This past week, as I spoke to folks of importance in Tallahassee and Leon County Government, a reality dawned upon me. Governor Ron DeSantis congressional map proposal, an unprecedented foray into the reapportionment process for a Florida Governor, isn’t just about partisanship or race as had been claimed, but about something else – dismembering the political power of the state capital, the state’s most progressive large municipality.
Since Don Fuqua’s election in 1962, Tallahassee has been at the center of a Congressional District, and while more often than not, the Congressional Representative like Fuqua didn’t come from Leon County, Tallahassee, as the largest municipality in the Panhandle and the key city in the Big Bend region, largely dictated who represented it. The two exceptions to this trend would be when Bill Grant and Steve Southerland represented the former 2nd Congressional district, but in both cases, this was quickly corrected in the election of Pete Peterson and Gwen Graham.
The DeSantis map clearly puts Tallahassee in a seat which will be controlled from Bay County and other western parts of the district. It seems very on-brand for a Governor whose agenda is a meandering, inconsistent ideology tied together by one ideal beyond accumulating personal power – “owning the libs.” Nothing in Florida would do more to “own the libs” than placing the state’s most liberal city and one of its most progressive counties, in a district represented by a conservative Republican, the ultra-right-wing Dr. Neal Dunn
This isn’t an original idea, as Tennessee Republicans have executed the perfect storm this year, dismembering Nashville by connecting parts of the city in different three congressional districts with hard-right rural and small town areas. Congressman Jim Cooper, the Democrat who has long represented Nashville is retiring this year as a result of the map. In this case, Governor DeSantis is just copying the Tennessee plan, applying the same logic to Tallahassee.
DeSantis’ plan destroys Al Lawson’s Congressional District under the guise of “compactness.” Thus far the conversation has been about losing minority representation and perhaps the partisan makeup of the Florida Delegation. Those are worthy and valid concerns, but it’s important to register the efforts to strip power from the State Capital and most progressive large city in Florida as a similarly important concern regarding this map.
You don’t have to like Rep. Al Lawson, to realize depriving Tallahassee of a resident Congressman or any influence in selecting its Representative in Congress is a bad idea and a punitive measure against a city and county which has typified the resistance to this Governor’s authoritarian bend.