TALLAHASSEE — The League of Women Voters of Florida and two other groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday that accuses the Legislature of protecting incumbents in the redrawing of Senate seats, a violation of the fair districts amendments to the state Constitution.
The groups filed the lawsuit in circuit court in Tallahassee. It focuses largely on changes that affected Tampa Bay, suburban Orlando and the city of Daytona Beach, and claims three Tampa Bay Senate seats (Districts 17, 19 and 22) were gerrymandered to help Republicans. In other districts, the lawsuit alleges, Republicans packed as many Democrats together as possible.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee and the incoming Senate president, dismissed the lawsuit, saying: "(This) filing is nothing more than summer reruns of the same complaints that were rejected by the Florida Supreme Court."
The Senate was forced to redraw the map of Senate districts after the first map was rejected by the court. The lawsuit accuses legislators of making revisions in secrecy: "There was no genuine opportunity for input into (or even review of) the final map by the public or even by all legislators."
The other groups joining in the lawsuit are Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza. They accused the Legislature of dividing the city of Daytona Beach into two Senate districts to dilute the power of the city's African-American voters and to favor Republican Rep. Dorothy Hukill of R-Port Orange, who is running for the newly drawn District 8 Senate seat.
The lawsuit charges that District 22, a Pinellas and Hillsborough seat won last month by Republican Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, could have been drawn more compactly and contained in Pinellas County. But, the suit claims, Senate Republicans included part of Tampa "with the intent to maintain its party's dominance of the area's Senate seats and protect incumbents."
The suit says the Senate redrew two districts in Southwest Florida so that Republicans Denise Grimsley of Sebring and Bill Galvano of Bradenton would not have to run against each other in the same district.
The suit also accuses the Senate of deliberately crafting two Orlando-area Senate seats to prevent two Republican incumbents, Andy Gardiner and David Simmons, from being forced to run against each other.
The map was approved by the Florida Supreme Court, following a limited review.
"We believe a full review of the Senate map will reveal that Senate districts were drawn in complete disregard of the new criteria," said Miami lawyer Gerald Greenberg, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "Rather than comply with the Constitution, the Legislature simply continued its same old practice of drawing lines to help incumbents or advance the interests of a political party."
The lawsuit is not expected to have any immediate effect on the Nov. 6 general election, for which voters will soon be returning absentee ballots. The groups filing the complaint hope to persuade the courts to force lawmakers to redraw the districts for future elections.