Senate panel passes maps as Democrats splinter

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The Senate Reapportionment Committee approved new plans for the Senate and Florida’s congressional delegations by overwhelming, bipartisan margins as Democrats splintered over the GOP majority’s proposal and the maps put forward by their own leader.

The committee’s proposal for a Congressional map (SB 1174) passed the committee on a 21-5 vote; the panel approved new boundaries for the Senate (SJR 1176) by a 22-4 margin. Senate leaders plan to simply accept the House’s proposal for its own chamber in return for the House doing the same with the Senate map.

While the approval of the plan wasn’t surprising given Republicans’ sizable majority on the committee, the divisions among Democrats underscore the often-fraught politics that the party faces when the once-a-decade redistricting process pits the interests of the party against the interests of its black constituents.

The creation of a large number of majority-minority or minority access districts often benefits Republicans by grouping together heavily Democratic black communities, diluting the numbers of Democrats that can be put into other districts.

The intraparty flare-up burst into public view Wednesday when Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, asked to drop her alternative plans so that she could bring them more into line with the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters last year.

Rich has argued that her proposals do a better job of following the amendments than the committee’s current proposal.

But with Rich saying she would bring new maps to the Senate floor, Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, tore into the proposal. Bullard, a black Democrat, said the proposal would have watered down the black voting age population in at least five districts either represented by African-Americans or meant to elect candidates favored by minorities.

“We would have had a diminishment of African Americans in every one of those districts I just numbered. … I would hope that this would not take place in any amendments that come to the floor,” Bullard said.

While Bullard is term-limited, her son, Rep. Dwight Bullard, is widely believed to be interested in running for his mother’s seat.

Rich said the district represented by Bullard wasn’t actually drawn as a minority access seat.

“The growth in the population has been Hispanic in that area,” she said after the meeting. “We’re not supposed to be gerrymandering, we’re supposed to deal with the demographics that are facing us.”

Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the idea of Rich bringing the maps directly to the floor, saying that would undermine the public vetting of the maps. That, in turn, brought a response from Rep. Audrey Gibson, a black Democrat from Jacksonville.

“I’m a little bit surprised that we are denigrating a member for following our own process,” Gibson said. “I just cannot believe my ears.”

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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.