Judge sides with voting-rights groups on new state Senate maps

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By John Kennedy

Published January 6, 2016  


TALLAHASSEE — Senate district boundaries drawn by a voters’ coalition that could help Democrats win additional seats were recommended Wednesday by a judge over those drawn by Republican state lawmakers.

Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds sent a plan to the Florida Supreme Court that is seen as likely helping Democrats gain at least two new seats in a Senate where Republicans currently control 26 of 40 seats.

The proposed map also changes the boundaries of all four of Palm Beach County’s Senate districts.

It would keep the county’s lone Republican senator, Senate President-designate Joe Negron, of Stuart, in the county — with the district he currently holds reshaped to represent the county’s far northwestern region.

The map submitted by the Florida Senate would have moved Negron out of Palm Beach County, into a district comprised of Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.

Palm Beach County could see new state Senate districts under a plan approved Wednesday by a Leon County judge. (Provided)

The three seats held by Palm Beach County Democratic senators also are overhauled in the recommended plan — potentially setting up a clash between Sens. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, and Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, who may vie over the same district.

A western Palm Beach County district, including the Glades area, includes most of Abruzzo’s current district. But it also loops south in Boca Raton and Broward County, taking in some voters Sachs currently serves.

The central county district now held by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, loses Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach, but keeps Lake Worth and surrounding communities.

A third county Senate seat would include West Palm Beach and continue north along the coast to the Martin County line, taking in parts of the areas Clemens, Abruzzo and Negron now represent.

Abruzzo already vows to run in the southwestern Palm Beach County district that reaches into Broward — if it eventually is endorsed by the Supreme Court.

But Sachs looks ready to square off against Abruzzo there.

“I have already represented more than 60 percent, or more than 280,000 people, in the new District 34,” Sachs said in a statement following Judge Reynolds’ ruling. “I have fought for affordable health care, property insurance, veterans rights and safer driving on our streets. I will continue to advocate for these key issues in Tallahassee.”

The Democratic-leaning seat stretching including West Palm Beach and surrounding areas and stretching to the Martin County line could draw Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, as a candidate, and possibly Emily Slosberg, an attorney and political consultant whose father is Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

Although the map endorsed by Reynolds could trigger battles between Palm Beach County Democrats, the party’s candidates, overall, are likely to perform better under it than the boundaries submitted by the Senate.

President Obama carried 21 of the 40 districts in the recommended plan. The Senate plan had Obama winning only 17 of the 40 seats.

Registered Democrats in Florida outnumber Republicans by almost 400,000 voters, but the state’s House, Senate and congressional districts are overwhelmingly controlled by the GOP.

Attorney David King, who represented the Florida League of Women Voters and the state’s Common Cause, called Reynolds’ ruling a “huge accomplishment for the citizens of Florida.”

In his ruling, Reynolds said the map he endorsed — one of four submitted by the voters’ coalition — was better than the single plan proposed by the Senate, because it split fewer cities, expanded the number of seats likely to elect an Hispanic senator from three to four, and had less population disparity between the districts.

The battle over what is supposed to be a once-a-decade task of redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries have proved epic in Florida — a political brawl played out at the Capitol and in courtrooms.

The latest attempt — begun simply enough with public hearings in the summer of 2011 — turned densely complex after voters approved anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendments a year earlier.