Editorials

Fair Districts, not politics as usual, in new Florida Senate map of boundaries

The Florida Senate redistricting map submitted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
The Florida Senate redistricting map submitted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

In the aftermath of the state Senate confessing to illegally drawing and approving its own district boundaries, the chamber's Reapportionment Committee advanced a flawed proposal drawn up by Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano.

The 4-3 party-line committee approval of his map on Friday still gives GOP candidates clear advantages over Democrats, the very reason the Senate admitted the boundaries approved in 2012 violated Florida's constitutional amendment on Fair Districts.

Even a leading Tampa Bay Republican senator on the panel, chaired by Galvano, found fault with this new map.

On Tuesday, a South Florida Republican senator pitched an amendment that tweaks several districts, protects Hispanic GOP incumbents and places a Democratic senator into one of those districts. Galvano accepted the amendment on the Senate floor Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the full Senate approved the map on a 22-18 vote, with some Republicans against the measure. The map now moves to the House for a vote.

Days earlier, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, labeled the map as "defiant," "unnecessary" and "recalcitrant" with hopes that the state House "will recognize the fatal flaw that was placed on the record by our lawyers," with whom he had "lost confidence" in.

He also warned he might not support the legislation, but Lee did vote yea.

Those startling statements came after Senate attorneys ordered chamber staff to draw maps that ignore the allegations in the lawsuit filed by the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and other Democratic-leaning organizations that claimed violations of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments that the Senate later agreed held merit.

After Tuesday's Senate session, those plaintiffs again cried foul. The drama reached its zenith when Lee stated, "I will be a witness for David King (the plaintiffs' attorney). I hope they ask the right question because I'll tell the truth. I know how we got here today."

The defiance is crystal clear in a district that packs black voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties together by jumping across Tampa Bay, thus protecting Republican majorities in adjacent districts and strengthening one for the GOP.

This, too, ranks as a violation of a Florida Supreme Court order not to cross the bay. The 2012 Fair Districts amendment specifically states that districts be contiguous, too. Lee, a former Senate president, described the redistricting process as a sign of "some superiority complex" by proponents of the new map.

Incumbency protection is inherent in the maps. This is yet another affront to voters. The Supreme Court could and should reject these new boundaries should they pass muster in the House. Galvano expressed confidence this map would withstand constitutional challenge, but that remains to be seen. Given the sharp criticism from his fellow Republicans, final adoption faces high hurdles.

At one point, Galvano advanced a novel legal argument that not all senators would face re-election in 2016. Senators in districts that were not "significantly" revised would remain seated, thus disenfranchising voters placed in a different district than the one they voted in during the 2014 election.

That sweeping disregard for the electorate boggles the mind, and goes at odds with a 1982 state Supreme Court ruling that determined all legislators must run after new boundaries put new constituents in their districts. Lee complained that the Senate was "living in an alternative universe" in justifying such incumbency protections.

Galvano since ditched that idea, and all 40 senators would face re-election next year under his revamped proposal. But the very idea shows the deep-seated partisan politics involved in redistricting and gives credence to the notion that Florida seat a bipartisan independent commission to draw maps in the future.

Legislation deemed fatally flawed should be rewritten to meet voter demands, not lawmaker political agendas. Fair Districts should rule the roost in this debate as the Legislature completes work on this tainted process ans submits the map to the court for a ruling. The possibility of another lawsuit certainly hangs over the process, too.

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