Monday, May 28, 2018
Politics

After fixing flawed districts, lawmakers may have showdown with judge

TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators indicated Monday that they will meet in special session this week to make the court-ordered repairs to two congressional districts in North and Central Florida but they will not accept holding special elections this year to put them in place.

In a joint email to legislators, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they "continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process.'' But they also laid out the schedule for the special session they are convening on Thursday in response to an Aug. 15 deadline imposed on them by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ruled unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. He wants the Legislature to fix the map to make Brown's snake-shaped district more compact and to remove an appendage in Webster's Central Florida-based district intended to give Republicans an advantage.

He also said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for candidates in the districts with new boundaries. Voting would proceed normally for all the other races on the ballot.

But legislators want the new districts to take effect in 2016 and said that if Lewis attempts to hold a special election to implement the new boundaries this year, they will oppose it — potentially challenging his decision in state or federal court.

"Florida's supervisors of elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date,'' wrote Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Gaetz, R-Niceville. "The NAACP also pointed out in their motion to Judge Lewis that, 'In a special election, get-out-the-vote infrastructure simply does not exist.' "

Under most scenarios, any changes to Brown and Webster's districts could force changes in surrounding districts held by incumbent U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis, John Mica and Bill Posey, all Republicans.

Under a map proposed by the Democrat-leaning voting groups that filed the lawsuit, Brown's district — which now snakes through North Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando, packing in Democrats and black voters — would become primarily a Jacksonville-based seat, but would cut across the top edge of the state into Tallahassee.

If incumbents are forced to run in regions they haven't represented before, they lose all the advantage of incumbency, said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and a redistricting expert.

"All they can do is spend campaign dollars, they can't endear themselves to constituents,'' he said.

Lewis set an Aug. 20 hearing for arguments on a potential special election and asked Florida's secretary of state to propose a draft special elections schedule. He said the new maps will be effective by Aug. 21.

But Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, on Monday told WBOB in Jacksonville, a conservative talk radio station, that Republican leaders want the changes to take effect in the 2016 elections because it is logistically impossible to do it this year.

He said legislators will convene in session Thursday, correct the map "pretty easily" and be prepared to vote on a final plan by Monday.

"Then the judge has got to make a decision,'' Thrasher said. "Does he allow these new districts to go into effect for the 2016 election … or is he going to try to rearrange the deck chairs" this year?

Because overseas ballots have already been sent and returned by military voters, and early voting starts soon for the Aug. 26 primary, Thrasher predicted: "I think this guy's got a real mess on his hands if he tries to rearrange these couple of congressional districts."

McDonald said the standoff is likely to produce more litigation. He also noted that federal law sets the date for congressional elections "and a state court does not have the authority to alter the election in this way.

"There's potential legal consequences,'' he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we saw litigation in federal court."

Meanwhile, the special session is expected to cost taxpayers about $68,245 per day. It will also cost legislators: House and Senate rules force them to refrain from fundraising while they are in session.

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader from Plantation, said he expects Republican leaders will blame the court for imposing the added costs but, he said, that argument doesn't work for his members.

"Let's all remember, the reason we're here is because the leadership who's in charge of this process did not abide by the rules of the Fair Districts process,'' he said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] and @MaryEllenKlas

Comments
Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized Sunday in Maine after he experienced low blood pressure and fatigue, a spokesman said. Just after 2 p.m., Jim McGrath, a spokesman for the 93-year-old Bush, said he was awak...
Published: 05/27/18
More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

WASHINGTON — A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a s...
Published: 05/26/18
Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

I may have cracked the code. Found a way to sell doing the right thing. Discovered a method of persuasion in certain matters of fairness, conscience and the greater good.Like giving our fellow Americans a second chance.When morality-based arguments d...
Published: 05/26/18
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18