PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor
The Florida Legislature passed this new congressional district map in April 2022 after Gov. DeSantis vetoed the previous attempt. | Florida Legislature

OPINION | ‘DeSantismander’ deserves a legal challenge

Published on June 11, 2023 at 5:19 pm

Florida’s congressional district map is a fraud, and the most glaring example is my district. 

No offense to Aaron Bean, but he should not be representing North and West Jacksonville in Congress.

And in light of last week’s unexpected Supreme Court ruling against the gerrymandering that wiped out a Black-access seat in Alabama, there is a strong indication that Florida’s congressional map is also illegal, as a Florida suit alleges. 

Our current districts, which Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted last year, invalidated three decades of practice and precedent that served Northeast Florida well. Though DeSantis decried the Legislature’s map as an “unconstitutional gerrymander” (a map that included a Jacksonville-heavy Democratic stronghold), a federal court may give that map a second chance at life — or at the very least, Jacksonville voters may see an end to the current chokehold. 

The SCOTUS ruling saw an unlikely alliance of conservative justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh and liberals Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson agree on a fundamental principle akin to the one in play in Florida: that Black voters should be able to elect a candidate of their choice, and that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still matters — and that the gaps in its remedy could not be spackled over with the willful ignorance of legislative intent. 

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Before his district was dismantled, Democrat Al Lawson was not a perfect congressman. When Alvin Brown ran against him in 2018, he had a point: Lawson seemed complacent, if not “Trump’s favorite Democrat.” 

But Lawson — a Tallahassee guy whose big connection to Jacksonville before running for Congress was buying clothes here — represented a community of people who otherwise were disenfranchised. Like former Rep. Corrine Brown before him, Lawson was an all too rare voice for people who largely go ignored in D.C., where all the Florida Republican representatives want to do is vapid TV hits. 

DeSantis claims Jacksonville in his collection of hometowns, which include Dunedin (“the Rust Belt,” if you ask him) and whatever state where he’s pandering for votes (Did you know Florida is both the “Iowa of the Southeast” and the “Utah of the Southeast”? That’s what the governor’s saying as he travels the country). 

And it was in this context that he took glee in ensuring Jacksonville no longer has a congressional seat held by a Democrat. 

“Equity” is literally banned language to this governor, and he was adamant in rejecting the idea that Democrats and minorities should have a congressperson who represents their working-class ideals. 

After the map that killed his district and forced him into an election that he couldn’t win last year, Rep. Lawson said, “Once again, DeSantis is showing Florida voters that he is governing the state as a dictator…DeSantis bullied the Florida Legislature into approving his Republican-leaning congressional map during the special session. It is alarming that state legislators cannot fulfill their constitutional duties without political meddling.”

Indeed, there was plenty of meddling. DeSantis summed it up best himself in a convo with WJXT’s legendary political reporter Jim Piggott last year, using mobster-style language.

“I think the Legislature’s going to pass something that will get my signature,” DeSantis said. “At the end of the day, we were very clear about what the Legislature was doing, that that would not get my signature. I think that there was a belief, a mistaken belief that somehow I didn’t mean what I said.”

“Guys, I mean what I say,” he emphasized. “And so we ended up in this position. And so pass something that will get my signature.”

DeSantis ultimately pushed through an aggressively “race-blind” congressional map, one that deviated from the maps the Legislature passed for state districts. We see the difference in parts of the Westside, where Republican Aaron Bean represents in Washington people represented by Democrats Tracie Davis and Angie Nixon in Tallahassee. 

DeSantis’ congressional gerrymander was aggressive and in bad faith, with the intent of ensuring two GOP seats by divesting people in Democrat-heavy areas and burying their vote in Nassau and Clay populations that don’t share their beliefs or political interests. 

Lawson wanted to ask DeSantis what his beef was.

“I’m just saying, you know, what’s going on? I served with you for two years, let’s have lunch and iron out your problem,” Lawson told Florida Politics. “What is your problem with minority access seats?”

Lawson said it was clear the governor was trying to show Republicans he was heir apparent for president. “But his major fight now is coming with Donald Trump — and I don’t think he can beat Trump.” (Today, polls show Trump ahead much more often than DeSantis, so it’s possible Lawson is right.) 

For DeSantis, the cruelty was the point. Florida’s congressional reapportionment map is a deeply political document, something he talked about before pushing his product through, and now talks about during campaign speeches.

“It’s really, really unbelievable to hear some of these people carping for all these years and then to see kind of what these monstrosities are that they created,” he said in 2022, kvetching about “blue-state” gerrymandering.

Today he’s heralding his own monstrosities, in yet another example of this governor’s scorning a practice and then doing his own pastiche thereof.

“We helped elect four additional Republicans to the U.S. Congress and we probably wouldn’t have the majority if that hadn’t happened,” DeSantis said in South Carolina the weekend before last. 

Perhaps the biggest sign of DeSantis’ bad faith: his veto of a map passed by the Legislature that would have created a compact Democratic-plurality seat contained entirely in Duval County. 

He made the choice to sacrifice minority voices to create an artificial Republican advantage. That’s why his cynical map merits review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

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