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Florida lawmakers take up Gov. DeSantis' congressional map, despite public opposition

 Gov. Ron DeSantis' latest congressional map would eliminate an African American opportunity district in North Florida. DeSantis' office submitted the plan on April 13, 2022.
Executive Office of the Governor
Gov. Ron DeSantis' latest congressional map would eliminate an African American opportunity district in North Florida. DeSantis' office submitted the plan on April 13, 2022.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial congressional map is moving along in the Florida legislature despite vocal opposition from the public.

State lawmakers are meeting in Tallahassee this week to pass a map that would eliminate two U.S. House districts belonging to African American Democrats: North Florida Congressman Al Lawson and Orlando-area Congresswoman Val Demings.

The likely erasure of North Florida’s African American U.S. House district has drawn public opposition, but the legislature is moving ahead with a map from DeSantis’ office that would eliminate the region’s Black representation in Congress.

Critics of the plan argue that it violates the state constitution because it would eliminate two minority-majority districts with African American representation. The Fair Districts Amendments ban the drawing of districts “with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”

Tallahassee resident David Van Williams, 58, attended a rally in front of the Old Florida State Capitol Tuesday to voice opposition to the governor’s congressional map.

“It’s really an unconstitutional map, and we want it to be rejected by the state legislature. And we want to either leave it like it is or make the districts more fair, and even to increase voter representation for African American people, rather than reducing it.”

DeSantis said North Florida’s congressional districts would be drawn in a “race neutral manner" the day before he sent his map to the legislature.

Speaking on Tuesday before a House committee, DeSantis’ Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly explained what DeSantis meant: "essentially not factoring in race as I’m drawing a district.”

North Florida’s Congressional District Five is considered an African American opportunity district and a majority-minority district because Black and Hispanic voters combined outnumber white voters.

Democratic Congressman Al Lawson represents the district, which stretches from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County.

“That’s where District Five goes wrong because it’s clearly cobbled together," said Ryan Newman, the governor's senior legal counsel. "It’s clearly gerrymandered.”

Newman played an active role in drawing the map.

The governor’s office argues that District Five violates the federal constitution based on more recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have struck down some districts that were drawn on the basis of race.

Dozens of people voiced opposition to the governor’s map in writing and in person during committee meetings. Far fewer expressed support for the plan. Lawmakers will discuss and debate the map this week, with the goal of passing it by Friday.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.