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Issue #43: What if Ron DeSantis could have Vetoed the Legislative Maps?
The House/Senate plans are filled with CD-5 style seats
The saga of Florida’s 2022 redistricting saga is really two different stories. First, there is the story of Florida’s legislative maps. These plans came together fairly quickly, where signed off on by their respective chambers, were approved by the Supreme Court of Florida, and are now law.
Then there is the Congressional process. Thanks to the involvement of Ron DeSantis, who vetoed the Congressional plan, a special session will begin next week to pass new lines. DeSantis has proposed an extremely conservative gerrymander; which lawmakers refused to take up in the regular session.
After the veto, where Ron went after the black-access 5th Congressional district, it seemed lawmakers and the Governor might come to a deal to nuke the 5th but leave the rest of their map down-state intact. Today, they announced they will not release their own plan; but rather await a plan from the Governor.
This thread highlights a good deal of what is likely going on, no doubt legislators are abandoning their constitutional duty - but they are also likely limiting exposure to the guaranteed lawsuit.
Of course, it is stunning to myself to see these lawmakers blatantly cave to the Governor. It shows a tremendous amount of weakness. It frankly comes of pathetic. Why this is happening isn’t a shock at this point. For weeks the worst-kept-secret in Tallahassee is that Ron DeSantis made it clear; “back my on this or I’ll push primaries and veto pork-barrel projects.”
So we head toward next week’s special session with a virtual guarantee of getting a racist and gerrymandered map. The map could be the DeSantis plan from above, or a modified map. There will be lawsuits. There will be depositions. All the things lawmakers wanted to avoid.
This saga, however, is not shaking out for the legislative plans. Why is that? Because in Florida the Governor holds no veto power over legislative lines.
But what if he had?
The African-American Districts in Florida’s Legislature
While the DeSantis plan aims to overall be a GOP gerrymander, it achieves this by targeting black-access seats like the 5th and 10th. DeSantis rejected the argument the 5th was protected; specifically citing the fact the seat was not 50% BVAP. That is a key protection criteria under the Voting Rights Act. Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments also offer protection to seats that also perform as minority seats, but are not 50%+ black in the census data. Ron basically argues against that protection being valid.
How would this argument play in the legislative maps? Before DeSantis got involved in the process, the discussion around minority districts was very similar for both the Congressional and legislative plans. Lawmakers acknowledged longtime protected districts; regardless of their census figures. Lawmakers cited functional analysis; looking at voter makeup of primaries and generals, to see if a minority community controlled the electorate needed to win.
Below is the Senate and House seats that are seen as black-performing districts.
As the table shows, many seats are well below 50%+ BVAP (black voting-age population). Rather, many are black-access seats thanks to majority-black democratic primaries. These seats are all heavily Democratic; meaning the primary winner is a lock in the general. Again, this is a metric the legislature itself employs.
Functional analysis is critical for truly understanding how a district is going to perform. No better example of this is HD117. This seat is actually majority Hispanic in the census. However, how it votes makes it a black-access seat. I covered the complexities of this in my Miami-Dade house article. HD117 in Plan 8005 (its final version is slightly different - but give me a break its late and I already had this map, lol) - showed that the seat was heavily black in a democratic primary. Even though the seat is majority-Hispanic in the general, many of those Hispanic voters won’t reject a black democrat. The seat is overwhelmingly Democratic, and that primary matters more than anything. Black voters control the primary, and the seat in all forms has always elected a black democrat. It is thus views as a black-performing seat.
This type of analysis is critical for understanding how a district is actually going to vote. Census data can be deceiving. That is the type of analysis that allows us to know that the seats listed/mapped above are very likely to be black-performing seats regardless of their census data.
Of course, that same principle is what Ron DeSantis rejected in his veto of the Congressional map. The Governor is subscribing to a much stricter, conservative legal framework - counting on a more conservative Supreme Court (state and federal) to side with him at the expense of black voters. I talked (ranted) about that plenty in this substack. So go read here if you haven’t yet.
The question is, what would happen if Ron held a veto pen over the legislative plans, and many of these seats were called into question?
The Legislative Seats at Risk
Several of black-access seats listed could actually become majority-black with a little changing. Seats like HD8 or SD34 lost majority-status in the name of being more compact. This is a fair redistricting principle; as both are guaranteed black-performing seats whether in the high 40s or low 50s census-wise.
In addition, several of the other seats would likely be preserved due to Republican packing desires. In regions like Orlando, any effort to get rid of SD15 would involve have to spread the black population over multiple Republican districts. It would not be an easy process and could put multiple Republicans at risk in a blue year. Republicans would almost surely keep that seat intact even if they felt they were not mandated to.
In Tampa, the discussion around SD16 is well documented. Republicans insist the district must cross the Tampa Bay in order to be a black-performing seat. However, myself and other members have shown a black-performing seat can be drawn in Hillsborough alone. I wrote about that issue here. Republicans would likely keep SD16 intact.
House seats like 62 and 63 would likely be kept intact, similar to SD16, due to GOP worries about stretching themselves too thin on the map. It would be hard to crack those seats without endangering Republican incumbents elsewhere.
There are districts, however, where Republicans could take aim. Jacksonville is one prominent example. If SD5 isn’t protected (according to DeSantis’ logic at least) then Republicans could aim to crack the black community. This is a fairly simple effort. The 4th would be Trump +10, while the 5th would be Biden +5. This isn’t exactly a hardcore gerrymander. However, it would give Republicans a chance in a red midterm.
Having another red district come in and split Duval three ways could make this more efficient.
Down in Gainesville, HD21 is a Democratic-heavy seat that isn’t majority-black in the primary. However, the seat (and its past versions) have elected a black candidate through the Democratic primary since creation.
Using DeSantis logic, it is not protected. So Republicans could come in and crack Gainesville three ways. The only seat even on the margins would be HD21, which is Trump +2 in my proposal.
Down in Miami-Dade, the north end of the county has three black-performing districts. Republicans could argue, however, that only 107 and 108 are protected, and that 109 isn’t. They could reshape the region to pack Democrats more.
In my proposal below, 106 and 107 would be majority-black. 109 would be a Democratic vote sink that grabs some black voters, liberal portions of Miami, and the hipster regions of the area. This would compress Democrats to 4 seats (106, 107, 109, 108); with only 107 and 106 being black-performing.
In areas of Broward, Palm, or Orlando, there is no real incentive for Republicans to crack those black districts. Those areas are so Democratic that there is no easy way to draw more GOP seats without risking spreading themselves too far. Of course, that is based on my spending an evening playing around with this. I’m sure some highly-paid experts could come up with some very clever lines.
Good for Democrats? (No)
There is speculation that some of these seats losing their protected status would be good for Democrats - allowing them to spread black voters over multiple seats to create more blue districts. Granted this assumes at some point Democrats would somehow be drawing the lines.
I reject this out of hand. First, its a scummy practice. Black voters are not pawns of political parties to either pack or crack when convenient. Second, the oldest myth in Florida politics is that the creation of black districts in the 1990s caused Democrats to lose their legislative majorities. I delved DEEP into the 1990s redistricting process for Congress and the legislature; and the facts do NOT back that claim up. The complaint against minority seats came from bitter white democrats who didn’t want to admit the party was declining WELL before the 1992 redistricting cycle. Read the links for yourself. At best you could argue Democrats could have cracked black voters and spread them out to pad some extra districts for themselves against popular sentiment. Also known as racial and political gerrymandering.
Not to mention, in 1996, the year Republicans won the state house, Bill Clinton won a majority of districts.
If Democrats had held onto just a couple of those GOP/Clinton seats, they’d have kept their majority.
As I’ve said from day one, DeSantis does not care about the lines. He wants to look like a warrior. However, he has been aided and emboldened by the clear conservative shift in the courts. How far this trend goes is hard to predict. For now, black voters can breath a sigh of relief that the legislative plans were not under DeSantis’ purview. However, the conservative court rulings - which clearly reject minority concerns over representation - are a terrible development. That shift is something that racists like Ron DeSantis will continue to exploit.