Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday received and quickly vetoed new congressional boundaries approved by the Republican-controlled legislature, setting up a showdown with his own party over how to proceed with a new map for the state.
DeSantis said he will call lawmakers back to Tallahassee next month for a special session to take another stab at redrawing district lines in a way that satisfies his demands.
The two sides have been at odds for months as DeSantis has pressed his party’s legislative leaders to pass an aggressive reapportionment of the state’s 28 congressional districts that would eliminate two districts where Black residents are a plurality. Republicans earlier this month defied DeSantis — who is used to getting his way — and passed its own map that maintains the same number of Black districts.
Lawmakers could override the governor’s veto or punt to the courts and hope their map prevails. But a key Republican state senator previously told WEBICNEWS that neither of those outcomes are likely, and he now expects the legislature to draw a map that can win the governor’s signature.
“We would have to try again to pass a map that the governor would be interested in signing,” Sen. Ray Rodrigues, the Republican point person on redistricting in the Senate, told WEBICNEWS last week. “The maps that would have the best chance of standing up to legal challenge are maps that are passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor.”
Florida is one of just five states without a final map, creating widespread uncertainty for midterm candidates who don’t yet know the boundaries of the districts they may be running in. Lawmakers must also account for a new congressional seat after the most recent decennial census. The filing deadline for candidates in Florida is June 17 and the primary election is in August.
Siding with the governor is a path that may lead lawakers to a courtroom — a scenario Republican lawmakers were trying to avoid when they started the once-a-decade redistricting process. The state House and Senate initially considered maps that adhered more closely to the existing district lines in hopes of fending off a legal challenge.
DeSantis has recently acknowledged that he wouldn’t mind if the redistricting fight leads to a legal battle. His own map proposal eliminated two House districts — the 5th and the 10th — represented by Black Democrats. It was critiqued by opponents as a clear violation of a state constitutional amendment known as Fair Districts, which requires lawmakers to give minority communities an opportunity to “elect representatives of their choice.”
DeSantis’ endgame is for a court to deal a blow to the Fair Districts amendment, approved by voters in a ballot referendum last decade to reduce political influence in the map-drawing process. On Tuesday, DeSantis said he believes the way Florida courts interpreted the Fair District amendment last decade could be a violation of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
“Our goal in all of this is to have a constitutional map,” DeSantis said Tuesday.
The battle has also earned DeSantis, a potential contender for the White House in 2024, considerable praise from Republicans who want to see the state GOP use their power to push a more partisan map.
Prior to the veto on Tuesday, two lawsuits had already been filed asking courts in Florida to set new US House districts, citing DeSantis’ veto threat as evidence of an impasse.
Still, lawmakers have an incentive to quickly reach a conclusion to the redistricting fight: State law prohibits lawmakers from fundraising for their campaigns while in Tallahassee for a legislative session, a nuisance that would be especially felt during an election year.
If Republicans move toward DeSantis’ demands, Democrats will surely frame it as lawmakers caving to DeSantis.
“At that point, I don’t understand why anyone in the majority conference would want to be a legislator. You’re just a cog in the wheel labeled ‘Governor DeSantis,'” said House Minority Leader Evan Jenne. “If you’re just going to abdicate all your responsibilities to someone who is not your constituent, why are you here?”
Eyes on Florida
With the US House closely divided, both parties are closely watching the developments in Florida. Despite early predictions that Republican-controlled state houses across the country could draw their party into the House majority, national Democrats have been largely pleased with how they have fared in redistricting.
Republicans in many states had already pressed their redistricting advantage last decade when a tea party wave installed GOP leaders in states where governments were previously divided or run by Democrats. There weren’t many opportunities to gain more seats without making incumbents more vulnerable, said Michael McDonald, a political science professor and redistricting researcher at the University of Florida.
That wasn’t the case in Florida, where a court installed a map drawn by grassroots reformers in 2015 after years of legal challenges and failures by the GOP legislature to pass a map.
“It’s one of the few places in the country where Republicans can gain seats with even a modest gerrymander,” McDonald said. “Suddenly Florida has become really important in this chess board.”