Florida Republicans back down in standoff with DeSantis over congressional map

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The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature is throwing in the towel after a public fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, over his desire to draw a new congressional map that would carve up two largely Black districts.

Republican leaders acquiesced Monday and said the Legislature will let the governor’s office present its preferred map during this month’s special session, after DeSantis vetoed the ones approved by state lawmakers earlier this year.

“We are awaiting a communication from the Governor’s Office with a map that he will support. Our intention is to provide the Governor’s Office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a memo to members shared with NBC News.

DeSantis, who is up for re-election and widely thought to be considering a 2024 run for president, took the unusual step of proposing a congressional redistricting map earlier this year, one that would eliminate two Black-held seats while boosting the prospects for Republicans seeking a House seat.

His main objection to the maps proposed by lawmakers appeared to be a north Florida seat held by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. The district runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and is 46 percent Black; it’s considered a seat where voters of color have the opportunity to elect the members of their choice.

State lawmakers, including Republicans, have argued that maintaining some form of the seat was needed to comply with state constitutional amendments governing redistricting, which say minority voting power cannot be reduced during the map-making process. DeSantis, however, insisted that Lawson’s seat was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander; he proposed a map that would split the district into several Republican-leaning seats.

The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project said DeSantis’ map was gerrymandered to achieve significant partisan advantage for Republicans, compared with previous maps advanced by the state Legislature that offered a “slight” GOP advantage.

The maps proposed by the Legislature would have essentially maintained the balance of political power, with more Republican-leaning seats than Democratic ones, whereas DeSantis’ map would have targeted Democratic seats to eke out significant gains for his party.

Sources familiar with the governor’s thinking told NBC News last month that DeSantis wanted a court fight focused on provisions in the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as the state’s Constitution, that generally prohibit the dilution of minority voting strength.

Advocates lambasted Monday’s decision by state legislators.

“Just days after a federal court outlined how the DeSantis administration has carried on 20 years of policies that make it harder for Floridians to vote, especially Black voters in our state, now is the time to increase checks and balances in our state not to hand the Governor a blank check to remake the state however he wishes,” said Moné Holder, a senior director at Florida Rising, an advocacy group in the state.

A federal judge on March 31 tossed out the bulk of Florida’s new voting law, saying it intentionally discriminated against Black voters. The state has appealed the ruling.

Jane C. Timm

Jane C. Timm is a senior reporter for NBC News.

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