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Bill Galvano: No new elections for senators whose districts change

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State Sen. Bill Galvano, who chairs his chamber’s redistricting panel, on Monday said sitting senators may not have to stand for re-election even if their districts change because of the current effort to reapportion the state Senate.

Galvano, a lawyer and Bradenton Republican, spoke on the floor of the Senate during the first day of the Special Session to redraw the Senate’s district boundaries.

He said that a new district’s number would keep the number of whatever old district it has the “most in common” with.

“If you are a sitting senator, and you (still) have that number (after redistricting), it won’t matter whether the district had substantial or minimal change,” he said on the floor.

His stance is in stark contrast to Florida Supreme Court decisions and the historic reliance in constitutional law on one-person, one-vote. It also is at odds with Senate Democrats and even some of his fellow Republicans.

Galvano’s position could mean that some constituents would eventually be represented by people they did not elect.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, huddled with a few reporters at his Senate floor desk as he read from marked-up copies of the court’s elections-related decisions. “That’s not the way I read it,” he said.

Galvano told reporters there were “supportable legal arguments” to buttress his position.

However, when the Supreme Court ruled on a similar situation in 1982, it said lawmakers have to run for re-election when their districts are redrawn.

Galvano said that and related rulings came out before state voters OK’d the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments in 2010. They aim to prevent gerrymandering, the intentional redrawing of political boundaries to favor a particular party or incumbents.

“There’s an argument that members who were elected to four-year seats have a right to those seats,” he said. “We are going to have to look at it as a big picture.”

State Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Democrat, later pointed out that case law is clear: “If you change a seat at all, you have to run again. And there is a general election coming up (in 2016) … So what are they afraid of? Democratic turnout?”

House and Senate lawmakers will meet jointly to begin examining the proposed new maps Monday afternoon.

Updated 3 p.m.: A Senate spokeswoman provided reporters with a 1993 federal appeals court decision in a Pennsylvania elections case to back up Galvano’s assertion.

One of the judges who participated in the decision was Samuel Alito, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

In 1991, a legislative reapportionment commission switched state Sen. Frank Pecora‘s 44th district from the western half of the state to the eastern half. (Pecora was once described as “the cigar-chomping senator from Pittsburgh.”)

Pecora was allowed to represent the new district, roughly 275 miles away, for the remaining two years of his term.

A group of voters sued, saying the state had “unconstitutionally saddled them with a representative whom neither they nor any other voter in their district elected.”

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel OK’d the move, saying it was “rationally related to legitimate state interests,” the greatest degree of deference that courts give to legislatures and their agents.

“Although Senator Pecora may not be the best person to represent the new 44th District, he nonetheless has incentives to represent his current constituency similar to those of many other incumbent senators,” the opinion said.

The opinion also noted that Pecora, “who was formerly a Republican but switched parties as these events unfolded, participated in the vote to seat himself.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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