Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Florida Legislature approves new congressional map

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators completed their hasty fix of a congressional redistricting map Monday, sending the plan on to Gov. Rick Scott for approval as they scramble to meet Friday's deadline set by a state court.

In an attempt to address the concerns by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis — who said the map violated a constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering — the Legislature ended a three-day special session by moving 368,000 voters in North and Central Florida into new districts as it changed the boundaries of seven congressional seats.

No Tampa Bay area voters are affected by the map changes, even though District 17, which covers parts of southeast Hillsborough County, was modified slightly. The changes are in Polk and Osceola counties.

The House and Senate voted for the map along party lines, as a handful of Jacksonville Democrats voted with Republicans in solidarity with U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose winding district was invalidated because it packed Democratic voters into the district so that Republicans in surrounding districts would face less competition.

The new map makes the biggest changes to the districts now held by Brown, John Mica, R-Orlando, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. Lewis ordered the Legislature to fix Districts 5 and 10, held by Brown and Webster, by Friday, saying they were in violation of the state's Fair Districts rules.

"If that is a Republican map, I'm proudly and utterly guilty of doing that," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, the House Redistricting Committee chairman. "I have no doubt it will be found constitutional."

But while the GOP legislative leaders praised themselves for creating a map that followed Lewis' order, Democrats complained they were excluded and predicted the new map likely will be thrown out like the previous one.

"This was a dog-and-pony show, and unfortunately that's what we're going to send back to the judge on Friday," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, called the new map "window dressing" that "doesn't meet the goals again."

Redistricting experts said that, if approved by the judge, the new map will change little politically.

"A lot of furniture has been rearranged but it looks like the old house with the same rooms,'' said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and an expert on redistricting. "I would not think any incumbents will be defeated as a result of this plan."

The Democratic-leaning voters groups that brought the lawsuit said the new map perpetuates the flaws enacted by legislators in 2012 and said they will argue that the map should be rejected and redrawn by the court.

Lewis has scheduled an Aug. 20 hearing to hear arguments on the new map.

"We do not believe Map 9057 complies with Judge Lewis' order or the Fair Districts Amendments,'' said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "We will continue to urge Judge Lewis to adopt a constitutionally compliant map for the 2014 elections."

Lewis ruled that GOP political consultants conspired "to influence and manipulate the Legislature in violation of its constitutional duty" by creating a shadow redistricting process run behind the scenes. He found that Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Monday that GOP legislative leaders did not appeal the ruling and "took our medicine" but agreed to fix the map with the condition that it will not take effect until after the Nov. 4 elections.

Lewis left open the possibility that he may call a special election, a decision legislative leaders say would violate federal election law.

The final vote underscored the 20-year-old feud that has divided Democrats: whether to create districts intended to favor blacks but remove black Democrats to make the surrounding districts more favorable for white Republicans, or create more competitively drawn districts that could elect more Democrats who represent blacks into office.

"I've never represented a black district and I think it's absolutely wrong to say we need to have a stacked district to be elected,'' said Rep. Joe Gibbons, a Hallandale Beach Democrat who is black. "When you give into that, you let them control you for the rest of your life."

Brown's district was first drawn in 1992 when black Democrats aligned with white Republicans to create two districts that elected the first blacks to Congress in Florida since Reconstruction. She has bitterly fought any attempt to change it since.

The Senate voted 25-12 for the new map, with Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Bill Montford of Tallahassee siding with Republicans. The House voted 71-38, with two Jacksonville Democrats, Reggie Fullwood and Mia Jones, joining Republicans. The Senate also rejected an alternative map by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, that would have created two Orlando-based districts that were equally competitive for both Democrats and Republicans.

GOP lawmakers say they sent the judge best plan, but experts say it also continues a pattern of approving maps that do the least damage to the GOP congressional majority.

"Florida had one of the most pro-Republican congressional gerrymandering in the country,'' said McDonald who has studied congressional redistricting plans in every state. "If adopted, it will continue to be a strong Republican gerrymander."

Corcoran and Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairmen Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, made minor changes to the way the Legislature handled the map drawing this time. They banned political consultants from the process and ordered legislators to retain all documents and communications.

But despite their assurances of transparency, they met in a closed door session last Wednesday with staff and outside legal counsel and never invited Democrats.

"At the very least, we should have been invited to the table at the beginning of the process," said Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. "That's why we're skeptical."

The Fair Districts amendments gave the court new powers to check the Legislature when revising political boundaries after the decennial census. Supporters of the amendment say the court rulings have given them a lever they never would have had if left up to the Legislature, and the courts have provided a new bar that will tamp down future interference by political operatives.

The governor is expected to sign the legislation and send it to the judge by the Friday deadline.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he was confident there "would be no reason to appeal,'' but many others believe that an appeal to the Supreme Court is inevitable.

Legislators have spent nearly $4 million in taxpayer money so far hiring outside counsel to defend their redistricting maps and the special session cost an estimated $204,735.

"You're not going to end something this important at the circuit court," said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

Times/Herald staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this report. Contact Mary Ellen Klas at [email protected] Follow @MaryEllenKlas

Comments
As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

Lys Isma was born in Haiti, but she’s used to driving in Miami with a license, going to college and living without fear of being deported.The Florida International University biology student has lived in Florida since she was 9 months old. Undocument...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Top Trump staffers failed to file financial reports on their way out the door

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff Reince Priebus and foreign policy adviser Sebastian Gorka — failed to file legally required financial reports after they were dismissed this summer, according to government re...
Published: 11/22/17
William March: Lee says lieutenant governor should work for a living and get a vote

William March: Lee says lieutenant governor should work for a living and get a vote

It’s an old joke that Florida’s lieutenant governor, with no duties specified in the state Constitution except to fill in if the governor is disabled or dies, has little to do except monitor the governor’s health. State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, ...
Published: 11/22/17
Trump calls father of freed UCLA player an ‘ungrateful fool’

Trump calls father of freed UCLA player an ‘ungrateful fool’

Associated PressPALM BEACH — President Donald Trump started off his first day of Thanksgiving vacation by resuming his taunts of the father of a UCLA basketball player detained for shoplifting in China, saying Wednesday that he was an "ungrateful foo...
Published: 11/22/17
Trump speaks up for Moore, warns against his ‘liberal’ rival

Trump speaks up for Moore, warns against his ‘liberal’ rival

WASHINGTON — Silent for more than a week, President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him and insisting repeatedly that voters must not support Moor...
Published: 11/22/17
Trump offers support for Moore in Alabama Senate race despite misconduct allegations

Trump offers support for Moore in Alabama Senate race despite misconduct allegations

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to offer support to Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, saying the former state judge "totally denies" allegations that he sexually molested underage girls years ago."He d...
Published: 11/21/17
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Published: 11/20/17
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/20/17
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17