Incumbents Lawson, Dunn to battle in November for North Florida district following redistricting

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 1:41 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Florida’s new congressional map has pitted two incumbents against one another in a race to represent an area of North Florida.

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson will now have to fight Panama City Republican Neal Dunn to see who remains in Congress because Lawson’s district has been effectively eliminated because Florida gained a seat.

Lawson said it was inappropriate for Governor Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., to force the state legislature to approve a map the governor wanted instead of their own.

" I think the only thing (DeSantis) didn’t realize is that I have served in those areas for many, many years and so I’m familiar with them. And they’ve always been Republican leaning. So we got a shot,” said Lawson.

Lawson was referring to the nearly three decades he spent in the state legislature. On the federal level, Lawson has served Florida’s 5th congressional district, which snaked across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, for three terms. Now he is running in the re-drawn 2nd congressional district. The map shifts Tallahassee’s representation west to include the Panama City, which is more Republican.

Neal Dunn has served three terms there.

“The map is greatly simplified compared to last one. You don’t have to have a, you know, a map and flashlight to find your way around the Tallahassee,” said Dunn.

Lawson’s old district was a black opportunity district, meaning a majority minority community can elect who they choose. That is something 63 percent of Floridians said in 2010 the state’s Constitution must protect.

Voting rights groups sued the state and a circuit court sided with them because they felt the new map gives black voters less of a voice.

“Districts must be drawn in a way that does not diminish the ability of minority voters to elect representatives of their choice,” said Ellen Freidin, CEO of Fair Districts Now.

The court ordered a remedial map to be used for this year’s elections, however, a state appeals court blocked that decision. That put the governor’s map back in play. Zack Smith with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, says political and/or racial gerrymandering is a “time-honored tradition in American politics.”

“You see this being done on a bipartisan basis, really an attempt to draw maps most favorable to whichever political party is in power,” said Smith, a legal fellow.

The most recent poll by Sachs Media shows Dunn with a three-point lead over Lawson.