Lakeland would be divided among three separate U.S. House districts, under a redistricting map being considered by Florida legislators as they meet in a special session that started today.
Legislators are tasked with redrawing Congressional lines every 10 years, and population growth registered in the 2020 Census means Florida will get one additional representative in Congress, requiring a redrawing of district boundaries.
The map approved by the Legislature earlier this year create a district that includes all of Polk County and a sliver of eastern Hillsborough. But that map was vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who called the Legislature back into the session that began today to consider a map submitted by his staff.
That proposed map is considered likely to pass and is also considered likely to face court challenges.
The DeSantis map divides most of Lakeland into two Congressional districts with a third district including some parts of Lakeland north of Interstate 4:
- District 15 takes in most of Lakeland west of U.S. 98 North and Florida Avenue. The district stairsteps toward the west starting at Alamo Drive and extends westward into Temple Terrace, Lutz and Northdale.
- District 18 takes in portions of Lakeland east of U.S. 98 and Florida Avenue. It extends south through central Florida all the way to Immokalee in Collier County.
- District 11 includes parts of Lakeland north of I-4 and extends north and east to Leesburg and Apopka.
In contrast, the map previously approved by the Legislature but vetoed by DeSantis included a district that incorporates all of Polk County and a sliver of Hillsborough, including Plant City:
The Polk portion of the Legislature’s map, which puts all of the county in a single district, comports with the “three Cs” of redistricting, according to Bruce Anderson, a political science professor at Florida Southern College. The Cs are contiguity, compactness and communities of interest.
With the DeSantis plan, “you have a direct violation of the county line, secondarily the city line and then within the city you have neighborhood lines which are being broken up,” Anderson said. “I can’t think of anything that can be more egregious in terms of violating all three of those principals.”
The real loser is north Lakeland, “which has been the red-headed stepchild of this town as long as I’ve been here,” Anderson said. “There seems to be this sense we can carve them up this way and put them in three different congressional districts.”
The aspect of the DeSantis plan that is likely to land it in court is the elimination of a minority-friendly district in north Florida, Anderson said.
The DeSantis map, unveiled last week, breaks up the Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee 5th District currently represented by Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.
“We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “That is wrong. That’s not the way we’ve governed in the state of Florida. And obviously that will be litigated.”
Critics charge the DeSantis plan violates the Fair Districts Amendment to the Florida Constitution, which prohibits constructing districts “with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” It also requires lawmakers to not draw districts “with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
At a rally on the Capitol steps in Tallahassee this morning, critics assailed the plan. “The governor now has bulldozed himself into the redistricting process,” said Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Broward. “He wants to take us back to a time where rigging districts for political gain and running roughshod over minority voters was permitted in Florida.”
The Senate Reapportionment Committee today voted 8-4 in a party-line split to advance the DeSantis plan to the Senate floor Wednesday. After expected passage, it moves to the Florida House on Thursday.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, told The Ledger the congressman intends to run in the new 18th District if the DeSantis plan is adopted.
Franklin currently lives in the 18th District. So does former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who has said he plans to run in the 15th District. As configured under the DeSantis plan, the district line comes just a few blocks away from Ross’ south Lakeland home. Under the Legislature plan, he is several miles outside what would be a 15th District based in northeast Hillsborough and Pasco Counties.
Members of Congress are not required to live in the district they represent, but Ross told LkldNow he’d consider moving into the newly created district if elected.
But he said he essentially has eight year’s experience representing most of the district when it was part of the district he represented for eight years. “It is not new territory to me. I suspect I know that district better than anyone,” Ross said.
To some, the prospect of two or three representatives with Lakeland addresses might seem tantalizing. But by dividing the city into three districts that tie in with other counties, there’s a possibility that nobody with first-hand knowledge of Lakeland will be elected to Congress.