In redistricting special session, will Legislature take up the state Senate map, too?

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

The ink was not even dry on the Florida Supreme Court’s landmark redistricting decision instructing state legislators to redraw Florida’s congressional districts before it was being suggested that the Legislature also revisit the (flawed) map of the state Senate districts.

Redistricting experts (if there is such a thing), lawmakers, political consultants, and lobbyists have been buzzing for days now that if the Supreme Court believes the congressional districts were indeed drawn to favor incumbents and/or a political party, it’s safe to assume that the same partisanship found its way into the drawing of the state Senate districts.

Currently, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause are challenging the constitutionality of 28 of the 40 state Senate districts drawn up by the Legislature.

One state senator, Jack Latvala, has already received permission from the Florida Division of Elections to open a campaign account for the 2016 cycle in anticipation that the state Senate districts will have to be redrawn in the near future.

“I thought that last November would be my last election for the Senate,” Latvala wrote in an email to supporters. “However, it becomes apparent that the effort to win even a third set of new Senate districts in the courts is serious and demands our attention. That process will play out in the courtroom over the next several months and if the Supreme Court gets involved could last even until the qualifying period in June. Good preparation has always been the key to my political success. Therefore, I believe I should be prepared for the possibility that new districts may result and that I will have a campaign again in 2016.”

Latvala, like many other state senators, would probably prefer that the uncertainty surrounding the validity of his district boundaries be solved sooner rather than later. This begs the question: Will the Legislature take up the state Senate districts map during the special session it will convene to address the congressional map?

Probably not.

According to legislative leaders and senior staff in the House who asked to remain anonymous because negotiations between the two chambers have yet to begin, the House has little inclination to include redrawing the Senate map in the special session call.

One senior lawmaker asked, “Why would we save the Senate’s a*s after what we just went through?” — a reference to the acrimonious regular and special session that saw the House and Senate at legislative war with each other over the issue of Medicaid expansion.

This same lawmaker made it clear that if the state Senate were to be taken up before the Florida Supreme Court has the chance to rule on it, it would be done during the 2016 regular session when the House would then have leverage over the Senate.

“They want to save some of their members from being drawn out by the court?” said this lawmaker. “Well then maybe the Senate will agree to the House’s position on other issues.”

There is no doubt that redrawing the state Senate districts based on what the court revealed about its thinking in the congressional maps case would lead to dramatic changes in the composition of the Senate, in addition to, as Latvala predicts, disrupting the timetable for when some senators are up for re-election.

If the court holds that state Senate districts cannot jump across Tampa Bay as it believes congressional districts cannot, this would impact Tampa Bay lawmakers Jeff Brandes and Arthenia Joyner, while creating a ripple effect throughout the rest of the state.

Florida senators certainly would rather have a shot at redrawing their district lines before the Supreme Court tells them how to do it. However, at this point, their colleagues in the House are not interested in dancing with them, to use a phrase from this year’s regular session.

Florida Senate spokewswoman Katie Betta says that Senate President Andy Gardiner will issue later this week a memo to his colleagues with guidelines as to how to proceed on the redistricting issues. Betta said that no negotiations, including whether to take up the state Senate map, have begun between the Senate and House.

POLITICO’s Matt Dixon reported Monday that the special session to redraw the congressional maps may take place during the first of August, but the lawmakers and staff Florida Politics spoke to said the special session will take place toward the end of August.

Almost all of the House lawmakers Florida Politics spoke to on Monday said that while they will go through the motions of redrawing the congressional maps, they all expect the Florida Supreme Court to reject their work and draw the lines itself.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.