The Pensacola News Journal will not publish anything that is critical of Don Gaetz. Yet around the state, newspapers, including Gannet owned papers, are writing about what State Senator Gaetz did. The following editorial is typical. Criticism is coming from Republican leaders of the State Senate who are calling for Don Gaetz to apologize to the people of Florida.
From a Tampa Bay Times Editorial: “Flawed Senate Map Needs More Work”
This latest legislative special session is a taxpayer-funded charade that disrespects voters, and it reflects the sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in Tallahassee.
First the Florida Senate acknowledged the districts it drew three years ago are unconstitutional and have to be redrawn. Then Republican leaders foolishly claimed some senators would not have to seek re-election next year even if their new districts include thousands of new voters. Now they want the Senate to approve new districts that still appear politically motivated and don’t resolve key issues with the map they admitted was illegally drawn. This latest legislative special session is a taxpayer-funded charade that disrespects voters, and it reflects the sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in Tallahassee.
The constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010, the Fair Districts amendments, are clear. The Legislature cannot draw congressional and legislative districts with the intent to favor political parties or incumbents. The districts also should be compact, and they should generally follow county and city lines or geographical boundaries as much as possible. Yet lawmakers failed to meet those tests with the congressional districts, which are being redrawn by the courts, and they are about to fail a final time with the state Senate districts.
Two Tampa Bay Republican senators, Tom Lee of Brandon and Jack Latvala of Clearwater, are raising the right questions about the proposed districts the Senate will consider today. Lee appropriately criticizes the legal advice that led Senate staff to ignore allegations in the lawsuit that prompted Republican leaders to admit the current districts are unconstitutional. He called that strategy “defiant” and “unnecessary,” and it’s hard to imagine the courts will put up with such arrogance.
Latvala’s sharp critique of the map pushed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, cites specific shortcomings. This version of the Senate’s 40 districts is worse than some of the staff-drawn maps in splitting up counties and cities. For example, Pasco County is divided into three Senate districts while several staff-drawn maps kept Pasco in one district. The plaintiffs in the redistricting lawsuit questioned how Volusia and Alachua counties were divided in 2012 to protect Republican incumbents, yet this new map does not correct those issues. As Latvala observes, “This is history repeating itself.”
There are several issues percolating in the background. Democrats are certain to be more competitive in a handful of new Senate districts, and some maps limit the potential gains more than others even though political parties are not supposed to be a consideration. Sharp elbows are being thrown among Republicans because of the ongoing fight between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to become the next Senate president. While Galvano’s proposed Senate districts put some incumbents in the same districts, it appears to benefit Negron’s supporters more than Latvala’s. Quietly watching is the House, where Republicans are unlikely to approve any Senate map not drawn entirely by the staff.
The arcane world of redistricting is an insider’s game for politicians and consultants, but the practical consequences are important. How the districts are configured helps determine how many voters have real choices of candidates in competitive races. It helps decide how tilted the Legislature is toward one political party, which affects the direction of public policy and the potential for compromise. In this case, it also will help determine whether the Senate is run by moderate Republicans or more conservative Republicans after the 2016 election.
At least Senate Republicans have conceded that every Senate seat will have to be on the 2016 ballot because the district lines are changing. Now they have to change the lines to better meet the constitutional requirements set by the voters. That remains a long shot.
(A Tampa Bay Times Editorial, October 26, 2015)