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As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis preps for the second Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, his top aide faced questions on altering a Black-majority congressional district during the redistricting process.
Alex Kelly is acting chief of staff for DeSantis. At the beginning of a federal trial on Tuesday, Kelly denied targeting Black voters while acting as chief mapmaker last year.
In his efforts to out-do Donald Trump, DeSantis has racked up two legal challenges. He faces one each at the state and federal level after he altered a Black-majority congressional district that a state judge declared “unconstitutional.”
Florida’s Fifth Congressional District stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, represented the district since 2017. The new map, however, increased the percentage of White voters in four districts and redistributed 360,000 Black voters out of his District.
Rep. Lawson lost the November 2022 election by nearly 20 percentage points after the DeSantis redistricting map was approved.
The Florida Legislature had initially produced a more balanced map. It preserved the racial demographics of the 5th District, but DeSantis overrode their map and inserted himself into the process last year.
“I had no reason to look at racial and ethnic data in North Florida,” Kelly testified to .S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, per Politico.
DeSantis aide grilled on altering Black-majority district
In the federal trial, a three-judge panel will decide whether Florida must redraw the congressional maps. It comes after the Florida League of Women Voters, Black Voters Matter and Florida Rising sued last year.
Their lawsuit, filed less than 24 hours after the maps were passed, came after Florida Democrats protested the rushed, party-line vote on the state House floor.
Last year in May, a state judge struck down the DeSantis redistricting maps, calling it unconstitutional.
“I am finding the enacted map is unconstitutional because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of their choice,” circuit judge Layne Smith said.
DeSantis appeals redistricting ruling
In September of this year, another circuit judge agreed, ordering the Florida Legislature to redraw the maps with at least one Black-majority district.
She said civil rights groups who sued “have shown that the enacted plan results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution.”
DeSantis has appealed the ruling, which faces an appeals court later this fall.
At multiple points in their testimony during the beginning of the federal trial Tuesday, Kelly appeared to claim Ron DeSantis knew the law better than the Florida Supreme Court.
Kelly was pressed about the fact that Rep. Lawson’s 5th District was established in 2015 because a Florida Supreme Court ruled an earlier map had violated the state’s Fair Districts amendment.
“Florida Supreme Court got it wrong,” Kelly said.
DeSantis dips in the polls
Seven candidates will take the stage inside Ronald Reagan’s presidential library in California at 9 p.m. E.T., not including the frontrunner Donald Trump. Despite seeking to siphon off Trump voters by pitching himself as the most far-right candidate, DeSantis’ poll numbers have taken a nose dive.
A recent CNN New Hampshire Primary Poll shows DeSantis dipping to fifth place in the Republican primary while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley cruises close to second.
Trump, despite facing 91 felonies, remains the favorite to win the nomination.
Meanwhile, even Florida GOP megadonors are beginning to doubt DeSantis. ongoing legal battle over his “unconstitutional” redistricting casts a
Billionaire and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin said he’s sitting on the sidelines for the Republican presidential primary.
“I don’t know his strategy,” Griffin said of DeSantis,” CNBC reported. “It’s not clear to me what voter base he is intending to appeal to.”