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DeSantis top aide grilled over map that dismantled seat held by Black Democrat

DeSantis top aide grilled over map that dismantled seat held by Black Democrat

The legal battle is focusing on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ unusual decision to insert himself into the redistricting process. | Phil Sears/AP Photo

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal trial that could upend one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ significant political victories began Tuesday with one of his top aides spending hours on the witness stand defending the legality of a congressional map that dismantled the North Florida district once held by a Black Democrat. Voting and civil rights groups contend the map muscled through the Republican-controlled Legislature last year is discriminatory and unconstitutional, a charge denied by DeSantis and his administration. aA three-judge panel is considering the case and could ultimately rule that the map needs to be changed. The trial, scheduled to stretch over the next week or so, kicked off with a back and forth with Alex Kelly, the acting chief of staff for DeSantis who was the chief mapmaker who drew up the plan that ultimately netted the GOP four seats and helped them win back the U.S. House during the 2022 elections. During his lengthy testimony, Kelly faulted past rulings by the Florida Supreme Court related to redistricting, questioned how the Legislature handled redistricting at times and made comments that appeared at odds with statements he made in his own depositions. Kelly also insisted that the map that DeSantis has recently touted on the campaign trail as helping Republicans win the House last year was not drawn for “partisan” reasons or to help any incumbents — factors that are not allowed under Florida’s voter-approved anti-gerrymandering standards. In one notable exchange, Kelly also insisted to one of the lead lawyers questioning him that he had no idea that he was bolstering the percentage of white voters in four districts by splitting up the seat that had been held by Rep. Al Lawson. “I had no reason to look at racial and ethnic data in North Florida,” Kelly testified.

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