Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Mary Ellen Klas and
March 19, 2012
A revised redistricting plan for the Florida Senate tries to make repairs ordered by the state Supreme Court.
TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Senate on Saturday released its first attempt at fixing its rejected Senate redistricting map with a proposal that protects the territory of all but four Senate incumbents, elects as many as five Hispanics and six African Americans, and retains a solid Republican majority.
The map, released by Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is a response to a March 9 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that threw out the Senate map and validated the House map based on the new redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010. But, unlike the first map, the new one drew criticism not only from Democrats but also from Republicans.
"I am very disappointed that the map of the Florida Senate did not include a Hispanic majority district in South
Florida," said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, chairman of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation. He said that while he had refrained from criticism before, this is the
Legislature's last shot before a court takes control of the redistricting process.
"All bets are off."
Florida legislators have convened a 15-day extraordinary session and have until March 28 to approve a new Senate map. Legislators must reconfigure the political boundaries of the state every 10 years to match the shifts in the population and ensure that every voter is equally represented.
Democrats warned that the Senate's second map is as flawed as the first one and chastised the exercise as a stalling tactic intended to avoid implementing the new Fair Districts standards.
The map "brings us no closer to complying with the court's ruling and is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by the GOP Senate leadership to stall the implementation of Fair Districts and cling to their gerrymandered
power," said Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith in a statement.
"Not only have they thwarted the will of 63 percent of Florida voters, they are now thumbing their nose at
Florida's Supreme Court."
In South Florida, the map pits Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale against Democrat Sen. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach in a sprawling coastal district that stretches from
Broward's Harbour Inlet to Palm Beach's Hypoluxo Road.
It creates a new Democrat-dominated minority district in Palm Beach County comprised of both black and Hispanic voters, and it creates a fourth Hispanic district in Miami-Dade that is also likely to elect a Democrat.
But unlike the House map, which pitted 38 incumbents against each other,
Gaetz's proposal pits only four senators against each other. In addition to Bogdanoff and Sachs, the Gaetz map draws Republican Sens. Andy Gardiner of Orlando and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs into the same district. Simmons said Saturday he will move to the adjacent open district based in Seminole County and leave the district to Gardiner, a close ally of his who is hoping to become Senate president in 2014.
The Fair District rules requires that districts be drawn as compactly as possible, refrain from protecting incumbents or political parties and protect minority voting strength.
The Florida Supreme Court concluded in its 5-2 ruling that the first Senate map
"was rife with indicators of improper intent" and included a district numbering scheme that
"plainly favors certain incumbents" by allowing some lawmakers to exceed the eight-year term limits and serve up to 10 years.
The court also singled out eight of 40 districts as violating the new rules, said that Democratic-leaning districts were consistently overpopulated compared to Republican leaning-districts, urged lawmakers to keep the city of Lakeland whole and said the numbering system was biased in favor of incumbents.
While Republicans had refrained from criticizing the first map, several of them raised doubts about the way the new map handles minority districts.
Lopez Cantera said the Senate map unfairly packs Hispanics into three Republican-leaning seats and carves out a slim Hispanic majority in District 35, now held by Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis. The district, which
hasn't changed from the first Senate map, is made up of 61 percent Hispanic voting age population. That pales in comparison to the other Senate districts in Miami Dade where the voting age population ranges from 89 percent to 74 percent.
"They should even it out," Lopez Cantera said.
A Herald/Times analysis of voting data shows that Gaetz's map would continue a Republican majority in the 40-member chamber with 23 safe Republican seats and 15 safe Democratic seats, two seats would be toss ups. The map creates one less safe Republican district than the first proposal rejected by the court and gives Democrats the chance to elect three more senators than they currently have.
To repair the flaws of the first map, Gaetz's proposal puts Senate District 34, now held by Fort Lauderdale Democrat Chris Smith, completely in Broward County and reduces the black voting age population from 72.5 percent to 68.8 percent.
The Gaetz map also reconfigures the Orlando-area map held by Gardiner and slightly reduces the voting age population of two adjacent minority districts that were not singled out as flawed by the court. Simmons warns that the Senate may have over-corrected in its attempt to fix
"I don't think we're quite there yet," he said of Gaetz's map.
"It is a big mistake to have scalded-dog syndrome to run away from our requirement that we assure a majority minority access
Gaetz proposes to repair the rejected numbering system by using a lottery of sorts. Because the new district numbers will determine whether senators will serve a two-year or a four-year term after this
year's elections -- potentially allowing some to exceed the eight-year term limit
-- the new districts will be assigned new districts numbers randomly on the Senate floor
"by neutral, independent party," Gaetz said.
Senators have until Monday to propose changes to Gaetzís plan.
Lawmakers return for short, costly session