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Senate tries again on redistricting maps

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate on Saturday released its first attempt at fixing its rejected Senate redistricting map with a proposal that protects the territory of all but four Senate incumbents, elects as many as five Hispanics and six African-Americans, and retains a solid Republican majority.

The map, released by Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is a response to a March 9 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that threw out the Senate map and validated the House map based on new redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010. But, unlike the first map, it is not only drawing criticism from Democrats, it is drawing complaints from Republicans as well.

"I am very disappointed that the map of the Florida Senate did not include a Hispanic majority district in South Florida,'' said Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera, R-Miami, chairman of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation. He said that while he refrained from criticism before, this is the Legislature's last shot before a court takes control of the redistricting process. "All bets are off."

Florida legislators have convened a 15-day extraordinary session and have until March 28 to approve a new Senate map. Legislators must reconfigure the political boundaries of the state every 10 years to match the shifts in the population and ensure that voters are equally represented.

Democrats warned that the Senate's second map is as flawed as the first and chastised the exercise as a stall tactic intended to avoiding implementing the new Fair Districts standards.

The map "brings us no closer to complying with the court's ruling and is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by the GOP Senate leadership to stall the implementation of Fair Districts and cling to their gerrymandered power,'' Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith said in a statement. "Not only have they thwarted the will of 63 percent of Florida voters, they are now thumbing their nose at Florida's Supreme Court."

In South Florida, the map pits Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale against Democrat Sen. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach in a sprawling coastal district that stretches from Broward's Harbour Inlet to Palm Beach's Hypoluxo Road.

It creates a Democrat-dominated minority district in Palm Beach County comprised of black and Hispanic voters and it creates a fourth Hispanic district in Miami-Dade that also is likely to elect a Democrat.

But unlike the House map, which pitted 38 incumbents against each other, Gaetz's proposal pits only four senators against each other. In addition to Bogdanoff and Sachs, the map draws Republican Sens. Andy Gardiner of Orlando and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs into the same district. Simmons said Saturday he will move to the adjacent open district based in Seminole County and leave the district to Gardiner, a close ally of his who is hoping to become Senate president in 2014.

The Fair District rules require that districts be drawn as compactly as possible, refrain from protecting incumbents or political parties and protect minority voting strength.

The Florida Supreme Court concluded in its 5-2 ruling that the first Senate map "was rife with indicators of improper intent" and included a district numbering scheme that "plainly favors certain incumbents" by allowing some lawmakers to exceed the eight-year term limits and serve up to 10 years.

The court also singled out eight of 40 districts as violating the new rules, said that Democratic-leaning districts were consistently overpopulated compared to Republican-leaning districts, urged lawmakers to keep the city of Lakeland whole and said the numbering system was biased in favor of incumbents.

While Republicans refrained from criticizing the first map, several raised doubts about the way the latest map handles minority districts.

Lopez Cantera said the Senate map unfairly packs Hispanics into three Republican-leaning seats and carves out a slim Hispanic majority in District 35, now held by Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis. The district, which hasn't changed from the first Senate map, is made up of a 61 percent Hispanic voting-age population. That pales in comparison to the other Senate districts in Miami-Dade where the voting age population ranges from 89 percent to 74 percent.

A Times/Herald analysis of voting data shows that Gaetz's map would continue a Republican majority in the 40-member chamber with 23 safe Republican seats and 15 safe Democratic seats. Two seats would be toss-ups.

The map creates one less safe Republican district than the first proposal rejected by the court and gives Democrats the chance to elect three more senators than they have now.

See the new Senate maps at tampabay.com/redistricting

Senate tries again on redistricting maps 03/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 11:50pm]
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