Advocates sue over redrawn Congressional districts

Rep. Al Lawson has been very vocal in opposing Republicans’ effort to redraw the state’s Congressional districts.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Some people at last week’s rally spoke with their signs.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Gov. Ron DeSantis got what he wanted when he called state legislators to a special session that led to passage of redrawn Congressional district lines.

But not for certain.

The pushback intensified last Wednesday, just hours before legislators passed the SB 2-C and sent it on to DeSantis, who said last Friday in South Florida that he’s signed the bill.

Opponents of the bill rallied on the steps of the old Capitol, where an estimated 400 supporters gathered before the vote. Several advocacy organizations organized the event, which featured a lengthy lineup of speakers.

Many in the crowd came from surrounding counties, but the largest delegation represented the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville.

“What they are doing is violating our right to have that Congressional district that started in 1992,” said Rev. R.L. Gundy, a Jacksonville pastor who represented the African American Ministers Action for People for the American Way.

 “We will not allow this governor to turn Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s dream into a nightmare,” said Ben Frazier, who spoke on behalf of the Northside Coalition.

“This governor had shown us three times how racist his tactics have been,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground Action Fund who lives in Congressional District 10.

 Members of the Legislature Black Caucus also voiced their displeasure with the governor’s move. Many of them called DeSantis’ insistence for redrawing the Congressional District “racist.”

“Governor DeSantis seems as if nobody else matters, not even the people in his own party,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democratic senator. “I want to tell you that we are clear in what your message is but I want you to be clear on what ours is; we will not stand down. We are more woke than we’ve ever been. As a matter of fact, Governor DeSantis, you only see a few of us back here but there are many of us when we get back home.” 

Immediately after the Senate voted 24-15 and 68-38 in the House, opponents of the bill filed suit in a Leon County court. 

Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero who is the Senate Reapportionment Chairman, and five other Republicans were named in the suit. While, Democrats call the maps racist, Republicans say they are constitutional and are ready to defend their decision in court.

However, it wasn’t clear if Republicans will push to have the case expedited before the November election. Qualifying to get on the ballot begins in June.

What has transpired since the governor started his campaign to redraw the districts has created a “state of emergency,” said Rev. RB Holmes, local president of the National Action Network.

Speaking at the rally before legislators voted on the contentious bill, Holmes said their action would “turn the clock back to the days for Jim Crowism in spirit of Trumpism.”

 “This is wrong,” Holmes added. “This is wicked. This is like a ploy of dog whistling for this governor to get to the White House by using a dark playbook by hurting Black people, good people and God’s people. We must stand up and let the nation know that this governor is on the wrong side of history. We must stand together as Blacks, Whites, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. We aren’t going to let nobody turn us around.”

The governor called the special session after expressing displeasure with maps that were sent to him at the end of the legislative session last month. The new lines redraw congressional districts that include two of four districts that are represented by Blacks.

Tallahassee resident Rep. Al Lawson represents District 5, one of the two areas now in question, while the other is represented by Val Demings in Central Florida’s District 10.

“DeSantis bullied the Florida Legislature into approving his Republican-leaning congressional map during special session,” Lawson said in a statement. “It is alarming that state legislators cannot fulfill their constitutional duties without political meddling. 

“Florida House Democrats demonstrated courage today (last Thursday) by protesting the DeSantis’ drawn map on the floor. They comprehend that this map violates the Voting Rights Act along with the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.”

The district that Lawson represents gave President Joe Biden 8 percent more votes than Donald Trump received in the 2020 election.

Throughout the rally, speakers told the crowd to encourage their communities to register to vote for change.  

“Most of you know exactly why we are here. We are here to stop this assault on our representation throughout this state,” said Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP who moderated the rally. “What we hear today is the beginning. This is not the end. This is not the big game. The big game will be in August (for primaries). The big game will be in November when we make sure that all these racist policies, racist politicians (and) all of these things go away. 

“We just can’t stop here by rallying. We can’t just stop here by speaking. We have to make sure that we don’t see it again.”