TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate overwhelmingly passed its draft congressional map Thursday, a move that sets the Republican-led chamber up with a rare clash with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis surprised many last weekend by presenting his own congressional maps that were more aggressively favorable for Republicans. Florida picked up one new congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth, bringing its total to 28. The Senate approved a plan that gives Republicans 16 seats former President Donald Trump would have won in 2020, while the governor proposes a map with 18 Trump seats.
The Senate is largely unified across party lines behind its version of the map. Democrats, even those with lingering concerns, praised the map drawn by Republican majorities as well as Senate redistricting Chair Ray Rodrigues’ (R-Estero) handling of the process.
“I want to thank you for a wonderful product, this is a great way to end the redistricting process,” said Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson, whose comments were echoed by other members before senators approved the congressional maps on a 31-4 vote.
The GOP-led Florida Legislature rarely breaks with the DeSantis, making the Senate’s move on Thursday an unusual split over a key issue ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Democrats’ biggest area of criticism centered on the new congressional seat just east of Tampa along the state’s famed I-4 corridor. Democrats want Florida’s new seat to be drawn to allow Hispanic voters in Central Florida to elect a candidate of their choosing. The new seat has a nearly 60 percent white voting age population, which critics say is not reflective of the region’s huge growth in Hispanic voters.
“I am hopeful we will be able to take a closer look at that number, and carefully consider whether we should create another Hispanic access seat in Central Florida,” said Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz.
The Senate is much further along than the Florida House, which has not yet narrowed down its draft congressional or statehouse maps and lawmakers have not yet specified when the full chamber will consider the maps.
The House has congressional maps more aligned with the Senate and some that more closely reflect that proposed by DeSantis, making how the lower chambers move forward one of the biggest remaining questions of the state’s redistricting process.
On Wednesday, Rodrigues pushed back against a contention made by DeSantis’ office that the Senate maps included seats that are at odds with Fair Districts, a set of anti-gerrymandering provisions in the Florida constitution.
“It is my belief this map will withstand a court challenge,” Rodrigues reiterated on the Senate floor moments before the chamber passed its draft maps.
Just before the Senate took the floor to pass its maps, the Fair Districts Coalition, a group of left-leaning voter groups, sent a letter issuing a warning to both Rodrigues and House redistricting chief Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) over DeSantis’ proposed map. The Fair Districts Coalition successfully sued under the Fair Districts provisions and overturned state Senate and congressional maps drawn as part of the 2012 redistricting process.
General Counsel Ryan Newman submitted the governor’s maps Sunday night, but POLITICO reported Wednesday that forms asking who helped Newman draw the maps were left blank. DeSantis’ office says they were “advised by outside counsel” on the congressional map but has not responded to multiple requests from POLITICO for information about the outside law firm that the administration hired.
“In reviewing the submission, we were astonished to find that the Redistricting Suggestion Form submitted with the Governor’s map does not provide vital information that every other person is required to provide if they want to submit a map,” read the letter. “Specifically, Florida citizens who wish to submit a map must provide a list with ‘the name of every person(s), group(s), or organization(s) [they] collaborated with on [their] . . . submitted map’. The Governor and his staff have failed to comply with this requirement.”
The letter asks lawmakers to remove the DeSantis-drawn map from consideration, and comes after several groups or individuals threatened to sue if the Legislature selects DeSantis map. Among those threatening the lawsuits are Democratic election law attorney Marc Elias and Equal Ground Action Fund, an Orlando-based 501c4.
The Senate also passed with little debate its draft versions of the new Florida Senate maps, which is likely to also get approval from the House because each chamber is unofficially in charge of drawing its own maps.
There were once again slight concerns about making sure the state’s growing Hispanic population was represented, but the chamber overwhelmingly approved the Florida Senate maps on a bipartisan 34-3 vote.