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Here Comes Senate Redistricting—Ready Or Not

Can the House and Senate find a way to work together?
Jenn Greiving via Wikimedia Commons
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Next week lawmakers will put their nose to grindstone for the fourth time this year.  As the Legislature prepares to revise Florida’s Senate districts, state and federal lawmakers traded barbs about how borders are drawn.

For the next three weeks Florida’s lawmakers will be working to redraw the state’s Senate borders.  But they’ll also be conducting committee hearings ahead of January’s regular session.  So far this year the members have repeatedly demonstrated their aptitude for dysfunction, and while tempers seems to have cooled, there doesn’t appear to be a contingency plan for another meltdown.

“We’re going to have to wait and see.  All we can do is give the members the best opportunity to get things done,” Senate President Andy Gardiner says.

He and other state leaders spoke at this year’s annual legislative planning session hosted by the Associated Press. 

State legislators are beginning their work on Senate maps while a judge’s recommendation for Florida’s congressional borders returns to the state supreme court.  Republican Congressman Ron Desantis is making a bid for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat, and he’s critical of how his party has handled reapportionment.

“You know the Republicans have always kind of joined with African-American Democrats to create the heavily black districts, and then have the other districts whiter because it guarantees certain Republican seats,” Desantis explains.

“And I understand that,” he goes on, “I think though that that’s been a little shortsighted from the Republican perspective just because we have so many people—you can get elected without ever having to go and talk to any black voters at all, and I think that’s bad for the party.”

Senate Minority leader Arthenia Joyner is a bit more direct.

“How often does a legislative body formally confess to purposely violating the very constitution that each of them swore on the bible to uphold?” Joyner asks.

“How often do they get chastised by the state Supreme Court for destroying evidence and misleading the public?” she continues.

Staffers from both chambers have released a total of six maps that will serve as the starting point for discussion.  This stands in contrast to the single base map released ahead of the congressional redistricting session.  The lower court judge was somewhat critical of the mapmakers’ efforts in that round, ruling they should’ve experimented with more configurations to improve compactness.  But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli defended their work.

“The clarity of our understanding from what we were supposed to do there was to bring forth constitutionally compliant maps,” Crisafulli says, “not more constitutionally compliant maps.”

“I mean you know so we did what we felt was—or should I say our staffers did what they felt was correct, and Judge Lewis came back with something a little different from what we got from the Supreme Court,” he says.

Even before staffers unveiled the six base maps, Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) had submitted a version of his own, and he’s not in love with all the staff submissions.

“I think the real issue is not the number of maps,” Braynon says, “the real issue is all of these maps are staff maps.  Nobody has a vested interest in defending the maps—nobody can defend the maps who is my colleague.”

That said, the math could become important if the bulk of the Senate doesn’t line up behind one proposal or decide to approve multiple submissions.  Traditionally the chambers give one another deference in drafting borders so the Senate will be in the driver’s seat as the process unfolds.  But with seven submissions and just forty members, there is a greater chance of senators splintering into different factions.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.