By Jim Ellis
April 15, 2022 — After vetoing the legislature’s congressional map and forcing a special legislative session to finish the redistricting process, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) now commands the upper hand. As a result, legislative leaders say they are willing to pass his map.
Applying the district political numbers that the MCI Maps organization calculated, we see 20 of the 28 new districts that would have voted for former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden. Overlaying the Ron DeSantis-Andrew Gillum governor’s race of 2018, a total of 18 new CDs would have supported the current state chief executive. Today’s Florida congressional delegation splits 16R-11D.
The major point of contention during the regular legislative session pertains to the elimination of the current northern Florida majority minority 5th District of Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) that stretches from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Gov. DeSantis wants a race neutral map. Should his map be enacted, there is no question that lawsuits would be filed immediately, and this fight could lead to a fundamental examination of the national Voting Rights Act.
Assuming the map clears the legal hurdles, the Republicans could add as many as four seats to the Sunshine State delegation, which would negate Democratic gains in New York, for example. Many of the new districts could lead to increased competition for GOP members, however, as several would drop into lean Republican seats instead of ones that are currently safe.
The only displaced incumbent is Rep. Lawson, as he would have no reasonable place from which to seek re-election. His situation would then create another seat in the Jacksonville area and give current 4th District Rep. John Rutherford (R-Jacksonville) likely the choice of running in new District 4 or 5.
As a result of this northern state map strategy, Rep. Neal Dunn’s (R-Panama City) 2nd CD would become significantly less Republican, largely because the entire city of Tallahassee would be placed in his new CD. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates the current 2nd as R+40. Ex-President Trump would have carried the new 2nd with 54.86 percent, with Gov. DeSantis approximately a percentage point lower.
The GOP would probably gain the open seats of Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) and Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) in new Districts 7 and 13. The former is retiring from the House, the latter again running for governor. Both seats would be largely competitive. Trump would have received 52.1 percent in the new District 7, and 52.74 percent in new District 13. Gov. DeSantis ran about a point behind the Trump number in both places.
Florida earned a new seat in national reapportionment, which will expand the delegation size to 28 members in the next Congress. The DeSantis map places this added seat, labeled District 18, in the Lakeland area before stretching miles to the south well beyond Lake Okeechobee. It would be safely Republican.
The regional draw significantly changes freshman Rep. Scott Franklin’s (R-Lakeland) 15th District, however. Instead of the R+14 seat that FiveThirtyEight rates the current 15th, the new CD would run closer to even. Former President Trump would have only received 50.86 percent of the vote in 2020 and Gov. DeSantis, an even lesser 49.75 percent in the 2018 election.
Moving to the south, three members look to be running in slightly different districts, but ones that would easily yield their re-elections. Rep. Brian Mast (R-Palm City) would see his 18th District change into the 21st, while veteran Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami) would seek re-election in new District 26, which would contain the vast majority of his current constituents. This would mean freshman Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Miami), who represents the current 26th District, would seek re-election in the new 28th CD.
Though the two South Florida seats of Reps. Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Miami) were made slightly more Republican, they are still highly competitive. While Trump would have carried both districts, he scored 52.79 percent in the 26th but only 49.76 percent in Rep. Salazar’s 27th CD, just barely eclipsing President Biden’s total. Gov. DeSantis actually lost both districts in 2018.
Though the Florida congressional redistricting process appears to be coming to an end, the legal wars will go on for a long time. Though we may be at the end of one phase, the actual culmination of a legally approved new congressional map will result in court challenges for years to come.