The House and Senate committees tasked with redrawing the state’s political boundaries each took a step closer to approving new legislative and congressional maps Tuesday as some of the behind-the-scenes negotiations over Florida’s political future began spilling into public view, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
The Senate Reapportionment Committee took its first vote on an overall redistricting plan in an afternoon meeting, voting 23-3 to submit GOP-backed measures redrawing congressional and Senate lines as committee bills. Six Democrats joined the committee’s 17 Republicans in voting for the measure, though it was unclear whether that support would hold when a formal vote on approving the maps is held next month.
Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, blasted the map as an attempt to carve up the state in a way that would preserve political power for the dominant Republican Party, despite voters’ approval last year of constitutional standards aimed at curbing the influence of politics on the redistricting process. Rich said the plans still closely resembled those passed in the last round of the once-a-decade exercise.
“I think that the voters tell us they wanted a clean slate, not a map-making adjustment to gerrymandered maps that were adopted ten years ago,” she said.
Republicans bristled at the suggestion.
“There’s been no evidence that our process has been tainted in any way by political consideration,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Before the vote, the committee heard dozens of comments about the proposals submitted by state residents through email, social media and voice mail. Many applauded the maps, but several also said that the plans fell well short of what they expected when the “Fair Districts” amendments were approved.
Many of the criticisms continued to focus on Congressional District 3, which snakes from Duval County to Orange County to create a district where almost half the voters are black — though the questions about the maps weren’t confined to that.
“Both of them gerrymander the crap out of Orlando,” said Jamie Bue, who lives there.
The Senate meeting also revealed more of the negotiations that have been going on about the shape of the maps. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he and professional staff had held conservations with some incumbent lawmakers about the shape of their districts. But he rejected a question about whether that violated the constitution’s new prohibition on drawing maps to favor or disfavor incumbents.
“I never asked the incumbents how (they) wanted the districts to be drawn,” he said. “That’s a wrong characterization of what everyone here said today.”
Gaetz stressed that no partisan elections data was used in those conversations, and noted that the Senate redistricting software does not include those numbers. But Rich said that distinction wasn’t meaningful.
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