In an attempt to blunt criticism that a Senate district numbering plan is designed to protect some incumbents from having to face re-election next year, redistricting staff Thursday unveiled an alternate, random-numbering plan.
The random scheme will be presented as an alternative to an approach proposed by Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, that would shield from re-election next year a majority of senators who support Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the powerful post of Senate president next year.
Negron, whose district includes northern Palm Beach County, is in a leadership battle with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Reducing the number of Negron supporters who have to run next year is certain to help increase his odds of winning the tussle.
The Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet Friday to begin working through a dozen maps that have been proposed by lawmakers and staff.
District numbers normally decide which senators have to run for re-election.
Only odd-numbered seats are scheduled to be on the ballot next year — although Senate Democrats argue that a 1982 Florida Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that the entire Senate should face re-election after redistricting, which changes many of the voters in each district.
Galvano, though, said he will leave it up to the Senate Redistricting Committee to decide whether to select the random numbering plan or the proposal that could keep the Senate’s current seat numbering — and set the stage for having only half the chamber run next year.
Democratic Sens. Oscar Braynon of Miami and Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth argue that the Senate is on a collision course with the state Supreme Court by attempting to keep incumbents off the ballot.
Florida’s voter-approved Fair Districts amendments prohibit drawing district lines intended to help incumbents or a party retain power.
“There’s some political taint in this process,” Braynon said. “When you go before the court and they say ‘we think there may be some (political) intent here, we’re just trying to do our parts as senators and saying, ‘look be prepared for that to be said.'”
Clemens added that a majority of the maps prepared by Republican lawmakers and legislative staff risk being declared unconstitutional by justices, at least because he said one district spanning Tampa Bay helps assure the re-election of a GOP incumbent by fracturing a community of black voters.
Justices have already condemned similar line-drawing in throwing out a congressional district plan approved by lawmakers. A map proposed by a lower court is now awaiting review by the Supreme Court.
“You can draw your own conclusions from that,” Clemens said. “I’m just saying…this is unconstitutional by previous court decisions.”
The court will ultimately decide the Senate boundaries as part of an agreement between Senate Republican leaders and voters groups, which challenged the 2012 redistricting map as being crafted to help the GOP maintain its powerful majority.