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Tom Lee’s dissent grows over Senate redistricting effort

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State Sen. Tom Lee has emerged a lone voice of Republican dissent over the ongoing effort to redraw the Senate’s district map.

Lee, a Brandon Republican and former Senate president, sits on the chamber’s redistricting panel that is meeting Wednesday. The morning part of the meeting was slowed down with technical and legal explanations.

Essentially, however, Lee’s chief complaint was: We’re not doing it right.

At one point, Lee gestured at a display of the six staff-drawn maps and asked, “Do these stand out as being better than any others?”

The Legislature is now midway through the first week of a three-week Special Session to redraw the state’s 40 senatorial districts after it settled a court challenge that its current map was gerrymandered for Republicans and incumbents.

A feisty Lee continued to challenge committee chair Bill Galvano and its outside attorney, Raoul Cantero, for presenting maps with districts that crossed Tampa Bay, for instance, calling it a “transgression.”

The Supreme Court, in a similar challenge over the state’s congressional districts, said districts shouldn’t jump the bay.

Cantero has said the court ordered new congressional districts not to cross Tampa Bay for reasons having to do with minority voting strength, but that to fix Senate districts, they had to cross the bay.

But two separate member-submitted maps, turned in Tuesday night by state Rep. Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, and state Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, have Senate districts that stay on either side of the bay.

The state constitutional amendment governing the drawing of legislative districts says they “shall consist of contiguous territory.”

Democrats on the panel also grew impatient as the conversation got focused more on sussing out exactly what wrongs the Senate had admitted.

The chamber settled the court challenge that resulted in it agreeing to redraw its political map by admitting it gerrymandered the current map.

GOP state Sen. Rob Bradley charged the League of Women Voters of Florida and other plaintiffs in that case with “gamesmanship,” leading fellow Republican David Simmons to offer that if they walked into the committee room “they would be treated with the utmost of respect.”

“They’re not coming,” shot back state Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat. “We know what their complaints are…

“Let’s go through these (maps),” he added. “Let’s lay it out and get into the meat of it.”

The committee was set to reconvene later Wednesday afternoon.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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