In recent weeks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis achieved a major victory in the state’s redistricting process following an announcement by Republican leaders in Florida’s legislature that they will allow DeSantis to draw his preferred congressional map and pass whatever is submitted. This is fairly unusual, as redistricting in Florida, as with many other states, is generally an issue handled by the state legislature. The governor has veto power but is generally not involved in the map designing process. However, this promise came to fruition on April 20th, when the Florida Senate passed DeSantis’s map, which eliminates multiple Democratic districts with high concentrations of minority voters, including one containing the city of Tallahassee and another containing part of Orlando, and gives Republicans a net gain of four seats. This amounts to 18 out of 28 seats, or roughly 64% of Florida’s congressional delegation, being rated as safe or leaning Republican. This is not representative of Florida’s current political make-up, in which Republican President Donald Trump beat Democratic challenger Joe Biden by less than 4%, and DeSantis was only elected by a margin of 0.4%. Thus, the actions by Governor DeSantis constitute warning signs of democratic erosion in two respects: first, in the Governor’s flouting of forbearance by urging the elimination of the institutional check of the state legislature in redistricting, and second, the breakdown of mutual toleration, with DeSantis’s disenfranchisement of his party’s rivals and the groups that disproportionately support them.
The move from Florida’s Republican leaders in the legislature, who control both the House and the Senate, comes after DeSantis vetoed a map that had been approved by the Republican legislature, which contained only modest gains for Republicans. DeSantis, however, was insistent on eliminating congressional districts drawn to bolster the voting power of minority populations, most notably black people, in order to make them more proportional to the state overall, calling the districts an “unconstitutional racial gerrymander.” This serves as a prime, but uncharacteristically contentious example of the convention that legislators of the same party as the executive will not necessarily prove to be an effective check on that executive. While the legislature’s decision to bow to DeSantis’s wish to draw the maps himself fits this convention, the prior struggle involving Republican legislators attempting to convince DeSantis to approve their more modest proposal may serve as an example of a democratic check on power that initially held, but eventually eroded.
The polarization that led to the rise of DeSantis, who has been a staunch conservative on issues such as COVID-19 restrictions, critical race theory, LGBTQ+ issues, and more, may be partly responsible for his willingness to overlook mutual toleration; DeSantis’s rhetoric on “liberal indoctrination”, particularly as it relates to issues of race, gender, and sexuality may lead DeSantis to view the Democrats as enough of a threat to suspend democratic norms and adopt a “win-at-all-costs” mentality (or, at the very least, DeSantis may want to feign this fear of Democrats and liberalism to bolster his political fortunes among the conservative base that constitutes much of his support). These policies, whether intentionally or incidentally, also help reinforce threats to the voting rights of racially marginalized populations, such as African Americans, by drawing them into Republican-favoring districts, where their votes are unlikely to have a noticeable impact, as opposed to the swing or Democratic-leaning districts that they currently occupy.