January 20, 2016

Florida Legislature won't appeal redistricting ruling; sets districts for 2016 election

@JeremySWallace

The Florida Legislature is giving up the fight and will not contest a court ruling that redraws all of the state’s 40 state senate districts for the 2016 election cycle.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he told Senate President Andy Gardiner on Wednesday that the Legislature should let court-ordered maps go into effect, even though he says there were legal issues that were open to appeal.

“My recommendation is for us not to appeal, and the Senate President has agreed,” Galvano said.

The decision leaves the state with a new map that will recast Florida's political landscape, giving millions of people new representation and bolstering Democratic chances in 2016. Voters in South Tampa, East Hillsborough, and large portions of Pasco County will get new state senators, as a result of the map. In Miami-Dade in casts incumbents against one another in potential new districts in a presidential election cycle.

Democratic party analysts say the new maps are fairer and gives them a better chance of winning additional seats in a Florida Senate that has been dominated by the Republican Party for most of the last two decades.

The decision not to appeal also ends a tumultuous process that cost taxpayers over $11 million, led to four trials, three special sessions and eight rulings from the Florida Supreme Court.

Circuit Judge George Reynolds in Tallahassee ruled in late December that he was rejecting the Senate’s latest attempts to draw district lines and turning instead to a map backed by a coalition of votings rights groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. 

Galvano said after that ruling that the Legislature was considering appealing the decision or even requesting a re-hearing of the case. But Galvano said Wednesday that he’s ready to accept the court ruling and move forward with the new districts in place for the 2016 election cycle. He said the issues he has can be addressed in future redistrictings, which happen ever 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed.

The Legislature has been trying -- and failing -- to draw new district lines since 2012. But those maps and subsequent redistricting efforts have been struck down by the courts after the League of Women Voters and Common Cause challenged them in court saying they violated the fair districts provision of the state constitution, which mandates that lawmakers draw political boundaries without the intent to favor incumbents or political parties.

January 15, 2016

Court sets oral argument date in Corrine Brown redistricting case

@MichaelAuslen

During the next two months, lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit filed by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, over Florida's new congressional maps will file briefs to make their case with federal judges.

But if all else fails, expect them to go to court March 25.

The U.S. District Court in Tallahassee this week set oral arguments for 9 a.m. that day "if the court determines to have a hearing or oral argument."

Specifically, the hearing would be about Brown's request for an injunction to stop her new district boundaries from going into effect.

The Florida Supreme Court officially approved a new map last year after ruling against the Legislature in a case that claimed unconstitutional partisan bias went into drawing Florida's congressional districts.

Brown's new district -- District 5 -- is dramatically different from her current one. This, she claims, disenfranchises voters in some of the African-American communities between Jacksonville and Orlando that she has represented for more than two decades.

But if the district court wants to intervene, it will have to act fast. County supervisors of elections must mail overseas ballots for the congressional primary by July 16.

January 06, 2016

Florida redistricting shuffle: Gwen Margolis to move to seek re-election in new Senate District 38

Miami Democrat Sen. Gwen Margolis said Wednesday that if the Florida Supreme Court approves the final state Senate map, she will be moving from her Coconut Grove home to seek re-election in adjacent District 38, under the court-approved state Senate map. 

Under the plan approved by the trial court, Margolis is paired in District 37 with Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, while it follows the boundaries of the City of Miami, it is now nearly evenly divided politically.  District 38 runs from Miami Beach to Aventura.
 
Margolis, 81, was first elected to the Legislature in 1981 and served for 12 years, including serving as the first woman Senate president in 1990. She was elected again to the Senate in 2010 and re-elected under the current redistricting map in 2012.
 
"She looks forward to continuing to meet with her constituents and voters who have long supported her as their state senator,” said Christian Ulvert, Margolis' campaign advisor. 

January 05, 2016

Sitting Miami-Dade senators pitted against each other in November election -- unless 2 move

@MichaelAuslen

When Circuit Judge George Reynolds approved a new state senate map last week, lawmakers’ political careers were suddenly thrown into flux. Much of that chaos hit in the middle of Miami-Dade County, where two pairs of sitting senators found themselves living in districts together.

It poses a tough choice: Move, perhaps to a more politically friendly district, or face another well established incumbent in the November election.

Two Miami-Dade lawmakers were much luckier. Sens. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, will run for reelection in very similar districts to those they represent now. However, because of random district numbers drawn Tuesday and the Senate’s staggered terms, both will face term limits two years earlier than they would have under the previous plan.

Perhaps the biggest question mark hangs over Sens. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, who were both drawn into District 40 near Kendall.

Most of Bullard’s current district lies to the south and west, stretching down to the Keys and in the expanses of western Miami-Dade County. Either could be a good place for Bullard — a household name in the area after his mother, Larcenia Bullard, spent 20 years in the Legislature — to run. Both districts voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

But District 40 is heavily Hispanic, and that could offer an in for Flores.

Bullard said Tuesday that he hasn’t yet decided where he will run. He hopes “diplomacy” can be used to avert a full-on collision with Flores.

“Flores needs to decide what is better suited for her,” he said.

If Flores moves, it’d only be for a two-year stint before she would face term limits. But she is close with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the next Senate president, and is a likely pick for a top spot in the chamber’s leadership.

On the county’s Atlantic coast, it’s likely a showdown between Sens. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, could be averted by a convenient move.

The map approved by Reynolds put both senators in District 37, the area around the city of Miami. It’s territory Diaz de la Portilla and his relatives have won for years, but it also favors Democrats during presidential elections.

But just to the north lies District 38, stretching from Miami Beach to Aventura, a lock for virtually any Democrat and especially for Margolis, who has represented the region for decades.

Would she move, though, for just two years in office? Margolis didn’t return Times/Herald calls for comment.

Still, it sounds like she might. Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, plans to run for that seat as soon as Margolis is done in the Legislature. And he doesn’t plan on running in 2016.

“The senator has told me she is going to run for reelection in that seat, that she is moving from Coconut Grove and she is going to move up into the district,” he said.

Tampa Bay area state senators on collision course for GOP primary because of new redistricting maps

@JeremySWallace

State Sen. Wilton Simpson is not moving under any circumstances, saying suggestions he might move to a new district to avoid facing another incumbent and preserve his status as a future Senate leader “nonsense.”

Simpson, R-Trilby, said he will run for re-election in a the new district where his present home and farm is located, but which also includes the home of Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, who also plans to seek re-election. Legg said he's running for re-election and suggested Simpson could move south into a different district to avoid a primary fight that has been made possible because of the latest turn in the state’s years long redistricting saga.

"I've raised my family here," Simpson said. "I've spent a lof of my life here. My intention is to run where my seat has been drawn. This is a good seat."

A state court adopted new redistricting maps last week that put Legg and Simpson into the same district. On Tuesday, the Legislature assigned district numbers to the 40 districts adopted by the court, putting Simpson and Legg into what is the new 10th District. That district will include all of Citrus and Hernando counties, plus most of central and northeastern Pasco County.

A Simpson-Legg Republican primary battle could have a lot more riding on it than just who represents Trinity, Land O’Lakes and Trilby. Simpson is in line to become the Florida Senate President in 2021 - marking potentially the first time ever Pasco County would have a resident in that powerful position. But if Legg were to defeat Simpson in a primary, that possibility would be over.

Continue reading "Tampa Bay area state senators on collision course for GOP primary because of new redistricting maps" »

January 04, 2016

Odd (& even) politics: Florida auditor will renumber Senate districts

It's a numbers game with real political consequences. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has asked the state auditor general to randomly assign numbers to all 40 Senate districts Tuesday, as directed by Circuit Judge George Reynolds' redistricting decision issued on Dec. 30.

All 40 Senate seats will be up for election next fall for the second time in four years -- an unprecedented consequence of Florida's redistricting saga.

Superstitious senators will be crossing fingers and rubbing rabbits' feet to get the numbers they're seeking -- and then they may be calling their favorite Realtor.

Twenty Senate districts will be assigned odd numbers and 20 will be given even numbers. Senators who are assigned odd numbers would run for four-year terms in the fall, and senators in even-numbered districts would run for two-year terms, followed by four-year terms in 2018 -- if they're not termed out by then. Those "even" senators would potentially serve an additional two years for a total of 10 years, under the Florida system of electing senators to staggered terms.

No one in the Senate appears to have more at stake in the numbers game than Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, needs a winnable even-numbered district to fulfill his ambition to be Senate president in the 2020-2022 cycle. Simpson's "lucky number" on the court-approved remapping of districts is 18 (his current district number, and the number tentatively assigned to a new Pasco-Hillsborough Senate seat). If it doesn't happen, Simpson will be termed out of office in 2020.

Continue reading "Odd (& even) politics: Florida auditor will renumber Senate districts" »

December 30, 2015

Judge approves voting rights' groups remap of Florida Senate

A judge on Wednesday approved a new map of Florida's 40 Senate districts drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups, dealing yet another political and legal setback to the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Senate had no immediate comment on Circuit Judge George Reynolds' order. His 73-page ruling orders the Senate to randomly assign district numbers to all 40 districts within three days of a final judgment being entered.

Republicans currently control 26 seats and Democrats 14. After reviewing the approved map, known as CPS-4a, Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell posted on Twitter that the map appears to improve Democrats' chances of gaining seats next fall.

Corrine Brown files new challenge to congressional district changes

From the News Service of Florida:

Arguing that an east-west configuration for her district "combines far-flung communities worlds apart culturally and geographically," lawyers for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown asked a federal judge Tuesday to void Florida's latest congressional redistricting plan.

The complaint marks the next phase of a legal battle over the state's political boundaries that has raged for nearly four years. The first two drafts of a congressional plan --- approved by the Legislature in 2012 and tweaked in 2014 --- were thrown out by state courts for violating a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.

But the reorientation of Brown's congressional district, which has long ambled from Jacksonville to Orlando but now would run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west, prompted the Democratic congresswoman to file suit this year against the change. After the Florida Supreme Court officially approved the new district early this month, Brown was allowed to update her case Tuesday.

The challenge goes to great lengths to portray the areas encompassed by the Jacksonville-to-Orlando version of the district as a distinct region that includes African-American voters with similar interests and problems. It traces a history that includes the Ku Klux Klan, baseball player Jackie Robinson's spring training and the book "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Dozens of voters from the area joined Brown's lawsuit.

"Black voters have reaped substantial benefits by being in a district in which they can elect a candidate of their choice, including having a representative who understands the needs of the community she represents, brings infrastructure money to the district, helps black residents obtain government contracts, brings job fairs to the district, and is very accessible to her constituents," the complaint says.

Brown's Jacksonville-to-Orlando seat has long been at the center of conflicts in Florida over gerrymandered districts. Critics see it as an attempt to aid Republican campaigns, especially those in Central Florida, by concentrating African-American Democratic voters in a single district. But supporters say it ensures those voters the chance to elect a candidate of their choice.

Continue reading "Corrine Brown files new challenge to congressional district changes" »

December 28, 2015

Congressional map shake-up: 'We're closer to fairness'

In the aftermath of another redistricting shakeup, Florida's congressional delegation is in flux as a court-approved map threatens to whittle away at the 17-member Republican majority while Democrats gain strength.

December’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court approved a map drawn by a coalition of voting groups — and it is having a ripple effect from Miami to Tallahassee.

At least five of the 27 members of Congress are edged out of their current districts. Four incumbents – U.S. Reps. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill, David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, Ron DeSantis, R-Port Orange, and Patrick Murphy, D-West Palm Beach — are not running for reelection. U.S. Reps. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, are considering moving to new territory.

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, is now forced to run in a district with a majority of Republicans or consider another race.

In Miami, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 230,000 voters, U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now have districts filled with many more Democrats.

And, across the state, incumbents find themselves representing communities that have never voted for them — prompting challengers, who otherwise may have waited on the sidelines for incumbents to retire, to consider running now.

"We’re closer to fairness,’’ said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and an expert on redistricting.

“You’re probably looking at Democrats getting 12 and Republicans 15 in 2016, rather than 10 and 17,” he predicted. The incremental shift will continue when Ros-Lehtinen, a popular Republican incumbent, retires. “That seat is likely to swing to the Democrat and then you’re looking at a 14-13 split in the delegation. That’s pretty fair.”

More here.

December 18, 2015

Senate trial closes; will judge draw maps?

After eight rulings by the Florida Supreme Court and an admission of guilt by legislators, the Senate redistricting trial ended Thursday with a Tallahassee judge asking the parties to tell him their top choices for a new Senate map.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds now must decide whether to accept one of four proposals offered by the challengers — a coalition of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals — or a map drawn by Senate staff but never voted on by the Legislature.

The challengers said Reynolds should pick one of two maps that create four Hispanic-majority districts in Miami-Dade County, boosting the number of Hispanic-dominated seats from three and opening the door to a Hispanic district dominated by Democrats.

The Senate’s lawyers, who operated solo during the four-day trial as the House sat on the sidelines, told the judge that if he rejects the Senate’s proposed map — the Senate’s first choice — they would like him to draw his own. The Senate offered up its map drawer to work with the plaintiffs’ map drawer to do the job. More here.