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Florida's DeSantis proposes a voting map that cuts 2 majority Black voting districts

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has done something not many governors have done. He has proposed his own version of a new congressional voting map for the state. It's not without controversy. The map eliminates two of the state's majority Black voting districts. As WFSU's Valerie Crowder reports, critics say the plan has political motivations beyond just redistricting.

VALERIE CROWDER, BYLINE: Right now, Congressman Al Lawson's North Florida district stretches across eight counties, picking up Black voters who live in Tallahassee and in Jacksonville. But in DeSantis' proposal, that district would be broken into four, obliterating North Florida's Black voting power. That bothers Tallahassee's NAACP President Mutaqee Akbar.

MUTAQEE AKBAR: Those people who might become the representatives of these redrawn districts will not, one, have a relationship with these communities. And, two, we won't have access to that person in order to, you know, try to get the things that's needed.

CROWDER: DeSantis submitted the map on the eve of Martin Luther King Day. Akbar says he thinks the timing was intentional.

AKBAR: On the eve of Martin Luther King, to actually take away the vote, take away a district that's specific to Black and brown communities - to do all of that is no coincidence.

CROWDER: The governor's plan would also eliminate Congresswoman Val Demings' Orlando district, where Black residents make up a large share of the population. Jasmine Burney Clark lives in Demings' district.

JASMINE BURNEY CLARK: What you don't want, obviously, is taxation without representation.

CROWDER: Burney Clark is also the founder of Equal Ground, a progressive group working to mobilize Black voters.

BURNEY CLARK: To split her district would be monumental for Black voters in the Central Florida area, who have delivered quite a number of victories for people of color running for office in that area.

CROWDER: But to get at the heart of why Governor DeSantis would propose his own map, you have to consider his likely run for president in 2024, says Democratic Party consultant Matthew Isbell.

MATTHEW ISBELL: Ron DeSantis cares about Ron DeSantis.

CROWDER: Isbell, who was also a redistricting data analyst, says he thinks DeSantis' unusual step is tied to those national political ambitions.

ISBELL: I really don't think he cares that much about which map becomes law. I think he just wants to be seen as fighting for the conservative base.

CROWDER: The governor's office released a statement claiming that DeSantis' map actually increases minority voting power because it would add two Hispanic districts. But in the end, it's up to the State House and Senate to negotiate a new congressional plan. DeSantis does have the power to veto any plan that the legislature passes. If lawmakers can't reach an agreement, the state Supreme Court will decide how the lines are drawn.

For NPR News, I'm Valerie Crowder in Tallahassee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROHNE'S "MERU (FEAT. KORESMA)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Valerie Crowder
Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.