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Florida Democrats stage protest against GOP redistricting plan, then get steamrolled

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James Gilbert/Getty Images

Florida Democrats disrupted proceedings during a special session of the state legislature Thursday to protest the new congressional redistricting map drawn by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and being considered by the state House. After a few hours, Republicans then canceled debate and passed the bill over loud objections from the minority party.

A group of black lawmakers staged a sit-in and a pray-in protest in the middle of debate on the map, objecting to how it would reduce the number of Democratic members of Congress and halve the number of majority-black districts in Florida.

According to the Miami Herald, at 11:47 a.m. Democratic state Rep. Angie Nixon walked onto the House floor wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed, "Stop the Black Attack" and held a sign in protest. She was joined by other members of the Democratic conference, who started to chant as stunned Republican lawmakers exited the chamber. House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) then ordered the House into recess.

The protesting Democrats read excerpts of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and sang "We Shall Overcome," demanding that the legislature reject the governor's map.

“Our demands are clear. The legislature needs to draw maps,’’ Nixon said. “The Republicans in leadership need to come to the Democratic leadership, and we’re going to draw some constitutional maps. Those are our demands, and we will not be moved.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Dotie Joseph, made a prayer suggesting that Republicans were in league with Satan to divide Floridians.

“Right now, we've lined up all of the works of the Adversary — all of the works of the Adversary — seeking to divide us, seeking to distract us with a culture war," she said. "We refocused us on your two highest and greatest commandments: that we would love you and that we would love each other, and that people would know you by our works and how we treat one another."

Florida lawmakers have battled with DeSantis over plans to redraw the state's 28 congressional districts before the midterm elections in November. The governor vetoed a map passed by both chambers of the legislature before calling a special session to consider his own map, which he insisted removed certain districts that were "racially gerrymandered." DeSantis' map decreases the number of black districts from four to two and eliminates Florida's 5th Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Al Lawson, a black Democrat.

At a press conference last week, DeSantis defended getting rid of Lawson's district, saying his map is "race-neutral."

"We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin. That is wrong," DeSantis said. "That is not the way we've governed in the state of Florida, and so that will be that. And obviously, that will be litigated."

Under DeSantis' proposal, there would be 20 Republican-leaning and eight Democratic-leaning congressional districts, according to the New York Times, which would neutralize the Democratic Party's national redistricting advantage and jeopardize their majority in the House of Representatives this November.

Democrats were understandably furious when the Republican-controlled state Senate passed the DeSantis map 24-15 along party lines Wednesday. They accused Republicans of silencing black voices and of violating the constitution.

At 12:55 p.m., Speaker Sprowls called the House back into session, canceled debate on the redistricting map, and held a vote, according to the Herald.

“It is my belief that no members of this chamber should have the opportunity to shut down our process and shut down a job that members of the public and people of Florida have asked us to do,’’ he said, though his voice was drowned out by shouts from the opposition.

Democrats continued to chant "Stop the black attacks" as the House voted 68-38 in favor of DeSantis' map.

Republicans then passed another bill that stripped the Walt Disney World Resort of its special district, removing the ability of the theme park to essentially run its own government on its property.

The bills now head to DeSantis' desk for his signature.

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