The well-organized Senate redistricting process that produced a bipartisan vote for the first draft of the chamber’s map now appears to be fraying, with Republican infighting prompting the majority to delay a committee vote on the plan that was scheduled for Tuesday, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
After a series of pointed debates and questions from everything over the future of Central Florida to the system used to number the districts, the panel set aside a motion to vote on the plan Tuesday and decided to hold another meeting beginning Wednesday morning.
Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, downplayed suggestions that the delay hinted at divisions within the GOP caucus. He said members were simply being thoughtful with the once-a-decade process for redrawing the state’s political map.
“We have to grind through these issues one by one and make sure people feel as though they get the answers that make them comfortable enough to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” said Gaetz, scheduled to become Senate president in November.
But the meeting still struck a far different note than the deliberations over the first Senate map, which the Florida Supreme Court threw out earlier this month for violating the state’s anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts standards. During the initial redistricting process, Republicans were harmonious and managed to draw the votes of several Democrats.
During Tuesday’s meeting, much of the debate came between Republicans. Several seemed unnerved by Gaetz’s plan to have the system for numbering districts determined by a random drawing.
Justices threw out the numbering system in the first map, saying it appeared designed to short-circuit the state’s eight-year term limits and allow most senators to serve for a decade.
“Let’s just be blunt about it: There’s a lot of sentiment in this Senate that a lottery is not what we want to see,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
With increasing criticism from lawmakers and the committee facing a deadline to vote on the plan, Gaetz opted for a Wednesday vote. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had already approved another meeting after early questions made it seem likely the meeting would run over.
Under Gaetz’s new map, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would be thrown into a district with Sen. David Simmons, a Maitland Republican who supported Gardiner in a recent leadership fight.
The Supreme Court threw out a district that included “an odd-shaped appendage” reaching north from an Orlando-based district that seemed designed to keep Gardiner and Simmons from facing off.
The appendage snaked between a pair of minority districts, one meant to allow black voters to elect a candidate of their choice and another meant to advantage candidates favored by Latinos. The court told lawmakers to find another way to draw the area.
A plan authored by Latvala, another Gardiner ally, would shift surrounding districts to make the appendage shorter and less pronounced. Simmons said that resolved the issue better than Gaetz’s proposal, which includes a district with what Simmons termed an appendage reaching southward to include both Simmons and Gardiner.
“You can’t just change it so that you come in from the north,” Simmons said. “They’ve already said you can’t come in from the south.”
But Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican, said the Latvala plan would make other districts in the area less compact and keep something resembling the old appendage.
“We’re now impacting, I think adversely, at least three other districts,” Thrasher said.
Latvala asked for the amendment to be postponed, but told reporters during a break in the meeting that some form of the proposal would likely be back.
“We’ll be offering something,” Latvala said. “I’m not sure what.”
Lawmakers also shut down an attempt by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, to create a fourth Hispanic district in Southeast Florida. Diaz de la Portilla’s brother has already filed to run for the seat.
“I believe that there is sufficient population in the South Florida area to justify a potential, possibly fourth Hispanic seat,” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. “And you can do this without affecting or having any retrogression in any African-American seat, or affecting any other minority adversely.”
After being peppered with questions about the amendment — including an argument that it did not address one of the districts specifically criticized by the Supreme Court — Diaz de la Portilla also postponed his proposal.
Senate leaders hope to get the map approved in a floor vote by the end of the week.