Florida has been in redistricting limbo after its once-in-decade map-drawing process was thrown into sheer chaos by DeSantis’ threats to veto the proposed maps by the state legislature. Doing away with previous norms, DeSantis released his own maps back in January that called for dismantling two Congressional districts held by Black Democrats.
After claiming that he doesn’t “bluff” when being asked if he would veto the maps passed by the Republican-controlled legislature 67-47 in the House and 24-15 in the Senate, DeSantis made good on his promise.
At a press conference with Attorney General Ashley Moody, DeSantis said he had officially vetoed SB 102 and announced his plans to call a special legislative session to get his redistricting map “across the finish line.”
The Florida Legislature has only two required responsibilities during this year’s legislative session, approve a state budget and redraw district lines. The session had to be extended after lawmakers failed to finish the budget in time and they also failed to get the maps done, making Florida one of five states that have yet to finalize their redistricting process.
So why is DeSantis inserting himself into the redistricting process? He wants heavily gerrymandered maps that would give Republicans an advantage in at least 18 of the 28 districts in the state, and as many as 20. It’s part of a nationwide campaign by Republican operatives to disrupt fair elections to better their chances to win a majority in the US House during the midterm elections.
To achieve this unfair advantage, DeSantis is pushing Republicans to get rid of two of four Black-majority districts in what Democrats say is a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Florida Fair District amendment to its constitution. The districts under threat are Florida’s 5th District represented by Al Lawson and the Orlando-area district represented by Val Demings.
In 2010, Florida adopted the “fair districts” amendment establishing the current practice of drawing congressional district boundaries in such ways that they establish “fairness,” are “as equal in population as feasible” and use “city, county, and geographical boundaries.” The state Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue and approved the current districts, including the one represented by Al Lawson that DeSantis is determined to abolish.
The effort to gerrymander Florida’s congressional maps to benefit Republicans is rooted in racism and Jim Crow-era tactics to disenfranchise Black populations in Florida. The Fair District amendment was a step forward in making sure that all Floridians received fair representation, but DeSantis is determined to disrupt our democratic process for political gain.
The Legislature can override DeSantis with a two-thirds vote and if they do not, the fight could go to the state Supreme Court. That scenario would further throw the state into limbo and uncertainty as we wait for the final maps to be approved. It’s time for lawmakers in Tallahassee to finally grow a spine and put a check on DeSantis’ overreach by vetoing these racist and gerrymandered maps.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.