is filled with Republican appointees, including three named by DeSantis.

Ben Ginsberg, a Republican election lawyer, said supporters often want their parties to draw aggressive maps, but it’s often more complicated in fast-growing states. Republicans in Texas found themselves in a similar position to Florida and chose to shore up vulnerable districts instead of expanding their opportunities to win seats.

“You have to balance emerging demographic trends with what you want to do politically,” Ginsberg said. “If the census turns out to be inaccurate, it makes an aggressive card more vulnerable.”

The Florida Senate recently advanced its card largely maintaining the status quo, much to the delight of Democrats and nonpartisan groups, who hailed the proposal as competitive and fair.

Currently, there are 16 Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation and 11 Democrats. Florida won an additional seat after the 2020 census.

State House Republicans had proposed a map that went further to push the GOP advantage than that of the state Senate, but not as far as that of DeSantis.

Whether Republican lawmakers now align themselves with DeSantis’ proposal — and how hard the governor pushes for it — will depend on how willing they are to endure a lengthy legal battle.

Already, Democrats have dismissed the DeSantis map as unserious, accusing the governor of grossly violating the Fair District Amendment of the state Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. In addition to carving out communities that have long shared the same congressional district, DeSantis’ map would eliminate some minority access districts, including the North Florida congressional seat currently held by U.S. Representative Al Lawson.

Lawson, a Democrat who represents predominantly black areas from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, said he learned that DeSantis eliminated his seat on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“It’s insensitive to voters in this area and demonstrates a lack of concern about minority representation,” Lawson told CNN.

Marc Elias, the Democratic election attorney leading the multi-state voting and redistricting challenges, wrote on Twitter that he was looking forward to deposing DeSantis and his team “to fully understand the illegal partisan motivations behind this map.” .

Many Florida Republican lawmakers remember the deadly court battles the last time lawmakers had to draw maps of Congress. The drama, which began in 2011, finally ended in 2015 when the state Supreme Court approved new maps drawn by the court challengers.

Rodrigues said he was confident the map produced by the Senate “meets all federal requirements, constitutional requirements, and state constitutional requirements.”

Ryan Newman, general counsel for DeSantis, said the governor’s office had “legal issues with the congressional redistricting maps pending in the Legislature.”

“Because the governor must approve any congressional map passed by the legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner,” Newman said.

DeSantis’ latest maneuver has left many Democrats wondering what his endgame is. Is it a bargaining chip to snatch other legislative priorities from Republicans? A gesture to save face with future GOP primary voters? Or is he ready to take this esoteric battle to the state Supreme Court?

“Do I think this card is likely to become law? No,” said Matthew Isbell, a Democratic strategist and party redistricting expert. “Did I completely rule it out?” No. You can’t be sure what lawmakers will do if he makes direct threats.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat who sits on the Senate redistricting committee, said DeSantis was “a messaging tool based on wanting to be president.”

Ginsberg said DeSantis might see an opportunity in the legal landscape to be as aggressive as possible. While the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to disapprove of a map that violates established laws on minority access to congressional districts, nothing is guaranteed with this new 6-3 conservative majority, a- he declared.

“Given the current makeup of the United States Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court, Democrats are banging the drum without a judicial palliative to back it up,” Ginsberg said. “Political gerrymandering, given the decisions of the United States Supreme Court over the past decade, is going nowhere.”

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