Issue #45: Lawmakers prepare to violate the Fair Districts Amendments
Lawmakers are about to defy the voters
Tomorrow, April 19th, Florida’s special session on Congressional redistricting will begin. Lawmakers are expected to quickly enact the plan drawn up by Ron DeSantis, which I delved into in this substack post.
This plan, the latest in a long line of racist attacks on Florida’s black community, is one of the most extreme gerrymanders in the nation. It would certainly be viewed as a Republican equivalent for the equally-abhorrent Democratic gerrymanders in places like New York. Incidentally, if I hear the phrase ‘Hochul-mander” or “DeSantis-mander” one more time in my life I’m going to lose what little of my sanity I have left.
This map from Ron DeSantis creates a 20-8 breakdown for President. Looking at how the map would break down in past elections shows a map that is overwhelmingly to the right.
It should really say something that Nikki Fried only won 11 of 28 districts in his Agriculture Commission win from 2018. Obama’s 1% win in 2012 only gets him 10 seats.
As I’ve covered in-depth in these substack posts, this is the dream map for conservative activists and the national party. However, local Republicans are much more nervous. The press is filled with Republicans talking on background or off-the-record about their concerns of the plan. For months, lawmakers aimed to not defy Florida’s Fair District Amendments, worried about the threat of lawsuits. DeSantis’ congressional intervention destroyed this. Now, more afraid of DeSantis than the courts, lawmakers pledge to pass the plan, but do so while complaining internally.
“If DeSantis wants to go to court and defend this, I hope he doesn’t mind getting deposed,” - on background Republican via Jane C. Timm and Marc Caputo
Depositions will be coming for Republican lawmakers as well. They know this, because they are about to spit in the face of Florida’s constitution.
The Fair Districts Amendments
Conservative activists appeared to be shocked when the first Congressional drafts, released back in November of 2021, didn’t include an extreme gerrymander like DeSantis’ plan. It was simple, lawmakers did not want to be accused of running afoul of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments.
For those who don’t know, Fair Districts is two amendments that were approved by the voters in 2010. Amendment 5 applied to legislative districts, while Amendment 6 covered congressional districts. Both set standards for redistricting in Florida. Both amendments included a two-tier redistricting standard.
Tier 1 - Ban on drawing lines to benefit a party or incumbent. Protection for minority-performing districts.
Tier 2 - Compactness and minimizing city/county splits
Tier 2 is always subservient to Tier 1 concerns.
I delved deep into the campaign to pass Fair Districts in this history article. I recommend reading it for more information on the campaign. In the end, both measures passed with just around 62% of the vote.
The measures performed strong across the state, outside the rural panhandle region. Republican efforts to kill the measures only really took hold with rural voters and some Cuban voters in Miami-Dade.
Here is how the measures break down by the NEW legislative districts for Florida. Not every lawmakers meeting this week is running for another term. However, many are, and perhaps they should look at how their constituents voted.
Only 8 state house districts rejected the measures. In the state senate map, only two seats voted NO.
The Fair Districts were broadly popular across most of Florida.
Betrayal of the Black Community
If you read through my history of the Fair Districts campaign, you will see that African-American voters were generally supportive of the amendments, but had a good degree of reservation. There was a worry that “reform” would lead to a re-cracking of black voters by white democrats to create “compact” seats. The amendments were carefully crafted to ensure a protection for currently-performing minority seats. This ensured African-American support, even as politicians like Corrine Brown opposed the amendments due to worry about their own seats.
African-Americans backed the amendments, but we do see their support was notably less than their support for the Democratic ticket. The map below compares the YES vote for Amendment 5 to the vote for Alex Sink, the 2010 Democratic candidate for Governor. It shows the amendment underperformed Sink across the African-American communities of Florida.
Showing this gap by state house district confirms the precinct map. African-American majority and access seats across the state showed Fair Districts winning, but underperforming Alex Sink.
The Fair Districts amendments would go on to not only ensure minority representation, but increase it. The 2015 remap of the State Senate lines resulted in additional African-American senators. Meanwhile, the 2015 Congressional remap resulted in Florida going from 3 black-performing seats to 4.
Fair Districts resulted in more compact districts, more balanced maps, and better minority representation. In 2010, Republicans argued against the measures by specifically playing up minority voter concerns, arguing they were a tool by white democrats to spread black voters over many dem-leaning seats that would elect white democrats (old Democratic strategy in the 1970s and 1980s). This never came to pass.
However, we now sit here awaiting a special session where Republicans aim to do the cracking of black voters that they once warned Democrats wanted to do.
Of course, the GOP efforts here will be done in a way to ensure maximum GOP seats. For a party that once claimed it was working to ensure minority representation in the 1990s and 2000s redistricting processes, this is a stunning about-face.
Fear and Cowardice vs The Law
Now, we head into this special session with lawmakers prepared to pass a map that decreases partisan competitiveness and halves the number of performing-black seats in the state. They know the map is a clear Tier 1 violation, but they are afraid of the Governor. This map will be passed, will be sued over, and depositions will be coming. Lawmakers spent months trying to avoid this. Now, they have caved.
I have one final comment for the lawmakers reading this. Please see below.