This week the Florida Legislature gave up redrawing new congressional districts and instead passed a map submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
That’s not how that’s supposed to work. The governor signs the map drawn by the legislature. He doesn’t make the map and then have lawmakers go through the motions of getting it passed so he can sign it.
After a bipartisan map was vetoed by the governor, Florida Republicans called it quits on doing their job and voted party line on a map that favors Republicans in 70 percent of Florida districts.
Republicans make up only 36 percent of registered voters, while Democrats account for 35 percent of registered voters, according to the Florida Division of Elections.
That’s called gerrymandering.
The appropriate response was to defy the governor and keep creating maps that adequately and fairly represented Florida’s constituency. The responsibility of producing a redistricting map lies with the legislative branch, not the executive. Instead, Florida lawmakers chose to protect their re-election hopes by acquiescing to a governor who is popular with his base. The lack of political backbone and fear of retaliation from the presidential hopeful drove Florida’s Republicans to abandon their constitutional duty, meeting DeSantis’s overreach with their stamp of approval.
Just weeks ago, the same lawmakers who passed the governor’s gerrymandered district map claimed that the legal premise he based it on was a “novel legal theory” – in other words, one without legal precedent.
And yet somehow, that’s the plan that passed.
The governor should not have the freedom to create legislative districts at his whim – particularly when the elected officials from both sides of the aisle presented him with an agreed upon map. It’s both an undemocratic overstep of the executive’s role and an unprecedented abdication of constitutional responsibility by the legislature.
DeSantis claims that his map is race-neutral and that the districts drawn in the map he was presented by the legislature unfairly protects minority voters.
Here’s what he means by that:
Currently, Florida’s 5th district runs east to west and covers areas from Jacksonville to just west of Tallahassee. The voting-age population is 46 percent Black and is currently represented by a Democrat. Gov. DeSantis’s map splits that district into four new ones – each with a considerably lower proportion of Black voters. In this scenario, all four districts would lean Republican.
Florida’s 5th district was created in 2015 after congressional districts were struck down in court for gerrymandering. According to the state supreme court, the 5th district gave Black voters in north Florida the ability to choose their own candidate, an expression of the agency given them in the constitution. The court noted that the area covered by the district had historically been home to plantations built by and worked by slaves. The creation of the district gave Black voters a political voice in an area of the state with a brutal history.
Early in the redistricting process, DeSantis made it clear that he took issue with the 5th district. And legislative Republicans responded with the most democratic of answers. Instead of capitulating to an overly aggressive state executive, they leaned into the hallmark of good democratic governing – compromise.
Florida Republicans approved a map proposal that created a more compact district around Jacksonville. In this model, Black voters’ agency was still maintained. But DeSantis didn’t like that idea either.
His explanation: the lawmakers had considered race too much when they drew the boundaries. And, also, it just wasn’t Black enough.
That’s because it is.
It’s a definitive example of cognitive dissonance. If lawmakers cannot consider race when they redraw district lines then how can the district not be Black enough?
The confusing response from the governor’s office leads to a pretty obvious conclusion. DeSantis’s goal in redistricting is to limit the agency of Black voters, diluting their voting power by splitting them up and attaching them to primarily white, Republican-leaning areas, all while creating more Republican seats in the state.
What we’ll likely see is the creation of four Republican districts and the elimination of three Democratic ones. This push by DeSantis is interesting, given that in 2010 voters approved an amendment that made it illegal to limit minority voters from choosing their own representative.
Florida lawmakers’ original redistricting plan was the constitutional and democratic plan. The subsequent railroading by Gov. DeSantis is unconstitutional and authoritarian.
Our government is designed with set checks and balances and clear lines of division to create a balance of power. The yielding of jurisdiction and responsibility by the state legislature is a gross betrayal to the voting public. And the unprecedented bullying tactics of Gov. DeSantis, designed to pave his way to the White House, should be concerning to us all.
Cortney Stewart is a Lecanto High graduate with political science, international affairs, and intercultural studies degrees who has lived and worked around the world.