Senate approves new redistricting map facing uncertain future in House, courts

Florida Senate approves new district boundaries -- but future unknown.
Florida Senate approves new district boundaries — but future unknown.

A sharply divided Florida Senate approved a redistricting map Wednesday that left critics predicting it will be rejected by a wary House or struck down by courts.

The 22-18 vote included unanimous opposition from Senate Democrats, along with four Republicans. The proposed boundaries, which cut one seat from Palm Beach County, head to the House, which won’t review the plan until next week but has condemned maps earlier drawn by senators.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the plan is doomed on similar grounds, arguing it was designed to protect incumbents and favor ruling Republicans.

“That’s clearly what we did,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “Everybody in here knows that, whether they want to say it or not.”

But Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, defended the plan, saying most of the map was crafted by legislative staff shielded from political influence.

Galvano said he was confident the House will conclude the proposal fixes problems with the 2012 Senate boundaries alleged by a voters’ coalition. That challenge led to a legal settlement with the Senate and the current three-week special session to redraw the map.

Lawmakers are not set to adjourn until Nov. 6.

“We will have an opportunity to sell it to them, so to speak,” Galvano said of the House.

In Palm Beach County, the plan moves Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district currently includes the Jupiter-Tequesta area, into a district entirely comprised of Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.

“Nothing in this process is final until it’s over,” Negron said. “But it certainly appears more likely I’ll be representing voters further north and west than those in Palm Beach County.”

Negron, who supported the map, is positioned to become Senate president following next year’s elections. But his rival for the powerful post, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was among those blasting the proposed boundaries.

“I don’t think the right thing to do is vote for this map,” Latvala said, urging senators to reject the plan and start over.

Latvala also teed off on the Senate’s lawyers, who had assured senators the proposed map meets constitutional standards.

“How many battles have they won for us in court?” Latvala said of the lawyers, led by former state Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero. “For the most part, we’ve gotten our butt kicked. We’ve gotten our clock cleaned.”

The Florida Supreme Court is overseeing both congressional and Senate redistricting after siding with voters’ groups in earlier lawsuits against maps drawn by lawmakers.

Much of Wednesday’s criticism focused on revisions made a day earlier by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, who said his goal was to bolster Hispanic voting performance in three Miami-Dade County districts.

But his changes also assured that he won’t be lumped into the same district with two other incumbent senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat.

Opponents of the map railed that the change favored incumbents – a move barred by voter-approved, anti-gerrymandering standards in the Florida Constitution.

Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, also said the proposal would help the GOP maintain dominance in most voting districts, despite having 400,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

“This map does not represent Florida,” Abruzzo said.

In the map, Abruzzo’s home is paired in the same south county district as the residence of Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, a seat which also reaches into Broward County.

Abruzzo, though, has said he plans to move residences – avoiding the possibility the two would have to challenge each other.

Clemens, the county’s third senator under the map before lawmakers, is in line to become Democratic Leader following the 2018 elections.

Diaz de la Portilla’s changes separated his district from a neighboring seat where Sens. Anitere Flores, a Republican, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Democrat, are paired. The revision was the only change made to a staff-drawn map endorsed by Galvano, a Negron supporter in the presidency fight.

The Republicans opposing the boundaries bill (SB 2C) were Latvala and Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Nancy Detert of Sarasota and Greg Evers of Baker.

There was mounting tension Wednesday in the usually clubby Senate, with the map vote followed by the rare move of one Republican senator singling out a fellow GOP senator he accused of mischaracterizing his record.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, a former Senate president and redistricting chairman, lashed out at Latvala, who had already left the floor.

Latvala has been quoted in media reports blaming Gaetz for advancing earlier maps that favored incumbents and caused legal woes that contributed to $11 million in redistricting costs paid by taxpayers.

Gaetz acknowledged mistakes. But he also read testimony from court records where Latvala was named as having sought to draw boundaries to help fellow senators.

“When a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back, and never give in,” Gaetz told the Senate.

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