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Senate approves new district maps, House set for floor sessions

The redistricting debate now moves to the House. The Republican-dominated Florida Senate passed a revised map of senate districts designed to fix constitutional flaws identified by the Florida Supreme Court. However, James Call reports there are Democrats who say the plan still violates new anti-gerrymandering standards.

The Supreme Court invalidated the first map saying it did not adhere to the rules voters added to the constitution in 2010. Justices flagged eight districts with what they called “objective indicators of improper intent”. The court also rejected a numbering system they said favored incumbents and asked lawmakers to reconsider their decision to split the city of Lakeland into two districts. Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville led the effort to fix the problems the justices identified.

“So let us send our work now to our partners in the House of Representatives. A plan sensible to our constituents, understandable to members of the senate, and faithful to the constitution.”

Revising the eight districts cited by the court produced a rippling effect changing a total of 24 districts. The original plan avoided pitting any incumbents against each other. The new plan doubles up two pairs of senators. It places Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale and Democrat Maria Sachs of Boca Raton in the same district.  In Central Florida, Maitland Republican David Simmons says he will move to an open district to avoid facing off with Orlando’s Andy Gardiner, the majority leader.

Democrats say the map still contains evidence of improper intent. Democratic leader Senator Nan Rich says despite being given a road map by the court, Senators ignored the directions and continue to violate the constitution.

“First, incumbent protection is written all over the map. As was mentioned by my colleague, Senator Joyner, District 13 still has issues in regards to an appendage whose only purpose can be to favor an incumbent and maintain a safe Republican seat.  Districts 8 and 10 were drawn to give an incumbent House member an easier road to election.”

The incumbent Rich refers to is Gardiner who is in line to be Senate President after Gaetz. Gaetz disputes the accusation, noting most of the newly redesigned district Gardiner would seek to represent is in Brevard County, and contains voters Gardiner has never represented. Gaetz also objects to the use of “appendage” to describe legislative districts.

“At some point my friends, we need to remember that the term “appendage” is a pejorative term. The fact is these are human beings. A hundred sixty thousand-plus people. Who live in Edgewood and Belle Isle, Conway, Winter Park and Maitland. They live in a collection of communities that are legitimate, that aren’t the function or invention of map makers. They are there, they live there.  That’s their homes, those are their towns. It’s not true that the district benefits an incumbent. The fact is the district has been radically changed.”

Redistricting, every 10 years, is the realignment of congressional and legislative districts to reflect changes in population. The maps are subject to federal approval under the Voting Rights Act.  It is the most political of acts with politicians drawing the districts for which many of the same politicians will compete to represent. Accusations that the interests of a community are second to the ambitions of politicians are common. Here, Lakeland Senator Paula Dockery, a term-limited Republican, speaks against an amendment affecting the division of Polk County that critics say benefits the Republican majority.

“I understand that people in here want to help their friends some of the House members come over here. But that should not be done on the backs of the citizens of Polk County.”

Senators approved the amendment and the new redistricting plan. It now goes to the House which will meet on Wednesday. The chambers have an agreement to let each draw its own map. However, six Senate Democrats voted against the plan and Miami Republican Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla failed in an attempt to create an additional south Florida Hispanic access seat. House Democratic leader Ron Saunders represents the Keys and is considering a senate run . He deflected questions when asked if he thinks the Senate plan will pass through the House without any amendments.

“I know there’s a gentlemen’s agreement, but in this process not everyone is a gentleman or a lady.”

The House has floor sessions scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday. Lawmakers have until the end of Wednesday to reach an agreement. Once they do, the attorney general will have 15 days to transmit the proposed map to the Supreme Court. The justices will have 30 days to review it. If the court rejects the plan then the justices will have to draw a new map of senate districts.