Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet
October 20, 2015
TALLAHASSEE -- In what may be one of the most
expensive do-overs in Florida political history, lawmakers return Monday
for a special session to complete something they failed to get right
three years ago — the realignment of state Senate district boundaries to
accommodate population growth.
The three-week redistricting session comes after legislators admitted in
July that they violated the new anti-gerrymandering provisions of the
Florida Constitution when they drew the Senate map to benefit incumbents
and political parties in 2012 as part of the state’s once-a-decade
reapportionment process. This time they will try again to revise the map
and then will seek court approval for the final plan.
Lawmakers have already tried and failed three times to redo the
congressional map and, after four special sessions and three years of
legal battles, the cost to taxpayers of their botched exercise will have
exceeded $11 million by the time this session is over.
$11 million is the estimated cost to taxpayers of the litigation and
special sessions it will have taken to fix the redistricting mess.
While the outcome remains uncertain, what is likely is that by this time
next year, supervisors of elections will have adjusted their precinct
maps for the third time in four years, and many incumbents will no
longer be running in safe seats.
“Whether they pick a map or feed numbers into a computer, you really
could have a situation where it’s incumbent versus incumbent,” said
Screven Watson, a Democratic political consultant in Tallahassee. “In
the political Game of Thrones, that’s the White Winter.”
INCUMBENTS VS. INCUMBENTS?
Many of the six draft maps released last week by House and Senate staff
pit incumbents against each other — and make it possible that
Republicans could lose from one to six seats. Voters in every part of
the state — except District 3 in North Florida — would face changes
under most of the proposed maps.
Contributing to the angst is the bitter infighting in the Senate GOP
caucus over the election of the next Senate president. Sen. Joe Negron,
R-Stuart, is pitted against Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, over who
will control the Senate in 2016, and the vote among 26 Republicans is
still so close that the victor could depend on which incumbent senators
wind up in the same districts once the map is done.
In addition, the Florida House, which like the Senate is controlled by
Republicans, is feuding with the Senate and reluctantly agreed to settle
the lawsuit that led to the redistricting session. Tensions could lead
to another stalemate like the one that ended the August special session
on the congressional map without an agreement.
“We have nothing to compare it to. This is unprecedented,” said Sen.
Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. “The scariest thing is the potential to
run against your good friend.”
For Bean, redistricting could mean he is forced to run against a member
of his own family. Bean and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, are
brothers-in-law (Bean’s wife, Abby, is Bradley’s sister). Their Senate
districts border each other as Bean represents Duval County and Bradley
represents Clay County directly to the south.
Whether they pick a map or feed numbers into a computer, you really
could have a situation where it’s incumbent versus incumbent. In the
political Game of Thrones, that’s the White Winter.
Drawing a Senate map is “infinitely more difficult,” than drawing the
congressional map, said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. “You have 40
self-interested actors now, all with seats at the table, all with
leadership ambitions, all with their political careers on the line.”
House leaders said last week they will not pass a map until it is
approved by the Senate. But Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said
he is optimistic.
“Can they get enough votes to pass a map and not tinker with it in a way
the courts won’t accept?’’ he asked. “If they do that, I can see it
coming to a good resolution.”
While the House is expected to reject any map that veers from the
staff-drawn versions, which they believe are more likely to win court
approval, a growing number of senators won’t accept the staff maps
because they believe their input is essential.
“I’m convinced that we as members do need to draw this and I don’t see
the base maps as necessary,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens
Democrat who has drafted his own map. “We are going to change these maps
tremendously because I don’t think any one of those maps has 21 people
If a stalemate is the outcome, the court will become Florida’s map
drawer, as it has become with the congressional map now awaiting
approval by the Florida Supreme Court.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have been called back to redraw a
Senate map. The Supreme Court ordered revisions after its review of the
map in 2012.
A coalition including the League of Women Voters, Florida Common Cause
and a group of Democrat-leaning voters, then sued the Legislature
alleging that lawmakers drew districts that favored incumbents,
Republican candidates, and intentionally diminished the ability of
minorities to elect representatives of their choice.
They attempted to question legislators, staff members and their
political consultants and get access to their emails and text messages.
But lawyers for the House and Senate claimed that legislators should be
exempt from that kind of scrutiny or it could have a “chilling effect”
on the reapportionment process.
Legislators admitted in July that they violated the new
anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when they
drew the Senate map to benefit incumbents and political parties in 2012.
In a 5-2 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court rejected that argument and,
for the first time, acknowledged that while legislative privilege does
exist in Florida, it is not absolute and ordered them to turn over
thousands of records.
But legislators already had covered their tracks. They destroyed draft
maps and communications, saying it was routine document destruction. The
plaintiffs were forced to subpoena the emails and documents of political
operatives in an effort to determine whether they had improperly
influenced the final maps.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville testified in the congressional
trial that he didn’t give any maps to political operatives, but he did
confirm that he and House Speaker Will Weatherford met out of the public
eye to work out differences in the redistricting maps.
It wasn’t really a closed meeting, Gaetz added. “The door was open.”
“It was an extremely open and transparent process,” Weatherford told
reporters, also after testifying in the congressional redistricting
But the trial court had its doubts. It concluded that a separate “shadow
redistricting” process by political consultants had influenced the
drawing of the legislative maps, making “a mockery of the Legislature’s
proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting.”
In its July opinion invalidating the congressional map, the Florida
Supreme Court said that the e-mails and maps proved the improper
involvement of GOP political consultants, including Rich Heffley, Pat
Bainter and Marc Reichelderfer.
But if the record in the congressional case suggested strong involvement
of the Republican consultants in influencing the maps, the Senate case
The challengers found at least nine draft Senate maps that they believed
were drawn by political consultants but submitted to the Legislature
under the names of others. They also found that the Republican political
operatives had copies of Senate maps weeks before they were made
available to members of the Senate Committee on Reapportionment.
“Vital information about the process was flowing right to the political
operatives where they could benefit their clients — the legislators,”
said David King, lead attorney for the challengers. “What we’re dealing
with here was a conspiracy, and the conspiracy was going both ways.”
The conclusion, King said, is that “while the Legislature opposed the
Fair Districts standards and tried to get them declared
unconstitutional, when none of those things worked, they tried to
continue in a way with business as usual without following those
In the face of this evidence, the Senate leaders conceded that the 2012
map violated the Fair Districts ban on intentionally benefiting
political parties and incumbents. Rather than continue to trial, they
agreed to redraw the maps.
The court urged the Legislature “to consider making all decisions on the
redrawn map in public view” and to “conduct itself in a manner that will
fulfill the purpose of the Fair Districts Amendments, including the need
for transparency and neutrality in drawing the state’s congressional
Gaetz concedes now, in hindsight and with knowledge of the courts’
interpretation of the Fair Districts amendments, that the redistricting
process was too “inclusive” because it allowed partisans from both
parties to have input.
“Obviously, if I had known then what I know now, we would have had a
hermetically sealed process and not allowed Democrat or Republican
senators to offer criticisms or point out flaws in maps that had been
submitted,” he said.
To avoid repeating the past, House and Senate leaders ordered three
staff redistricting analysts and their lawyers to be sequestered in a
room — with no input or contact with legislators or political operatives
— to draw a set of starter maps.
“Our main focus is to make sure we create a process as sterile as
possible,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the House redistricting
Depending on how many districts are changed from the current plan will
determine how many of the 40 Senate seats will be up for reelection in
Then there’s the added complication of the odd-and-even numbering scheme
for Senate districts. Because senators serve staggered terms, some
senators will get two extra years for a total of 10 years under the new
Twenty Senate seats would be filled for two-year terms in 2016 and 20
would be filled for four-year terms.
Because voter turnout is dramatically higher in Florida in a
presidential election such as 2016 than in an off-year or mid-term
election such as 2018, the upset election cycle offers new
opportunities, and new perils.
If Republicans lose just three of their 26 districts, “it changes the
dynamics of the Senate,” said Watson, the Democratic political
Now, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who was Senate
Republican Leader when the first maps were adopted, says the new
amendments have required legislators to adjust to “a whole new world.”
But, despite the cost and the uncertainty, he has no regrets.
“My hope is we can get it done,” Gardiner added. “Time will tell. It’s
going to be a very interesting time.”