Friday, June 22, 2018
Politics

Round 2 on Senate election maps: Can new election districts avoid bias?

TALLAHASSEE — As Florida lawmakers reconvene today for a two-week special session to redraw the Senate maps, one question remains: Will they be able to stop themselves from protecting incumbents?

That question may be answered best by looking at one simple test: how the Senate numbers its districts.

Applying new redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the Senate's first proposed map last week on the grounds that it "was rife with indicators of improper intent" and included a district numbering scheme that "plainly favors certain incumbents."

Because of the once-a-decade reapportionment process, all 40 of the Senate districts will be up for re-election this year. Depending on how the numbering is handled, many senators could get an automatic advantage that gives them the opportunity to serve longer than the eight years prescribed by term limits.

In its 5-2 decision, the court established guidelines legislators should adhere to when drawing their districts and said that the House redistricting map appeared to comply with those guidelines. The Senate map, the court said, did not. The court said the Senate's map included eight districts that clearly violated the Florida Constitution's Fair Districts amendments and included a numbering scheme with a "built-in bias" that favored incumbents.

To fix the map, the House and Senate will convene in special session starting at 1 p.m. today, but it will be a one-sided exercise. The House leadership has decided to continue its "gentlemen's agreement" to allow the Senate to redraw its own lines. House members will arrive to check in, then most of them will turn around and head home as the Senate spends the next week working out its redistricting fix.

Unlike the House, where 120 members each serve two-year terms, the Senate's job is admittedly more complicated. For starters, the Florida Constitution requires that senators serve four-year terms and that their terms be staggered. So normally only half of the Senate seats are up in an election year. In a redistricting year like 2012, however, everyone runs for election — meaning half of the senators get only a two-year term.

When it recently drew its maps, the Senate decided that whoever wins in even-numbered districts would get a two-year term, while those winning in odd-numbered districts will be elected for four years.

Five senators — Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Steve Oelrich, R-Alachua, and Jeremy Ring, D-Margate — would normally be scheduled to have their terms expire in 2014. But the map submitted to the court gave them odd-numbered districts which, if they are re-elected this year, would automatically give them the opportunity to serve until 2016 — for a total of 10 years in office, two more than allowed by term limits.

When the Senate drew its first map in November, it placed many incumbent senators in districts that expire in two years. But a month later it quietly changed the number scheme and gave nearly every returning incumbent — except for Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater — a four-year term.

A coalition of voting groups flagged the switch, and the court noticed. In its 234-page ruling, the court concluded that "we can verify that at least the 16 senators that were previously eligible for eight years will now be eligible to serve a maximum of 10 years," and that three incumbents who were elected to fill a partial term and would have been originally eligible for nine years would now be eligible to serve for 11 years.

The arrangement "plainly favors certain incumbents by renumbering districts to allow them to serve longer than they would otherwise be eligible to serve." The court then invalidated the entire Senate plan.

How does the Senate fix its maps?

Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith says the answer is easy: Give four-year terms to the 11 open Senate seats and divide the remaining 29 districts in two. Half of them — either 14 or 15 — would get four-year terms, and thus the opportunity to serve a maximum of 10 years, and the remainder will receive two-year terms. Gaetz told the Times/Herald on Tuesday that he is considering all options for revamping the numbering scheme. He believes the Senate is required to remedy only the eight districts targeted by the court — including a district now held by Fort Lauderdale Sens. Chris Smith, a Democrat, and Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican.

"It's at least my intention that we conform the map to the ruling of the court, and that will probably necessitate some marginal changes to some contiguous districts,'' Gaetz said. "But it is certainly not my intention to make changes to districts that were deemed by the court to be valid."

Smith, however, calls the court ruling an "historic rejection" and believes "an entire redrawing of the Senate map is necessary.'' He warned that if the Senate doesn't get it right this time, the law requires the Supreme Court to do the maps itself.

"Contrary to what Sen. Gaetz suggests, the score is not 32 to 8,'' Smith told reporters on a call Tuesday. "The score is zero to one. If the Senate doesn't get it right this time, the score will be zero and two. Frankly, the Senate will not get a third shot in writing a map."

Comments
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18