Congressional Redistricting: Take Three

Jul 10, 2015

Florida legislators must meet back at the capitol building in Tallahassee to draw congressional district maps for the third time.
Credit Steven Martin via Flikr / WFSU News

A special legislative session will be in the works again after Thursday’s congressional map redistricting decision by the Florida Supreme Court. The resulting outcomes of changing the gerrymandered maps for the second time – could affect Florida’s current congressional districts in a big way.

A lower court’s ruling last year did not go far enough to change gerrymandered congressional district maps, according to the Florida Supreme Court in its own ruling Thursday.

The Supreme Court gave the Republican-ruled Florida legislature exactly 100 days to draw the maps again, for what will be the second redo. The congressional maps were drawn in 2012, then ruled unconstitutional in 2014, and then redrawn.

Now lawmakers are being sent back to the drawing table, yet again, to reconstruct eight districts and their affected neighboring districts for violating an anti-gerrymandering amendment. That constitutional amendment prohibits districts which benefit incumbents or political parties.

Senate President Andy Gardiner’s office would not respond for comment. Gardiner is still reviewing Thursday’s ruling with attorneys and is expected to release a prepared statement to senators sometime during the week of July 13.

The President of the Florida League of Women Voters, Pamela Goodman, rejoiced at the ruling. The League has been actively pursuing changes to the maps that it says don’t fit the anti-gerrymandering amendment approved by voters.

“I can only say that the Supreme Court has ruled sunshine in this state on redistricting is just as bright as the skies I’m looking at,” Goodman said. “We are thrilled! This is a huge victory, not only for the state of Florida, but for the country. It sets a precedent of transparency.”

Political scientist at Florida State University, Charles Barrileaux, concentrates on Florida state and local government. He says the eight districts that need to be redone will restructure one main type of political environment.

“They’re very urban, kind of Democratic-leaning districts. And so it should lead to a reapportionment of the seats there. They’ll probably be more beneficial for Democratic interests, I believe,” Barrileaux said.

House of Representatives Minority Leader, Mark Pafford D - East Palm Beach County, believes the republican majority has used redistricting to circumvent the system of democracy to maintain power. Pafford says because of this, the new maps may not fix the problem of unconstitutionality.

“I don’t necessarily expect this process to produce maps – at this point - that are constitutional,” Pafford said.

To remedy the cycle of drawing one gerrymandered map after another, Pafford proposes a nonpartisan solution: get the legislature out of the map-making business and instead…

“Putting together an impartial committee to draw these lines; Get it done once and for all; Follow what the letter of the law – in this case the constitution – says, and get it done,” Pafford said.

Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, disagrees however. Smith thinks that redistricting is not going to be a problem to go through again, and believes the legislature will improve over its prior performance.

“Once again, we have always learned through the process by, well unfortunately trial and error, that you figure out how to do the process better,” Smith said. “So, this will definitely provide us the impetus of doing this better next time.”

One of the politicians who could be affected by the new district lines, is Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, from North Florida’s District 2. Proposed maps indicate that Graham would no longer represent the Panama City area, which leads to the question who would? One possible answer is conservative Congressman Jeff Miller, of the District 1 seat. Miller currently serves the Pensacola area.

The 100 day limit to re-make the maps puts lawmakers under the gun to convene their second special session of 2015, sometime this fall, to make the maps constitutional before the 2016 election cycle.

And for now, the Florida Senate district maps that still remain in question of gerrymandering, are not on any schedule to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court.