THE FLORIDA SENATE REBUFFED DESANTIS IN PASSING ITS OWN BIPARTISAN MAPS


By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary


In bipartisan votes, the Florida Senate approved new congressional and legislative maps, ignoring Gov. Ron DeSantis’ interjection into the process earlier this week.

The congressional plan passed 31 to 4, while the Senate district plan passed 34 to 3. The House redistricting committee must now decide if it’s going to go with its own proposal, with the Senate proposal or with a more partisan map submitted by DeSantis.

On Sunday, Gov. DeSantis’ staff submitted its congressional proposal, and in subsequent statements, his office has said it believes two Black districts in the Senate’s proposal are “unconstitutional,” despite their being approved by the Florida Supreme Court last decade.

DeSantis’ proposal is believed to be the first time a Florida governor has done so after Reconstruction. His staff did not return requests for comment from The Tributary.

DeSantis’ map would benefit Republicans, even though the state’s Fair Districts standards bar legislators from seeking to favor or disfavor a political party.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who shepherded the redistricting plans from the committee to the Senate floor, didn’t return a request for comment to The Tributary. He told the Miami Herald that “I’m not going to get into a debate with the governor’s office, through the media as acting as a proxy.”

Sen. Ray Rodrigues presents the Senate’s maps. [The Florida Channel]

He also told reporters the redistricting process has operated under the assumption that the maps approved by the Florida Supreme Court were constitutional.

Rodrigues didn’t answer when The Tributary asked if he felt it necessary to question the governor’s office’s submission, which was filed by the governor’s general counsel and left blank a question asking for a list of people or organizations that worked on the district proposal.

The Fair Districts Coalition, a collection of nonprofits focused on the redistricting process, asked the Senate and House leadership to remove DeSantis’ proposal from consideration.

“In this specific instance, the Governor’s choice to insert his office into the legislative process, at a minimum, creates an appearance of partisan intent,” the coalition’s letter said. “And his failure to disclose the identity of every person involved in drawing the map underscores that appearance of improper intent.”

DeSantis’ criticism also comes with the implicit threat that he could veto the congressional map if he chooses. (The Senate and House district maps cannot be vetoed by the governor.)

Previously, the Senate leadership has effectively quieted criticism of its proposals.

In November, Rodrigues emailed every senator to say that one citizen’s maps and comments were “misleading” and a “misrepresentation” because the person, Nicholas Warren, didn’t disclose that he worked as a lawyer for the ACLU of Florida.

Rodrigues told his fellow senators that he only learned Warren was an ACLU attorney from Miami Herald reporting, even though Warren was the ACLU’s lead attorney in a separate case that blocked Rodrigues’ signature 2021 legislation.

Later, the Miami Herald reported that Warren wrote his own letter to the senators saying his submission was done on his own time and not as part of his work with the organization. The public comment form didn’t ask for his employer, though it does ask about any compensation received and if the person submitting the map collaborated with anyone else. On the form, he said he didn’t receive compensation and no one worked with him on the submission.

One of Warren’s proposals showed how in the Tampa Bay area a protected Black Senate district didn’t need to cross county lines to ensure Black voters’ ability to elect the candidate of their choice.

Despite this, Senate staff said doing so wasn’t possible, and legislators never brought Warren’s proposals back up during committee meetings after Rodrigues’ email.

Around the same time, Senate President Wilton Simpson complained about Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas, saying her conversation with a lawmaker was advocacy and not journalism.

In that conversation, she noted that staff didn’t explain why a South Florida district where Black voters have significant power over who gets elected — even though the seat is held by a Democrat who isn’t Black — wasn’t given the same protections as districts with similar demographics. She then followed up with an email to the Senate president asking similar questions.

“When you ask questions then these issues can be debated in a public forum, and that’s a good thing for us to be able to tell the stories as reporters and some would argue it’s a good thing for the public,” Klas told The Tributary. She said the Senate staff and leadership never answered her questions about the district.

After Simpson’s letter, lawmakers never brought up the district in any conversation, and in the version of the Senate map that was approved, that district was merged with another Black district, reducing the number of Black districts in the area.

The Florida Senate’s proposal received plaudits from a majority of fellow Democrats and from some redistricting advocates.

Others, including Latino Justice, the League of Women Voters and a few dissenting Democratic senators, criticized the plans for not adding extra Latino or Hispanic districts, even as they didn’t submit their own proposals that might have showed how adding extra Latino districts was possible.

One senator, Vic Torres, noted that the Florida House had drawn two more Latino House districts and asked why the Senate couldn’t do the same, but House districts have a third of the population of Senate districts.

During redistricting, no one openly talked about the partisan impacts of the new maps.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton would’ve won 15 of the Senate-approved 28 congressional districts while losing the state. In 2018, Democrats Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson would’ve 14 districts in their bids for governor and senator. In 2020, Joe Biden would’ve won 12 of 28 districts.

In all, both Republicans and Democrats would’ve won 14 districts each in at least six of the last eight statewide races.

In addition to keeping the Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee Congressional District 5 protected so that Black voters can elect the candidate of their choice, the map also preserves Orlando’s Congressional District 10, which Senate staff said needs to be drawn to protect Black voters as a coalition district.

House staff have disagreed and said the district doesn’t need protections for Black voters.

The Florida House canceled its Thusday congressional redistricting subcommittee meeting, so it’s still unclear if the House will take up the Senate-approved versions, continue with its own drafts or try to adopt DeSantis’ version.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book cited DeSantis’ proposal as she praised the Senate-passed version of the congressional map.

“A vast majority of our Caucus supported the maps because they followed the spirit of Fair District standards,” she wrote on Twitter.

In the legislative map, Biden would’ve won 16 of the 40 senate districts; Gillum would’ve won 18 districts; Nelson would’ve won 19; Clinton would’ve won 18.

This is Changing Florida, a Tributary newsletter keeping you up to date on redistricting, demographics and the fight for political power in the Sunshine State.

To make sure you don’t miss out on an issue, click here to subscribe now and play a part in ensuring fair districts for all of Florida. Click here to read our archives.

We can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Click here to donate to The Tributary.

If you have questions about redistricting or the Census, you can send them to us by clicking here.


On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee will host public hearings starting next week to gather community input about its local redistricting plan. Those meetings begin Tuesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall, then Thursday at Ed White High School from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The following meetings will also all start at 6 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Atlantic Coast High, on Feb. 10 at First Coast High and on Feb. 17 at Raines High.

The Tributary, in partnership with the local civic organizations, hosted a discussion of local redistricting. You can watch a recording of that on Facebook.

The Florida House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee has not announced if it will schedule a makeup meeting after it canceled its Thursday meeting. The Florida House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee will meet today at 10:30 a.m. The Florida House Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 1 p.m.

You can stream those or find past meetings on The Florida Channel.


Submit your maps

We want to see what you think Florida’s legislature should look like.

Here’s how you can get started drawing your own maps.

When you’re done, send a link to your map to info@jaxtrib.org, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.

Andrew Pantazi is the founding editor of The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He and his wife,...