Takeaways from Tallahassee: The week that was in Florida politics

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Sharkey’s restaurant had just gone back to regular hours in the Capitol when lawmakers returned again this week to redraw political boundaries stricken a week earlier by the state’s highest court.

Though likely not to draw the crowds that kept the 10th Floor coffee bar pumping espresso at a Neapolitan clip, the special session on reapportionment did its part to extend the capitol’s busy season, assuring another week of more people in suits than kids in school groups.

The mission? Redraw at least a handful of state Senate districts that the Florida Supreme Court said did not adhere to a constitutional amendment meant to ensure that the most political of processes — the redrawing of political boundaries – was done in a non-political manner.

While the House apparently accomplished the task with Solomon-like effect, the 40-member Senate’s plan was rejected in a 5-2 ruling by the court.

While Republican leaders returned to fight another day, former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano dropped her lance midweek after a circuit judge ruled she cannot run for Congress as a Democrat The quotable former Republican had challenged her exclusion from what is already a crowded field of Democrats hoping to unseat freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland.

Other than that, the capital city was largely quiet following a legislative session that brought a smile to the face of Gov. Rick Scott, whose wish list was largely filled.

A round-up of the week via the News Service of Florida.

REDISTRICTING BEGINS

Following an expected course of action, the Florida Senate began looking Wednesday for ways to respond to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the upper chamber’s redistricting maps, opening an extraordinary session to repair the plan.
Unlike the House, which received the high court’s blessing, the Senate plan did not comply with provisions of Amendment 5, which requires lawmakers to draw compact districts that favor no party or candidate.
Senate leaders said the court affirmed the lion’s share of the Senate map by specifically citing just eight districts in its ruling. Changes could be narrowly aimed at fixing those districts – though minor changes in a district’s lines, by necessity, affect neighboring districts.

Still, the Senate said it will try to hone in mostly on the eight problem areas.

“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.

Critics, however, said that might not prove possible.
“There is no such thing as tweaking the map,” said Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith.

Along with the physical lines, the numbering of the districts is also a disputed factor. 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.

Because of that, 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 term limit for lawmakers.

The question now is how to allocate the numbers – in other words, how many and which should get an extra two years.

Justices said that was a problem with the plan too.

“Adopting a renumbering system that significantly advantages incumbents by increasing the length of time that they may serve by two years most assuredly favors incumbents,” Justice Barbara Pariente wrote, referring to one of the things the new amendments proscribe, helping out current seatholders. “Further, purposefully manipulating the numbering of the districts in order to allow incumbents to serve in excess of eight years would also appear to frustrate the intent of the voters when the term limits amendment was adopted.”But in his dissent, Chief Justice Charles Canady said the majority was reaching — noting that the length of the terms doesn’t actually make it easier for any member of the Senate to win re-election.”The numbering of the Senate districts is totally unrelated to any advantage incumbent senators will obtain vis-a-vis challenger candidates,” Canady wrote.

The session was barely noticeable this week – because lawmakers didn’t really do much. The new version of the Senate maps will be drawn up by staff this weekend, with a discussion of it and vote on it planned for Tuesday in the Senate Reapportionment Committee. With a floor vote in the Senate planned by the end of the week, the House would then be able to follow suit with a pro forma vote on the new plan by the end of the month.
COURT: ARGENZIANO CAN’T RUN AS A DEM.

For at least one candidate, the upcoming decision over whether the state drew Congressional boundaries in a fair way will have little effect because the former Republican found out this week she can’t run in the party with which she now identifies.

Argenziano wanted to join a Democratic primary field that now includes state Rep. Leonard Bembry, former Sen. Al Lawson, attorney Alvin Peters and environmental activist Jay Liles in the bid to unseat Southerland..

Argenziano, a political moderate who has done well with independent voters, had hoped she could do well in a race in which a plurality would be enough to advance into the general election. She sued over a state elections law overhaul last year that requires candidates who want to run as a member of one party to have not been a member of another party for at least one year before qualifying – about 17 months before an election.
Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer said Argenziano did not prove that she had a “fundamental right” to run as a Democrat — something that would have required the state to prove that the elections law was constitutional. And, she had not proven the law was unconstitutional.
After having some time to think, following the ruling, Argenziano said she would not continue to fight the law.”The cost to appeal is too much, as well as the time involved,” she wrote on her Facebook page. She’ll likely still run as a member of the Independent Party.

While Argenziano continues to think about a new job, many Floridians have already found one.

Statistics released this week show the state’s unemployment rate in January fell to its lowest level in three years. The 9.6 percent rate was 0.3 percentage points lower than December and a hefty 1.3 points below January 2011.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Contrary to what Senator (Don) Gaetz suggests, the score is not 32-8. The score is 0-1.” Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith talking about the Republican way of looking at its loss in the Supreme Court over the district maps, versus the Democrats’ perspective.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Lawmakers returned for an extraordinary session to redraw state Senate maps after the chamber’s initial attempt got shot down by the Supreme Court.

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.