Before passing a new congressional district map Monday, the Florida Legislature rejected an alternative plan put forth by a minority party member. Democrats in both chambers are complaining they were not fully included in the process.
House floor debate kept returning to objections to the process. As several Democrats pointed out, Republicans presented a proposed map to the joint committee without involving them in planning.
Rep. Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) asked redistricting committee chairman Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz), “It’s quite common to invite members of both parties into meetings. Did you feel that was not necessary?”
Corcoran replied, “Representative Pafford, I’ve think I’ve answered that for Leader Thurston, I’ve answered it for some others. If you want, I can answer it and go through the whole line of answers again, but I think this might be the third or fourth time.”
Corcoran said Democrats had opportunity to give input during public committee hearings and had access to staffers who helped answer questions. And Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) was able to air his alternative map on the Senate floor Monday. It was rejected mostly along party lines. A big point of contention was his reducing the percentage of black voters in District Five, represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Soto said Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling required him to shift those voters out. That move created larger black populations in two other districts. Most Democrats, including Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), supported Soto’s plan.
In an interview before the floor vote, Thompson said, “There seems to be a one-is-enough mentality at play with regard to minority representation: as long as you have one, you ought to be satisfied and you ought to quiet. And he presents an alternative where there could possibly be three.”
But on the Senate floor, some Republicans protested lowering District Five’s black population by so much. Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) insisted Brown’s district must remain majority-minority to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
“The citizens of congressional district number five become the collateral damage, the collateral damage to a political war,” Simmons said.
The map that heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk changes seven district boundaries. But many Democrats say the changes don’t fully address Lewis’s findings—and they fear the map-drawing process could start over again if the judge rejects this attempt. Lewis will review the new map at a hearing in Tallahassee next week.