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Senate Democrats divided over first redistricting vote

The Democratic Party's unity veneer cracked on Tuesday as Senate Democrats divided over whether to support the introduction of the Senate's proposal congressional and state Senate maps.

The proposals, which drew no amendments despite criticisms from some Democrats, were approved for introduction by a 26-3 vote of the committee. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston rallied against the proposals, saying they were unconstitutional but could persuade only two of the eight Democrats at the meeting to join her: Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

“I believe we have some serious problems with the maps. The only districts that really look different are the ones where the seats are termed out and there is no incumbent," Rich said. “We need to go back to work and to figure out a way to do what the voters mandated us to do.”

Rich offered specifics as to why she believe the maps violate the requirements of the Fair Districts amendments: the Senate map includes District 14, drawn to encompass the Republican counties of Clay and Bradford and the Democratic-leaning county of Alachua. She said it is designed "to elect an incumbent" and "won't elect a Democrat for the next 10 years."

The proposed Senate District 9, which includes western Orange and eastern Lake counties but shimmies up into Winter Park to include the home territory of Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando "is clearly gerrymandered,'' Rich said. And District 34, the district Rich now holds slices through western Broward and Palm Beach counties and "is gerrymandered all the way up to the northern tip of Palm Beach County,'' she said. 

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach, said she has an amendment "to fix the Palm Beach issue" when the committee meets again in January. 

Gaetz noted that despite their complaints, no Democrats had offered amendments or submitted their own maps by the deadline for Tuesday's vote. "I've been waiting five months to say this,'' he quipped. "Show me the map."

Rich said she will have a map or amendments in January.

Then, as if pouring salt in the wound, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, sent out a press release after the meeting noting that she "joined a majority of Democratic Senators in voting to introduce" the committee's proposal for State Senate and Congressional district boundaries as an official committee bill.

“It is imperative that we do not hold up this process any longer,” Sachs said in her statement. “We have an obligation to the people of Florida to address the challenges our state faces. Delaying the redistricting process would force us to compromise that obligation.”