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DeSantis' Power Is On Full Display As He Pushes Lawmakers On Disney And Redistricting

Ron DeSantis in a suit with no tie stands behind a chainlink fence, with the focus on him
Florida governor Ron DeSantis on April 9 in Jacksonville, Florida.
(James Gilbert
Getty Images)
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After months of back and forth, lawmakers in Florida have passed Gov. Ron DeSantis' controversial congressional district voting map — and have pushed forward his last-minute plan to scrap Disney World's special regulatory status in the state.

It's a clear display of the Republican governor's power, just about six months before he's on the ballot for reelection.

Democratic lawmakers resisted his map until the final moments, staging a sit-in on the floor before the final vote.

"Stop the Black attack," members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus shouted as Republican lawmakers filed out and Democrats began their protest. "We will occupy this floor. We will not be denied."

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The map will give Republicans a 20-8 seat advantage in a state where registered Democratic and Republican voters are nearly equal in number. It will also eliminate two congressional districts held by African American Democrats: Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

GOP lawmakers passed the governor's map about two days after taking it up. No changes to the drawing were made. The move was an unprecedented one for a Florida governor — typically, the legislature draws the lines and then the governor signs or vetos the map — but Republican lawmakers have stood behind him.

The special legislative session came after DeSantis vetoed a bipartisan two-map plan that kept a district in North Florida where African American voters would've made up enough of the constituency to elect a candidate of their choice. DeSantis' map also erases the region's only Black opportunity district.

Democrats blasted the map as unconstitutional and admonished GOP lawmakers for acquiescing to the governor on that and on his move to eliminate a decades-old governing district set up for Disney World and nearby properties.

DeSantis made that announcement after weeks of battling between Republican leaders and Disney over a new law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools — a measure that critics call the "don't say gay" bill.

"Disney is a guest in Florida. Today we remind them," House bill sponsor Randy Fine, a Republican, wrote in a Twitter post after DeSantis' announcement.

But it was the new congressional redistricting maps that received the most protest this week.

Voting rights groups, voters and members of the Florida Black Legislative Caucus rallied outside the state capitol on Tuesday before lawmakers convened to pass the governor's map. Constituents who live in Lawson's and Demings' districts traveled to make their voices heard.

"It's unfair, unconstitutional, an attack on Black representation and injustice to Black voters," said Northside Coalition President Ben Frazier, who came in a motorcade from Jacksonville to protest the map. Frazier describes the map as "a sham and a scam."

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DeSantis' map expands U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn's Republican district to cover the Tallahassee area — including Gadsden County, which has a majority Black population.

The protest on the floor was blasted as an "insurrection" by GOP lawmakers. Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls declined to speak with reporters, but said in a statement that lawmakers who protested "decided to hijack the legislative process."

Democratic Ranking Member Rep. Fentrice Driskell explained that members of the minority party felt they had no choice but to protest. They were given little time to review and discuss the governor's map with colleagues during the special lawmaking session, which lasted a little over 48 hours.

"We did everything we could to approach it from a policy point and from the actual process and the rules. What happens when people don't feel heard? Civil disobedience is a fundamental principle in this country."

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