DeSantis draws congressional map dramatically expanding GOP advantage in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a new congressional map that would create four more Republican-leaning districts and completely annihilate the Democrats’ national redistricting advantage.

The map – which cuts out a black-held district – was released Wednesday afternoon, just days after state lawmakers said they would defer to the GOP governor on new congressional boundaries. . The Republican-controlled state legislature drew maps with less advantage for the GOP, but DeSantis vetoed them last month.

DeSantis’ map would create 20 Republican and 8 Democratic seats based on 2020 election data, according to Matthew Isbell, a Florida-based Democratic data consultant who analyzed the maps Wednesday night. Florida’s congressional delegation consists of 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the House. The state was awarded an additional seat in the House after the 2020 census.

“It’s so overtly partisan,” Isbell said. “The only way to create a 20 and 8 card…was basically to say aim for black representation.”

A leading Republican in the Florida Legislature privately agreed, telling NBC News the maps were likely drawn with partisan intent by DeSantis — a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate who risks being re-elected this year.

DeSantis said his administration is complying with the law, which prohibits partisan gerrymandering.

Legal challenges seem inevitable, but there is little time to change the map before the August primary in the run-up to the November midterms.

Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida who studies elections, said DeSantis appeared to invite lawsuits. The governor’s card “is clearly drawn to challenge the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court did not strike down,” he told NBC News.

Despite having far less control of the redistricting process nationally, Democrats have managed to cobble together gains in states like New York this year. According to Cook’s nonpartisan political report, Democrats have won 1.5 seats so far, while eliminating 1.5 Republican seats nationwide.

While the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature had advanced cards that slightly advantaged the Republicans, DeSantis was looking for big wins for his party; in particular, he demanded that lawmakers dismantle largely black congressional districts and argued that the North Florida seat that ran from Tallahassee to Jacksonville held by Rep. Al Lawson, a black Democrat, was a gerrymander racially unconstitutional.

“We’re not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander dividing people based on the color of their skin,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a press conference in Miami. “That’s wrong. That’s not the way we’ve governed in the state of Florida. And obviously that’s going to be litigated.”

DeSantis’ map dissolves that seat, the state’s 5th congressional district, into multiple Republican seats. Another seat with a significant number of black voters, currently held by U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings in Orlando, also has its African-American voter population diluted in DeSantis’ new map. This leaves the state with a single seat with a majority black voting population.

In private moments, Republicans familiar with DeSantis’ map say they aren’t comfortable with how he proposed to eliminate Lawson’s seat. And they think the map likely goes against Florida’s ban on partisan gerrymandering because of the way DeSantis drew the Tampa Bay area’s 13th congressional district — a rotating seat held by the Democrat Charlie Crist in the county town of Pinellas in St. Petersburg.

DeSantis’ map makes this seat more Republican by removing voters from Democratic areas of St. Petersburg and shipping them to a Tampa-based seat across the bay, the 14th congressional district, which covers more of the county. of Hillsborough.

In the last redistricting round a decade ago, Republicans attempted the same maneuver by moving voters from Democratic neighborhoods in St. Petersburg to Tampa. But the Florida Supreme Court stopped them, ruling they were evidence of intentional partisan gerrymandering. The court essentially barred lawmakers from crossing Tampa Bay.

“None of the Legislative Assembly cards have done that, and there’s a reason for that: the courts have told us you can’t and they’ve said we can’t because it’s within partisan purposes,” said a top Republican involved in Florida’s redistricting effort.

“If DeSantis wants to go to court and defend this, I hope he doesn’t mind being deposed,” the Republican said.

Under Florida’s Fair Districts Constitutional Amendments approved by voters in 2010, lawmakers are prohibited from drawing districts that intentionally favor or oppose incumbents or political parties.

When asked Tuesday what he does to make sure the law is followed, DeSantis defers to his legal team.

“It was all done by our legal office and our lawyers and stuff,” he said. “I mean, the people involved are going to testify in front of the Legislative Assembly about the product that was created.”

Florida’s legislative leaders will likely approve the new map because DeSantis has already vetoed their proposals and told them he wants his version with little to no changes, according to Republicans familiar with the dynamics of the state Capitol. . Additionally, DeSantis has extremely high approval ratings with Republican voters who rival or surpass former President Donald Trump in some polls, and GOP lawmakers leading the Legislature are acutely aware of his power.

State Senate President Wilton Simpson is stepping down due to term limits and running for statewide commissioner of agriculture. Florida Republican insiders say he wants DeSantis’ endorsement and has no desire to cross paths with DeSantis.

“Why would you want to upset the party leader?” said Jamie Miller, former executive director of the Florida Republican Party. “I don’t know if that has as much to do with the endorsement as the fact that if you’re on the ticket with the Governor, you’re going to want to do things like travel, be on stage with him, and be in touch with him. .

Miller said he believed DeSantis’ map was legal and that existing congressional districts were being unfairly drawn to Democrats by a Democratic-leaning Florida Supreme Court, which is now solidly Republican.

During his Tuesday press conference in Miami with Simpson, DeSantis was coy when asked why he hadn’t endorsed Simpson yet.

“Listen,” DeSantis said as the press conference audience laughed, “we still have work to do.”

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