The Florida Legislature convenes Monday for a special session with one task: Comply with a state Supreme Court order to redraw congressional districts that violate Florida's Constitution. The court last month ruled that the current map violates the state's Fair Districts amendments.
Based on the proposed new map lawmakers released last week, the redrawn districts would be very fair to Volusia and Flagler counties.
The new 6th Congressional District would contain all of both counties, whereas the current lines cede territory in southwestern Volusia to the 7th District. The new district's northern boundary would include less of St. Johns County, and would trade its current foray into Putnam County for some territory in Lake County.
Concentrating Volusia and Flagler voters into one district would be of significant benefit to this community. First and foremost, it would be represented in Congress by one person who would be more likely to come from Volusia or Flagler counties and therefore be more attuned to local issues, raising the area's profile in Washington. Ron DeSantis, the current 6th District representative, is a Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach who hasn't always been as attentive to Volusia and Flagler matters as he could be. For instance, when Volusia needed to muster its political muscle to secure federal funding extending SunRail service to DeLand, DeSantis was the lone member of Central Florida's bipartisan congressional delegation not to support the idea. His only explanation was a perfunctory statement released by his office: “Congressman DeSantis does not believe that SunRail is a good deal for taxpayers.” Residents deserve more engaged representation.
When your district extends nearly to Jacksonville, it is perhaps easier to brush off the voters of West Volusia. The new 6th would ensure Flagler and Volusia would be a higher priority.
Other benefits of redistricting include removing the 6th from the Jacksonville media market, which would lower the costs of campaigning. That would make it easier for a homegrown, grassroots candidate to seek the seat and make for a more competitive race.
In addition, the removal of northern St. Johns County and the addition of southwest Volusia would make the district less Republican, which also could increase competitiveness. It could foster a legitimate Democratic primary that could produce a stronger challenger to the GOP, making for a race in which two good candidates compete for votes. That makes for a healthier democracy.
Indeed, the Fair Districts amendments were designed to combat the gerrymandering of districts that has increased the partisanship of our politics. Most members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, were elected from districts that were carefully constructed by state legislatures to produce a pre-ordained outcome according to party. When you occupy such a “safe” seat, there is less incentive to compromise on issues or to court voters who don't share all your ideological leanings. Thus you get men and women from the hard left and right who can dig in their heels and toe the party line without fearing a strong challenge to their re-election. And who needs to recruit strong candidates when you can just trot out anyone with an “R” or “D” after their name?
Volusia County in particular is more politically “purple” than Republican red or Democratic blue. It deserves to have robust elections and representation that better reflects its diverse constituency. Hopefully the proposed 6th District survives intact the Legislature's special session.