Thursday, January 18, 2018
Editorials

In numbering districts, it's silliness all over the map

Maybe the Florida Senate should make all of its tough decisions this way. Struggling for a legal method to number new districts, a Senate committee on Wednesday used two sets of lottery balls. The farcical scene does not bode well for today's second attempt by the full Senate to approve districts that will meet new constitutional standards approved by the voters.

The rivalries and self-interests that stained the regular legislative session were on full display in the Senate Reapportionment Committee. Some senators still have not come to terms with the Florida Supreme Court opinion that rejected the first map in part because the renumbering of the districts favored incumbents. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, claimed that using lottery balls to assign the district numbers violated gambling laws (her point of order was not well taken). Another questioned whether the green balls were painted and therefore heavier than the white balls (they weren't). Others had trouble grasping the entire concept.

"This is not brain surgery we're trying to do here,'' complained Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

To some senators, this is more serious than brain surgery. Even Wednesday, some senators lobbied for district numbers that would allow them to serve longer terms. That sort of incumbent protection is exactly what voters prohibited in 2010 when they approved Amendment 5 to fundamentally change the rules for redistricting. The amendment requires that districts do not favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. They should be compact and follow geographic and political boundaries, and they cannot reduce the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

Since the Supreme Court rejected the first Senate map, the Senate committee has obsessed with assigning new district numbers more than redrawing the district lines. Securing a district number that would allow them to serve two additional years is apparently more important to many senators than complying with the state Constitution. There also is a misconception about the breadth of the court opinion.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, is among those who contend that the court accepted 32 of the 40 districts because it only specifically found fault with eight. In fact, the court found the Senate map to be "rife with objective indicators of improper intent" and concluded, "We hold that the Senate plan is invalid." The Senate will consider a revised map today by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, that makes some improvements such as reducing the size of a rambling minority district in northeast Florida. But significant issues remain, including the messy carving of Central Florida.

This has not been the finest moment for the Senate or for Gaetz, the incoming Senate president who still appears determined to use redistricting to protect his favorites and punish more independent-minded members of his own party. The best hope voters may have for fair Senate districts is for the Supreme Court to reject the map a second time and draw its own.

It's a safe bet the justices could number the districts without using lottery balls.

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