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  1. Florida Politics

Bousquet: Legislature wades into uncharted territory amid increasing uncertainty

The Florida Legislature is wading deeper and deeper into uncharted territory, and there's simply no telling how it will end.

The breakdown of last week's special session on congressional redistricting was only the beginning.

The courts now will seize control of redrawing the maps from the state's elected leaders, raising new doubts about the credibility of the Legislature do to its job.

Yet, in a few weeks, legislators will reconvene for another special session, the third such overtime session in four months, for a new redistricting battle with much higher political and personal stakes: They must redraw all 40 state Senate districts.

Depending on how those lines are redrawn, it's possible that all 40 senators would have to face the voters in 2016, as they do in all reapportionment years (the last one was in 2012).

As a result, some senators could get two additional years to hold office. What's more, the unresolved fight over the 2016 Senate presidency involving Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Joe Negron of Stuart could be wilder than ever.

Senators now scheduled to face voters next year are those in odd-numbered districts. Those numbers were assigned by random drawing in 2012.

The odd-numbered Senate seats in Tampa Bay are held by Republican John Legg of Trinity and Democrat Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, elected in 2006 and whose term will expire in 2016 after 10 years.

But the mere act of assigning which Senate seats get which numbers could itself be seen as more illegal political maneuvering.

"We have agreed that our maps are unconstitutionally drawn. They're invalid," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. "I don't know you can say the maps were unconstitutional, but the numbering scheme wasn't."

Democrats, for their part, are jubilant and act as if they have been vindicated by circumstances.

For years, Democrats have been calling for an independent redistricting commission to take the drawing of districts away from politicians who have so much to gain or lose from the outcome.

"This Legislature is not capable of having a process that is not political, and that doesn't interfere with map drawing," said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, of West Palm Beach. "And, as far as many of us are concerned, that's not a bad thing."

Democrats are attempting to distance themselves from Republicans in another way.

Joyner, a lawyer, has asked Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, for money so the minority party can hire its own team of lawyers.

Joyner said Democrats were troubled that the same lawyers who defended the Republicans during previous map fights are now counsel of record for the entire 40-member Senate.

"Both myself and members of my caucus have grown increasingly concerned with the ability of the Senate's legal counsel to render impartial advice and guidance," Joyner wrote to Gardiner last week. "It's difficult to serve two masters with different goals."

Gardiner has not responded to Joyner's letter. His spokesman said Monday that "he has no response at this time."

For the sake of "the integrity of the process," Joyner said Monday, she wants a reply.

"It's a big mess," Joyner said, "and the next session is going to be a real dogfight."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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