Saturday, November 25, 2017
News Roundup

Florida Supreme Court validates Senate's redrawn redistricting map

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court gave its final blessing to the state's redistricting maps on Friday, giving the Republican-led Legislature a major victory and hitting the reset button on political boundaries for the next decade.

In a unanimous decision, the court validated the redrawn 40-member Senate map and rejected opponents' claims that it violates the new constitutional ban on political gerrymandering.

"We conclude that the opponents have failed to demonstrate that the revised Senate plan as a whole or with respect to any individual district violates Florida's constitutional requirements,'' the court said in its 33-page opinion.

It's unclear if opponents, including the Florida Democratic Party, the NAACP and others, will pursue other legal challenges over the approved maps.

Said Democratic Party of Florida spokeswoman Brannon Jordan in a statement: "While today's ruling raises serious concerns, we will continue our efforts to hold this Republican-led Legislature accountable to the will of the people — something they have consistently ignored throughout this process."

The ruling sets the stage for candidates for the House and Senate to proceed with the districts as drawn. Some candidates used the ruling as their starting gate to launch their campaigns.

The Tampa Bay area will still be divided among seven senators, with more compact districts following county lines more than the current areas.

On the new map, Pinellas County is divided by three districts, where it was previously part of four. The area currently represented by incumbent Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, grew to encompass the entire northern half of the county. The southern half of Pinellas, except for south St. Petersburg, is combined with South Tampa across the bay. South St. Petersburg is included in incumbent Sen. Arthenia Joyner's three-county, bay-hopping district, which covers east Tampa and part of Bradenton. Eastern Hillsborough is still covered by incumbent Sen. Ronda Storms, while northwest Tampa and south-central Pasco County are under incumbent Sen. Jim Norman. A second Pasco-based district also covers Hernando and Sumter counties.

Voter registration numbers and previous voting patterns show that the Senate is expected to elect 23 Republicans and 15 Democrats with two districts considered toss-ups.

The process is not complete, however. The U.S. Department of Justice must determine that the maps do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act requirements and protect minority voting rights in five counties with a history of discrimination: Hillsborough, Monroe, Hendry, Collier and Hardee.

The court's approval averted what state lawyers warned would have been massive candidate confusion because of the June 8 filing deadline.

But the time constraints placed on the court, along with reservations about at least one district in Central Florida, prompted two judges to criticize in writing the state's redistricting process.

In a 17-page opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente recommended the state establish an independent commission to do the work.

"If it is this Court's role to be the guardian of the constitution's intent, I believe that changes must be made to the process to ensure that the purpose of the amendment — to take politics out of the apportionment equation — can be fully realized,'' she wrote.

Justice E.C. Perry, joined by Justice Peggy Quince, dissented, in part singling out a Volusia County district as "drawn with the intent to favor a political party to the detriment of a racial minority community.''

He said that the court's decision to allow this to continue "sends a signal" that it's permissible "to divide and conquer a racial or language minority group before they are able to reach a majority voting bloc."

Florida's Republican-led Legislature bitterly fought the proposed constitutional amendments in 2010 when it tried and failed to put an alternative amendment on the ballot that would have undercut the anti-gerrymandering protections of the Fair Districts amendments.

On Friday, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the Senate redistricting chairman, chastised opponents in a letter to his Senate colleagues.

"Contrary to the fears or perhaps the hopes of the cynics and the critics, Florida's citizens will now go forward to choose from among their neighbors who will represent them in the Senate and House of Representatives,'' Gaetz wrote.

Opponents said they were disappointed with the court's decision but pleased with the change they had provoked.

"Obviously this is an evolutionary process,'' said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state senator from Miami and general counsel to the Fair Districts Coalition. "These districts are far more compact and more sensible than the ones that were done in previous years."

The Legislature passed House, Senate and congressional redistricting maps in February and sent the legislative maps to the Supreme Court for the required approval. The congressional map has been challenged in Leon County Circuit Court.

On March 9, the final day of the legislative session, the court approved the House map but invalidated the Senate plan as "rife with indicators of improper intent." It singled out eight districts in violation of the new redistricting standards and rejected the district numbering system as favoring incumbents by giving them longer terms.

Gov. Rick Scott called lawmakers back into a 15-day redistricting session in March and the Senate reworked its map.

Times staff writer Darla Cameron contributed to this report.

Comments

No. 7 Florida finishes No. 17 Gonzaga in 2OT; No. 1 Duke up next for Gators

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jalen Hudson scored a career-high 35, including eight 3-pointers, and No. 7 Florida downed No. 17 Gonzaga 111-105 in double overtime Friday night at the PK80 Invitational. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza added a career-high 26 poin...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Region football: Plant 13, Lakeland 10

Region football: Plant 13, Lakeland 10

LAKELAND — The game — and the season — were supposed to be over.Lakeland was set to exact revenge. The Dreadnaughts had the lead and the ball in the final three minutes and were heading for a field goal. Then it happened. The magic continued.Plant’s ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Region football: Venice 48, Tampa Bay Tech 17

VENICE — Tampa Bay Tech not only had to stop a hot receiver in Friday night’s Class 7A region final against Venice, but a hot running back as well. That proved to be too much.Indians receiver Jaivon Heiligh caught 14 passes for 193 yards and three to...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Region football: Armwood 31, Ocala Vanguard 17

SEFFNER — Armwood appeared to be on its way to yet another rout through the first 24 minutes of football Friday night.James Miller delivered a crunching hit on the opening kickoff. The defense looked suffocating, holding Ocala Vanguard to a mere 23 y...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Region football: Immokalee 42, Lakewood 14

IMMOKALEE — The final score wasn’t truly indicative of what transpired on Friday night.Lakewood fell to a dynamic Immokalee squad 42-14 in a tough environment in a Class 5A region final.The Spartans (9-2) forced three turnovers and held Immokalee (12...
Updated: 5 hours ago
State semifinal football: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna 49, Clearwater Central Catholic 3

State semifinal football: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna 49, Clearwater Central Catholic 3

CLEARWATER — Stocked with a wealth of Division I-A commits and prepared by a heavy-duty schedule, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna spent three months building for Friday night’s Class 3A state semifinal game.The Lions played at another level against top-s...
Updated: 5 hours ago

State semifinal football: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic 38, Cambridge Christian 0

TAMPA — Hialeah Champagnat Catholic was well on its way to a third unanswered touchdown, but the Lions just couldn’t stop blocking their own path. In one second-quarter drive during Friday’s 2A state semifinal against Cambridge Christian, Champagnat ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning attitude under fire after loss to Capitals

Lightning attitude under fire after loss to Capitals

WASHINGTON — You don’t often sense frustration in captain Steven Stamkos’ voice, at least not this season. With the Lightning off to its best start in franchise history, there haven’t been many reasons to chide. Every criticism seems nitpicky. But af...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Bucs-Falcons: Tampa Bay Times staff predictions for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game

Bucs-Falcons: Tampa Bay Times staff predictions for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game

The Bucs face the defending NFC champion in its new home Sunday in Atlanta.Here’s the Times’ Bucs coverage team’s predictions for Tampa Bay’s 1 p.m. game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:MATTY ICE-FOLLIESRick Stroud, @NFLStroud: T...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Freshman quarterback leads Pitt to 24-14 upset over No. 2 Miami

Freshman quarterback leads Pitt to 24-14 upset over No. 2 Miami

PITTSBURGH — Miami spent the better part of 13 months cultivating the nation’s longest winning streak behind a series of comebacks that returned the swagger to "The U" in all of its "Turnover Chain" glory. Sluggish through the first half against Pitt...
Updated: 7 hours ago