Fair District Amendments Having Desired Effect — Four Years Late

Aug 2, 2015 by

More jaw dropping and political landscape-changing redistricting news has emerged — this time affecting the Florida Senate maps. What’s stunning is the Senate admitted fault and entered into an agreement to revise the Senate maps and forgo a trial.

Why is redistricting important? Voters should have the right to pick their representatives and not the other way around. This is at the very heart of voters having a voice.

The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that the Legislature violated the Constitution while drawing the congressional maps that determined Florida’s 27 districts. The court gave specific direction to fix the maps and pointed out eight seats that were out of compliance.

The presiding officers have called a special session for August 10-21. This will be their third and, hopefully, final attempt to draw the congressional maps.

A separate lawsuit was filed by the same plaintiffs — the League of Women Voters and Common Cause — challenging the constitutionality of the Senate maps.

After reading the tealeaves from the ruling of fact and process in the congressional case, the leaders of the Florida Senate took an unusual action — they assumed responsibility.

The Senate stipulated that certain individual districts were drawn to favor a political party or incumbents. They agreed to fix the maps in a manner consistent with the Fair District Amendments now enshrined in the state Constitution.

The state had already spent over $8 million of our tax dollars defending the maps in court. Another protracted battle for the Senate maps would have been costly and most likely futile. More importantly, it would have further diminished the trust of the Florida voters.

Both the Circuit Court and Supreme Court found, in the congressional challenge, that secretive backroom dealings and infiltration of party and political operatives contaminated the process. The same characters and processes were involved in the Senate map challenge.

There was speculation that Senate maps might also be redrawn during the congressional redistricting special session. The difficulty is that there is no court-ordered direction so the process will be lengthier. The plaintiffs question 28 of the 40 Senate seats so a major rewrite is likely.

Keep in mind the Senate seats need to be redrawn in time for the 2016 elections. Candidate qualifying generally occurs in June for state seats. The 67 supervisors of election will need time to adjust the precincts to fit the new seats that contain parts of their counties. And, of course, the courts need to approve the maps after the Legislature passes them. That’s a lot to accomplish in a short time.

The first battle will be for the Legislature to agree on a set of maps that pass both chambers. Historically, the Senate and House each draw the map for its chamber with little interference from the other. They jointly draw the congressional maps.

Interestingly, the House maps were not challenged. It could be because House members did a better job of drawing them to meet Fair District requirements or because they did a better job of disguising their intent. When the process was exposed through depositions in the congressional challenge, House operatives were involved in the backroom dealing as well.

Regardless, two major hurdles have been cleared. The Senate has accepted responsibility, averting further cost and delay and the House and Senate have agreed on a 19-day special session from October 19 to November 6.

Many questions remain.

Will the House follow the established process of allowing the Senate to draw the Senate maps or will it try to play a more significant role? Will the bad blood between the House and Senate prove a detriment to a smooth session?

How many incumbents will be pitted against each other or be drawn in districts where they will be vulnerable? How much turnover will we see? How much opportunity will there be for new candidates to throw their hats in the ring?

How will this affect the Senate president race for 2016?

And most importantly, can they and will they draw the districts without taking these political considerations into account as the court directed?

State Sen. Bill Galvano, slated to become Senate president in 2018, heads the congressional redistricting committee. Will he also head the Senate committee for the October session? His district is one that is being challenged.

No doubt voters deserved better than the original drawing of the maps. However, I have to commend the Florida Senate for taking its lumps, ceasing further costly legal battles and ensuring the maps will be ready for the 2016 elections. Its leaders showed maturity and accountability.

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause were instrumental in forcing compliance with the Fair District Amendments by challenging both the congressional and Senate maps in court.

In the end, the Fair District Amendments had a major — albeit tardy — effect on fair representation.

Will this be a lasting lesson?



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