Courtesy of The Miami Herald
October 30, 2015
Faced with a close vote on a leadership-backed map to
redraw state Senate districts, the Florida Senate agreed to modify three
minority-based districts in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday, hoping to win the
crucial votes needed to send the proposal to the House and win support for
the revision in court.
The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral
Gables, argued that change was needed to make the districts more compact, in
compliance with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida
Constitution, and to preserve the voting strength of Hispanic voters.
|He argued that the original map,
which was drawn by House and Senate staff and approved on a
party-line vote last week by the Senate Reapportionment
Committee, diminished the ability of Hispanics to elect a
candidate of their choice.
But the change also had the effect of protecting the
re-election chances of Diaz de la Portilla and Sen. Anitere
Flores, also of Miami. Both had been drawn into the same
sprawling Miami-Dade district — along with Sen. Dwight
Bullard, D-Cutler Bay — in the original map advanced by Sen.
Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate redistricting
chairman. Diaz de la Portilla’s change now gives Flores and
Diaz de la Portilla separate districts, increases the
ability of his brother, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, to replace
him, but keeps Bullard’s home on the edge of the district
now held by Flores.
Senator Miguel Diaz de
la Portilla, shown campaigning at Shenandoah Middle School in Miami
in 2010, offered an amendment to the Senate map that redraws 3
“This is a constitutional map,” Diaz de la Portilla told the Senate,
before it approved the amendment on a voice vote. “This the right map
for Florida and the right map for Miami-Dade County.”
Galvano defended the original districts but supported the modifications
after rejecting more than a dozen other amendments offered by Democrats.
The map immediately drew criticism from the challengers, a coalition of
voters’ groups led by the League of Women Voters who successfully sued
the Senate for violating the constitution. In a letter to Galvano and
House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, they said they
were “very disheartened to witness” the passage of Diaz de la Portilla’s
amendment and called it a violation of the incumbency protection
provisions, known as tier-one violations.
The amendment “unpairs Senator Diaz de la Portilla — the amendment's
sponsor — from facing Senator Flores in District 40 in [map] 9090, and
increases the Republican performance of Senator Diaz de la Portilla's
new district in 9124 [District 37]. These tier-one violations cannot be
ignored, particularly when Senators have already criticized the base map
selection process as one designed to avoid paring incumbents,” wrote
David King, lead lawyer for the challengers.
King’s letter included an alternative map drawn by the challengers and a
request that the Legislature consider it.
For Senate leaders, the change may have been what was needed to secure
the 21 votes necessary to pass a revised map in the face of a bitter
feud dividing Senate Republicans over who will become Senate president
in 2016. The outcome of the elections will dictate whether Sen. Joe
Negron, R-Stuart, retains his edge over Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
The original map, S9090, was promoted by Galvano, a Negron supporter,
and was seen as the favored approach by the House GOP leaders, who also
privately want to see Negron elected.
But Latvala said the Galvano plan addressed none of the infirmities
outlined by the plaintiffs when they sued the Legislature for passing an
unconstitutional map in 2012. The Senate’s decision to settle that
lawsuit and return to redraw the Senate map prompted the special
Last week, Latvala threatened to oppose the Galvano map when it gets to
the floor on Wednesday because he believes it is headed for another
smack-down by the Florida Supreme Court. Now, at least two of Latvala’s
supporters — Diaz de la Portilla and Sen. René García, R-Hialeah — said
Tuesday they will vote for the map.
“This is not about the Senate presidency,” Garcia said. “It’s doing what
is best for Miami-Dade County.”
But others are not so sure. Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who has
not publicly committed in the Senate presidency race but is counted as a
Latvala supporter, said that he is willing to have all the Senate drama
come out in court.
“I’m going to plead the fifth and go into the witness protection
program,” he told the Herald/Times. “I will be a witness for David King.
I hope they ask the right questions because I’ll tell the truth. I know
how we got here today.”
House redistricting leader Oliva said he had not reviewed the new map
but will have an opinion on it after the Senate votes on Wednesday.
“I was pleasantly surprised when of the 16 amendments only one amendment
got on,” he told the Herald/Times. “With more and more amendments come
the potential of less and less compliance. Now, the challenge is to
understand what the rationale is.”
At the heart of the change is the voting performance of Hispanic voters
in Miami-Dade. Diaz de la Portilla argued that while the districts are
packed with Hispanics of voting age, too many communities were divided
and the result was an inability for voters to cohesively back a Hispanic
candidate in one out of the three districts.
“It just didn’t make any sense,” Diaz de la Portilla told reporters. For
example, the city of Doral was merged with Little Havana, and Little
Havana was split at 27th Avenue. His change raises the voting age
population by 6 percent in one of the proposed districts and 9 percent
in another. But, according to the so-called functional analysis of voter
performance, all three districts would have voted to elect Barack Obama
Democrats, however, said that while a case can be made for the
amendment, it did not fix other flaws that the plaintiffs said were
problems with the original map passed to protect incumbents in 2012.
“There’s just a myriad of problems,’’ said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake
Worth, who tried and failed to get three alternative maps passed by the
Senate. “I don’t know how a judge could accept this.”
Meanwhile, the challengers to the Senate maps added even more to the
confusion. They delivered to the Senate the primary data for key
counties that had been intentionally left out of the map-making software
by Senate leaders. Democrats say that the data are useful to show that
black minority districts can perform in areas like Hillsborough County
and South Florida without packing Democrats into them as Republicans
have argued is needed.