Judge approves voting rights' groups map of Senate districts
A state judge on Wednesday approved an entirely new map of Florida's 40 Senate districts that was recommended by a coalition of voting rights groups.
The decision is yet another political and legal setback for the Republican-controlled Legislature and adds much more political uncertainty with the next session less than two weeks away and at the dawn of a presidential election year.
"This is another great result for our clients but also a great result for every voter in the state of Florida," said David King, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. King said voters will elect senators and members of Congress from constitutional districts in the 2016 election, and added: "I'm confident that there are a substantial number of more competitive districts in this map."
Senate President Andy Gardiner was reviewing the ruling, his spokeswoman said. The Senate had no immediate comment on Circuit Judge George Reynolds' order, in which he accepted a map recommended by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other plaintiffs. Reynolds' 73-page ruling orders the Senate to randomly assign district numbers to all 40 districts within three days of a final judgment being signed.
For Tampa Bay, one effect of the new map is to divide Pasco County into three different Senate districts, possibly endangering the re-election prospects of Republican Sen. John Legg. Pasco is currently represented by two senators, Legg and Republican Wilton Simpson.
The judge rejected an alternate map, known as Senate Map 1, that the Senate offered to the court but which was never voted on in a November special session. Reynolds cited the "conflicting roles" of Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who offered the revised map, serves as Senate majority leader and is chairman of Senate Republican campaigns for 2016, in which GOP success is directly tied to Galvano's own plan to be Senate president in 2018.
"These roles required Senator Galvano to consider partisanship and benefiting Republican incumbents to effectively perform his duties," Reynolds wrote. "Those conflicting roles leave Senator Galvano open to the charge that he was acting in a partisan manner when he created Senate Map 1." By acting alone in creating the Senate map, Reynolds said of Galvano, "the inference of partisan intent is reasonably supported."
In his ruling, Reynolds wrote: "The court finds that the Senate has not met its burden ... CPS-4a is the most compact plan proposed by any party, matches the number of split counties in Senate Map 1, splits three fewer cities than Senate Map 1 and contains significantly lower population deviation than Senate Map 1 while expanding the number of Hispanic-performing districts."
Republicans currently control 26 seats and Democrats 14. After reviewing the approved map, Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell posted on Twitter that it appears to improve Democrats' chances of gaining seats next fall.