DeSantis threw a surprise wrench into the state’s redistricting process late Sunday night when his office submitted for consideration a new congressional map that heavily favors his party. The highly partisan offering pins Democratic-leaning seats to three urban areas — Tampa, Orlando and Miami — and gives Republicans the advantage in at least 18 of the 28 districts in the state and as many as 20.
Dave Wasserman, an editor of The Cook Political Report and a redistricting guru, called DeSantis’ proposal on Twitter “the most brutal gerrymander proposed by a Florida (Republican) yet.”
If the goal of this unusual step was to energize Republicans closely watching redistricting in Florida, then mission accomplished. DeSantis, widely seen as a contender for the White House in 2024, was immediately cheered on by party activists from around the country who wanted the GOP to ram through a map.
“I had a TON of people come up to me at the Trump Rally in ARIZONA asking about Florida Congressional Maps & if DeSantis was going to get involved,” Christian Ziegler, the vice chairman of the Florida GOP, tweeted on Sunday night. “24 hours later…Looks like we have an answer!”
The governor’s foray into the redistricting fight surprised even some in his own party.
“This is news to me,” state 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 proposed map through the Legislature’s online portal.
The deliberations in Tallahassee have been closely watched because Florida represents one of the few places where the GOP can use the redistricting process to significantly improve its chances of picking up seats and winning back the US House of Representatives this November. Republicans in the state control the state House, Senate and governor’s office. And the state Supreme Court is stacked with Republican appointees, including three made by DeSantis.
Ben Ginsberg, a Republican election attorney, said partisans often want their parties to draw aggressive maps, but it’s often more complicated in fast-growing states. Republicans in Texas were in a spot similar to Florida’s 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 map more vulnerable.”
The Florida Senate recently advanced its map largely maintaining the status quo, much to the delight of Democrats and nonpartisan groups, which praised the proposal as competitive and fair.
As it stands, there are 16 Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation and 11 Democrats. Florida gained an additional seat after the 2020 census.
State House Republicans had proposed a map that went further to push the GOP advantage than the state Senate’s, but not nearly as far as DeSantis’.
Whether Republican lawmakers now line up behind DeSantis’ proposal — and how forcefully the governor pushes for it — will depend on how much they’re willing to stomach a protracted legal fight.
Already, Democrats have dismissed the DeSantis map as unserious, accusing the governor of blatantly violating the state Constitution’s Fair District amendment and the Voting Rights Act. In addition to carving up communities that long shared the same congressional district, DeSantis’ map would eliminate some minority access districts, including the north Florida congressional seat currently held by US Rep. Al Lawson.
Lawson, a Democrat who represents the majority-black areas from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, said he learned that DeSantis had eliminated his seat on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“It’s insensitive to the constituents in this area and demonstrates a lack of concern about minority representation,” Lawson told CNN.
Marc Elias, the Democratic elections lawyer spearheading voting and redistricting challenges in several states, wrote on Twitter that he looked forward to deposing DeSantis and his staff “to fully understand the illegal partisan motivations of this map.”
Many Republican lawmakers in Florida remember the bruising court battles the last time lawmakers had to draw congressional maps. The drama, which started in 2011, finally ended in 2015 when the state Supreme Court approved new maps drawn by the legal challengers.
Rodrigues said he’s confident the map that the Senate produced “meets all federal requirements, constitutional requirements and state constitutional requirements.”
Ryan Newman, general counsel for DeSantis, said the governor’s office had “legal concerns with the congressional redistricting maps under consideration 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 this a bargaining chip to extract other legislative priorities from Republicans? A move to save face with future GOP primary voters? Or is he prepared to take this esoteric battle to the state Supreme Court?
“Do I think this map is likely to become law? No,” said Matthew Isbell, a Democratic strategist and the party’s redistricting expert. “Have I ruled it out entirely? No. You can’t be sure what lawmakers will do if he makes outright threats.”
State Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat who serves on the Senate redistricting committee, opined that DeSantis was “a messaging tool based on wanting to be president.”
Ginsberg said it could be that DeSantis sees an opportunity in the legal landscape to be as aggressive as possible. While it’s perhaps likely the US Supreme Court will frown on a map that violates established laws about minority access to congressional districts, nothing is guaranteed with this new 6-3 conservative majority, he said.
“Given the current makeup of the US Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court, Democrats are banging the drum without a judicial stopgap to back it up,” said Ginsberg. “Political gerrymandering, given the US Supreme Court rulings last decade, is going nowhere.”