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House committee passes its redistricting maps, slapping back criticism from Fair Districts groups

Published Jan. 31, 2012

The House Redistricting Committee forcefully pushed back against a blistering critique of their redistricting maps from the Fair Districts group that proposed the new standards and Friday rejected the group's alternative maps before passing three of its own.

"I think it's an unfortunate and more likely a legal stunt that this has taken, and I frankly find it offensive personally," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, chairman of the committee, referring to a 12-page letter sent by the coalition of voters groups.

Despite his disappointment, Weatherford offered the maps for the House and congressional districts submitted jointly by the League of Women Voters, La Raza and Common Cause as an alternative to the committee's staff-drawn maps -- which result in at least 38 lawmakers pitted against each other.

With the amendment teed up, the committee then roundly beat up on it, with Democrats joining Republicans to kill it. Weatherford even urged his colleagues to oppose his own amendment.

"A lot of people predicted there would be a January surprise within this House,'' Weatherford said, referring to the presumption that many legislators wouldn't stand to have so many incumbents pitted against each other. But, he said, "little did we know that not only did we stay the course…but that the January surprise would come from the very organization that told us that they didn't think we would be transparent or follow the law. So, the January surprise has come from them."

The coalition had submitted the maps earlier this week and were asked by Weatherford to appear before the committee to defend and explain them. Instead, the coalition sent the committee a 12-page letter that accused legislators of strategically protecting incumbents, picking favorites in competitive areas, packing minority voters into districts and strategically securing a Republican majority for the next decade.

"Although we have only had a day to analyze the Committee's latest Congressional and House maps, it appears that they, like previous submissions and like those passed by the Senate do not comply with the FairDistricts Amendments," wrote Deirdre Macnab of the League of Women Voters, Eric Rodriguez of the Council of La Raza and Peter Butzin with Common Cause of Florida.

Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, noted that absent from the letter was any indication that several members of the legislature had been drawn into the same district. For example, Eisnaugle is pitted against Rep. Steve Precourt under the new map, he said. "And yet this letter fails to even put it in a footnote. I find it disingenuous. I find the amendment disingenuous."

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said that the concept of nesting House districts within Senate districts, advanced by the coalition, violates the goal of protecting minority strength and will make it difficult to elect Hispanics. "If find it insulting,'' he said.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also said he would vote against the map since he didn't have time to review it.

Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, questioned the source of the maps and whether they were from "operatives for one political party."

"Instead, what we see today is a map, a half hearted explanation and a refusal to address it at all," he said.

Finally, Rep. John Legg, R-Tampa, blasted the coalition maps as violation the standards of compactness. "My three year old could draw something a little bit more compact than that,'' he said. "That is anything but compact."

The committee unanimously rejected all of the maps, then voted along party lines to advance the maps to the House floor next Thursday. House and Senate leaders have agreed to give final approval to the proposals next week so the Legislative redistricting maps can be submitted to the Florida Supreme Court next week for its 30-day review.

At the end, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, chastised the behavior of some lawmakers that criticized the coalition's effort as a childish effort. "Attack the policy; attack the process,'' he said. " Leave the pejoratives out."

-- Dave Decamp and Mary Ellen Klas

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 5:22:27 pm on January 27, 2012