Florida lawmakers officially kicked off their special session on redistricting Tuesday and the spotlight is on Congressional District 5.
It runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville’s urban core and is currently held by Democratic Congressman Al Lawson.
This map, which lawmakers are expected to vote on and send to the Governor before Friday, gets rid of Lawson’s district and leaves Duval with two Republican-leaning districts.
‘Common sense’ and ‘race-neutral:’ Florida Republicans roll forward on redistricting
Congressman Lawson has held his current seat since 2017, but he’s been around North Florida politics for much longer.
First elected to the Florida House in 1982, Lawson represented only Tallahassee then, but his Jacksonville roots go all the way back to his college days.
“I had to shop in Jacksonville because they had a big and tall man’s store by the name of Leebo’s,” said Lawson.
Fast forward to 2017 and Lawson was elected to the relatively-new Congressional District 5, giving him the opportunity to serve both cities at once.
But CD 5 would be a thing of the past under the new congressional maps being debated in the Florida Legislature.
The Governor and other Republicans like Jacksonville State Representative Jason Fischer have argued the minority access district is an illegal gerrymander that leave Jacksonville at a disadvantage.
Fischer argues Jacksonville would be better served under the new map.
“It’s a huge benefit to Jacksonville. It changes the map in a way that it was Tallahassee-centric before and now it’s focused on Northeast Florida, Jacksonville Nassau and Clay,” said Fischer.
Under the new map, all congressional districts in Northern Florida would lean Republican.
We asked Lawson what that means for his political future and whether he’d hedge his bets running for the new CD 2, which includes Tallahassee.
“Well you know that’s something I have to look at. You know, I represented that district for over ten years,” said Lawson.
Lawson indicated a decision to run may come down to whether the new maps are blocked by the courts, but he said ultimately this redistricting battle is bigger than his own political future.
“It’s not about Al Lawson. It’s about African Americans having the opportunity to vote for someone of their choice. You know up here, we have one majority African American county, Gadsden County. So, what are you going to do? Just eliminate what they’re gonna do? You know, who they’re going to vote for,” said Lawson.
Redistricting experts we’ve spoken with, including UNF’s Dr. Michael Binder, have said because the new map will be approved so late, a court is unlikely to block it or replace it with an alternative in time for this year’s election.
That means Congressman Lawson will likely be left with a difficult choice to make here in the coming months.