Redistricting session gets underway

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Senators began looking Wednesday for ways to respond to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the upper chamber’s redistricting maps, as the Legislature opened an extraordinary session to repair the plan, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Senate leaders reiterated their stance, which has come under criticism from some Democrats, that the Supreme Court affirmed the lion’s share of the Senate map by specifically citing just eight districts in its ruling. Any changes are likely to be narrowly aimed at fixing those districts, they said.

“If you know that 32 seats have met the criteria, why upset those 32 if you possibly can (avoid it)?” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

But the chamber was also colliding with the reality that any change to the eight districts singled out are likely to ripple across the state, as the requirement that districts be relatively equal in size mean that adjustments in one set of lines will cause another to shift.

“We shouldn’t go remedying things that were not pointed out as problems,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. “Having said that, I don’t think that you can only affect eight districts.”

And Democrats, some of whom warned that the first draft of Senate maps did not meet the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments approved by voters in 2010, were pushing for more. They have insisted that simply tweaking the existing maps won’t do the job.

“Just because facially, the court didn’t say that this district or another district had some issues doesn’t mean that there aren’t some issues there that we could not possibly address,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston.

Aside from the incumbents who could see their lines significantly altered, the thorniest potential issue was how to unwind a system for numbering districts that justices also found unconstitutional. All 40 Senate districts are up for re-election this year, meaning that some senators will be elected to two-year terms and some to four-year terms.

But because of the way the state’s term-limits laws work, the districts can be numbered in such a way that most members of the chamber could serve for up to 10 years — longer than the constitutional, eight-year limit for lawmakers. The system adopted by the Senate, which would have allowed that, was struck down by the court for favoring incumbents.

The question now is how to allocate the numbers. Among the alternatives being weighed by the Senate: numbering the districts to ensure no one serves more than eight years; arranging numbers randomly, at least in relation to the odd-even split that determines the length of terms won in 2012; using geography to decide the numbers; or finding some other “orderly pattern” to assign them.

“My own view is that the system ought to be as random as possible,” Gaetz said after the meeting.

But members seemed divided on the question.

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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.