Redistricting Update: Week 1

Redistricting Update: Week 1

Redistricting Update Day 8 of the 12-Day Special Session On Congressional Redistricting

The week started off with a lot of whining from legislators. A powerful editorial in the Tampa Bay Times on August 12th reported that “Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, complained that the court exceeded its constitutional authority and that ‘when one branch goes deep into other areas, the people lose.” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, complained that the court has ‘run roughshod’ over the Legislature and that his constitutional rights are being violated, and he mused about hiring a personal lawyer. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, compared it to a police station where police record conversations with suspects.”

The Legislature brought this on itself by flagrantly violating the Florida Constitution and drawing maps that blatantly protect Republican incumbents. They have now twice failed to get it right, at the taxpayers expense for two special sessions and $8M in legal bills defending indefensible, grossly gerrymandered maps.   

To its credit the staff of the Senate Redistricting Committee has drawn a so-called “Base Map” that, with one exception, appears to meet the constitutional requirements and the Florida Supreme Court’s guidance.

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters noted the exception in a letter to Legislative Leaders on August 14th. The letter challenges the Base Map’s configurations of CD 26 and CD 27 in South Florida. In both the maps that the Florida Supreme Court declared unconstitutional and the proposed Base Map there appears to have been a targeted effort to shift Democratic, African American population into CD 27 in order to maintain a lower Democratic performance index in CD 26.  Both districts perpetuate the same violation of anti-gerrymandering principles that caused the Court to order the districts redrawn.

Meanwhile, House of Representatives passed the Base Map out of committee in a 9-4 vote on Thursday, August 13th. The Senate is expected to consider amendments to the Base Map starting today (August 17th).

Broward County officials are livid that the map proposed by the Legislature results in horizontal rather than vertical districts, splitting communities of interest and making it more difficult for incumbents Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel to be re-elected.

Leon County officials are equally livid that the map splits Leon County, although it should be pointed out that splitting the county creates a second minority opportunity district in Central Florida, provides for more compact districts and keeps more counties whole.

Two new challenges have been filed in Federal Court, adding even more drama to the eventual outcome of the special session. The first is from Republican leaders in Walton and Pasco Counties, who allege that Florida Supreme Court’s requirement that communications be open violates their first amendment rights by preventing them from discussing the maps with legislative leaders. While Common Cause and the League believe the argument is specious, we have intervened in the case.

The second challenge is from Congresswoman Corrine Brown, whose bizarrely-shaped district is the lynchpin in our case that Republican leaders threw Democratic-leaning African American voters into a single district, resulting in the “bleaching” of adjacent districts and making them much more likely to elect Republicans. Congresswoman Brown is challenging the Base Map as a violation of the Voting Rights Act, even though we have proven that the revised map creates an additional minority opportunity district, keeps more counties whole and provides for more compact districts.

Not surprisingly there is increasing interest in redistricting by an independent commission. Representative Dwight Dudley (D-St. Petersburg) called me last week to begin to plan a strategy.  Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) has filed HJR 21 that would create a nine-member redistricting commission that includes three third party or no-party-affiliated voters, but excludes elected officials. The Legislature would have final approval of any maps. Such efforts won’t have a prayer of passing the Legislature, which can be expected to vigorously maintain its power to draw district lines. But it’s also clear that the Legislature won’t voluntarily draw lines according to constitutional standards.

And, the drama continues with the special session on Senate redistricting beginning on October 19th!