Takeaways from Tallahassee: The ‘know when to fold ’em’ edition

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When the 2012 legislative session started, it would have been safe to predict that redistricting would be the most-difficult — and politically divisive — issue to resolve.

But with House votes Friday, the Republican-dominated Legislature is close to finalizing its redistricting plans. The maps likely will face court challenges from Democrats and other critics, but Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, praised what he described as a “careful, thoughtful and deliberative process.”

Supporters of resort casinos and prison privatization can only wish their proposals had moved so smoothly.

The controversial casino idea appears dead this session, after House sponsor Erik Fresen, R-Miami, decided Friday against taking his chances with a vote in the Business & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, meanwhile, had to put off a vote this week on privatizing prisons across the southern half of the state after running into bipartisan opposition.

A round-up via The News Service of Florida.

DISTRICTS COMING INTO FOCUS: House members voted along party lines Friday to pass legislative and congressional maps and send them back to the Senate for final approval next week.

Republican leaders said the maps follow constitutional requirements, including complying with a 2010 ballot initiative aimed at eliminating gerrymandering. They said, for example, the maps will lump some incumbent Republicans into the same districts and also split fewer cities and counties than in the past.

“At the end of the day, this decision is bigger than us, this map is bigger than us, the Constitution is bigger than any one of us,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

But Democrats blasted the maps, saying they were designed to help elect Republicans and violate the 2010 ballot initiative, which was known as the Fair Districts amendment. The Democratic arguments also set the stage for a legal fight in the coming months.

“This vote by the GOP is nothing less than a slap-in-the face to the 63 percent of Florida voters who approved Fair Districts — the maps passed today by the Florida House are unconstitutional, pure and simple,” state Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said in a statement Friday. “They represent just the type of partisan gerrymandering and incumbent protection voters rejected in 2010.”

CASINOS BILL GOES OUT WITH A WHIMPER

For weeks, swarms of lobbyists and public-relations people waged a battle in Tallahassee about “destination” resort casinos. Meanwhile, folks at home turned on their TVs and saw ads touting – or criticizing — the proposed move into a new realm of gambling.

But after all of that, the issue appeared to die Friday without House members taking a vote.

House sponsor Fresen decided against having the Business & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee vote on the bill (HB 487), after it looked like the panel would reject it. Barring a miracle, that dooms the issue for the 2012 session.

The bill’s opponents, such as Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson, praised the move.

“For all intents and purposes, today’s decision to postpone consideration of the gambling legislation is a decision to let what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas and frees up the Florida Legislature to address critical issues facing our state,” Wilson said in a prepared statement.

But supporters signaled they would keep working on the issue, which could come back next year.

“Private investment is critical to the health of our industry and our state’s economy, and we firmly believe that this great opportunity should not be put to the wayside,” said Carol Bowen, a vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter. “It’s important that the conversation continues on this issue and the job-creating efforts in Florida never rest.”

PRISON PRIVATIZATION SHACKLED

Haridopolos and Budget Chairman JD Alexander have pushed since last year’s session to privatize prisons across the southern part of the state, arguing it would save money that could be used for other needs such as education.

But when Haridopolos brought the issue to the Senate floor this week, he ran into opposition from a coalition of Democrats and Republicans. That forced Haridopolos to twice postpone moving forward with the privatization bill, as he tried to gather enough votes to pass it.

The standoff intensified Wednesday, when Haridopolos stripped Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, of his role as chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Fasano has been perhaps the most-outspoken critic of the privatization plan.

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said he didn’t think Fasano was committed to making needed budget cuts, which includes the prison-privatization plan.

“I’m asking other budget chairmen to make difficult cuts,” Haridopolos said. “It became clear to me that Sen. Fasano was not willing to make those difficult cuts.”

But Fasano harshly criticized the decision and said he was standing up for the “little guy and gal.”

“No matter how big the bully in the schoolyard may be, if the loss of a chairmanship is the result of taking a stand for what is right, I wear that loss as a badge of honor,” Fasano said.

Haridopolos acknowledged this week what was obvious when the vote was postponed – the votes may not be there to pass it.

“It’s super-close,” he said. “There’s a good chance we could bring it up and not win.”

STORY OF THE WEEK: The proposal to allow up to three mega-resort casinos in Florida appeared to die, when the House sponsor pulled it from consideration in a House subcommittee. The subcommittee chairman and House Rules chairman both indicated the bill will not come up again this session in the House.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It’s also a comfort today as I hear testimony and debate that I’m not the only one moving. I hope it will help the housing market in Florida, what we’re doing here today.”–Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican whose home was drawn into a district with another incumbent.

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.