DeSantis' latest congressional map divides Polk County into 4 districts

Proposed congressional boundaries split Lakeland down middle

Gary White
The Ledger
Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a new congressional map Wednesday that cuts Polk County into four districts.

For months, the Florida Legislature signaled that it would create a new congressional district covering all of Polk County.

Now that the Legislature has given Gov. Ron DeSantis full control of the redistricting process, it appears Polk County will be split into four congressional districts — with the boundary between two slicing through the center of Lakeland. North Lakeland would be represented by three different representatives.

DeSantis’ staff submitted a proposed map Wednesday for Florida’s 28 districts in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state is gaining one seat because of population growth, and the Legislature is charged with crafting new district boundaries every 10 years.

DeSantis vetoed maps that the Legislature adopted in this year’s session, objecting to districts in North Florida that he asserts are unconstitutional. The Legislature will hold a special session on redistricting next week, and Republican leaders have said that they will not prepare new maps but instead defer to DeSantis.

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In Gov. Ron DeSantis' latest proposed congressional map, two districts cut Lakeland directly down the middle.

Divided among four districts

The map DeSantis revealed Wednesday drastically changes the boundaries of districts in Central Florida, contrasting sharply with versions the Legislature had been considering for months. Instead of being contained within one district, Polk County is divided among four, one of them extending from Lakeland south to Collier County, near Naples.

In DeSantis’ latest map, the largest segment of Polk County lies within District 18. That district has a northern border mostly along Interstate 4, though it juts up toward Polk City.

The district extends eastward to encompass almost all of eastern Polk County, including Davenport, Haines City and Lake Wales. It stretches south to the Big Cypress National Preserve, containing all or part of Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Glades, Okeechobee, Hendry and Collier counties.

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Most notably for local residents, the western border of District 18 runs along U.S. 98 North and South Florida Avenue through the heart of Lakeland. That means that people living on opposite sides of Lakeland’s main thoroughfare would be in different congressional districts.

In DeSantis’ map, District 15 borders District 18 to the west. That district contains Lakeland Linder International Airport and western Lakeland, zigzagging south to State Road 60 near Willow Oak.

In the proposed map released Wednesday, a portion of North Lakeland around US 98 and Marcum Road is split between three congressional districts.

District 15 stretches west to include Brandon, Temple Terrace and northern Hillsborough County and north to cover southern Pasco County, including Zephyrhills.

District 11 contains most of Polk County north of Interstate 4 as well as parts of Lake, Sumter and Orange counties. District 9 covers just a small section of northeast Polk County in the Poinciana area, along with Osceola County and southern Orange County.

Polk County is currently divided into three congressional districts. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, represents District 15, which covers Lakeland and northern Polk County, eastern Hillsborough and southern Lake.

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, represents District 9, which encompasses eastern Polk County (including Winter Haven and Haines City), and parts of Osceola and Orange counties. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, represents District 17, which covers southern Polk County and all or part of eight other counties, stretching as far south as Lee County.

Melissa Kelly, a spokeswoman for Franklin, said Thursday that if DeSantis’ map is adopted, he will run in District 18.

An overview of congressional districts as they appear in a new map proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday.

Lakeland has been contained within a single congressional district for decades, according to Ledger research. Polk County had also confined to one district for decades until the last round of redistricting, which divided the county into three.

Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments, passed by state voters in 2010, created guidelines for lawmakers to follow in drawing congressional districts. The law resulting from those amendments says that districts should respect city, county and other geographical boundaries as much as possible.

The Ledger emailed DeSantis’ office Thursday morning to ask how the map, which divides Lakeland down the middle, follows the guidelines for geographic integrity. The office did not immediately respond.

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DeSantis calling the shots?

DeSantis has taken a far more active role in redistricting than any previous Florida governor. The state constitution assigns the Legislature the responsibility for formulating congressional districts, with no formal role assigned to the governor.

The Legislature began accepting public submissions last fall for potential district maps. Redistricting committees in the state House and Senate then prepared their own maps during the session that ran from January to March.

In an unprecedented action, DeSantis’ office submitted its own suggested maps during the session. The governor has repeatedly said that he considers House District 5 in North Florida to be an unconstitutional example of “racial gerrymandering.”

That district, shallow but wide and stretching from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee, has a nearly majority Black population and is now represented by Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee.

In response to DeSantis’ threat of a veto, the Legislature adopted two maps. The primary design has District 5 contained in Duval County, and a secondary map shows the district in essentially its current form.

Legislative leaders said they included the alternate version to be used in case a court invalidates the primary map. But DeSantis still vetoed the maps, leading to the call for a special session for April 19-22.

Earlier this week, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, announced that the Legislature would not prepare its own congressional maps but instead work with whatever design DeSantis’ office proposed.

Analyses show that DeSantis' map would likely result in two fewer Black members of Florida's House delegation and increase Republicans' advantage by at least two seats. If the Legislature adopts the design, legal challenges are almost certain to follow, and courts could end up deciding on Florida's congressional boundaries.

Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13.