August 13, 2015

Senator proposes big changes to Tampa Bay area congressional districts

@JeremySWallace

Hillsborough County would be able to elect two members from the county to Congress under a major reconfiguration of the state’s Congressional districts proposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Lee said the county has been well represented over the years, but said there are enough people in eastern Hillsborough County that have like interests that they deserve to be in the same Congressional district represented by someone from the county. As it is now, Hillsborough County is split into four congressional districts, yet only one member is from Hillsborough: Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Other parts of Hillsborough have congressmen living in Polk County, Pinellas and even Okeechobee.

Lee said he’s done with parts of Hillsborough being sliced and diced to help balance out populations in Congressional districts in other parts of the state.

“I just feel like it’s somebody else’s turn,” Lee said.

Under the plan he proposed this morning, the 15th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, would become an almost completely Hillsborough County district that would cover Plant City, Brandon, Riverview and Sun City Center. It would also include a portion of Polk County.

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Citing Trayvon Martin and Jackie Robinson, Brown brings her opposition to the Florida Legislature

Corrine Brown House redistrictDropping the names of Trayvon Martin, Jackie Robinson and their history in Sanford Florida, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown said the proposed legislative map will violate the Voting Rights Act, and "disenfranchise the people I represent."  

"It's as if the people in my district are being penalized because I did not support Fair Districts,'' said Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat before the House Reapportionment Committee, referring to the 2010 anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment that has forced legislators into special session to redraw the congressional map for a third time.

She claimed that the Florida Supreme Court opinion was "chilling" since it was "all about me." 

"It is not just what a district looks like,'' she said, adding that the racial hostility in Ferguson and Baltimore didn't happen after Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in Seminole "because people have representation."

She cited her involvement in the black communities along her district, from Eatonville -- the oldest black town in the nation -- to Seminole County which was also once home to baseball great Jackie Robinson

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DNC member Jon Ausman fights for Leon County congressional seat

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In a last-ditch effort to keep Leon County in a single congressional district, Democratic National Committeeman Jon Ausman on Thursday accused Florida House members of knowingly proposing an illegal district map.

Ausman has proposed a 5th District map that would include all of Tallahassee Leon County and stretch across to include parts of Jacksonville. The new map presented by the House and Senate also runs from west to east but includes only parts of Leon County, the rest of which is made up by District 2.

The Legislature lifted its proposal from the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which filed lawsuits against the state over the congressional district maps. Attorney for the House, George Meros, called the configuration illegal in 2014, Ausman said, but still the Legislature used it in its map.

"Why did your attorney say that the map was illegal, change 26 districits but leave the one district he described as illegal in the map?" Ausman asked, passionately arguing in favor of his District 5 layout, which he says would likely elect a black Democrat to Congress, keeping it a minority-access seat.

"What I am telling you is you're adopting an illegal map as described by your attorney," he told lawmakers on the House panel. "You'll put a stinky rotten apple into the barrel and have tainted the whole thing."

Republican's plan to use old Congressional district maps thrown out by House panel

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It didn't take long for the House's redistricting panel on Thursday to do away with Rep. Mike Hill's plan to revert Florida's congressional districts to the thrown-out map lawmakers drew in 2012.

Hill, a Pensacola Republican, brought the plan forward because, he said, the separation of powers limits the state Supreme Court's power to overrule the Legislature on congressional districts.

"It is right and just that the Legislature assume its proper role pursuant to the separation of powers granted under Section 2, Article II of the State Constitution to deny the request of the Supreme Court of Florida that the Legislature redraw the state's congressional districts," Hill's amendment reads.

But just after Hill expounded on his convictions based on oaths to protect the constitutions of the U.S. and the state of Florida, taken as a member of the Florida House and the Air Force, House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, called it out of order.

The proclamation by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner that convened the special session calls only for proposed changes to district maps in line with the state Supreme Court's ruling that the current districts violate constitutional Fair District amendments. From the proclamation:

2. That the Legislature is convened for the sole and exclusive purpose of considering revisions to Chapter 8, Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapters 2012-2 and 2014-255, Laws of Florida, which establishes the congressional districts of the state, to amend Congressional Districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, and 27 consistent with the Florida Supreme Court opinion in League of Women Voters of Fla., et al. v. Detzner, et al., SC 14-1905, (Fla. July 9, 2015) and to make conforming changes to districts that are a direct result of the changes to the referenced Congressional Districts.

Because Hill's proposal didn't align with the Court's direction, it would have to be added to the proclamation, which requires two-thirds of the full House and Senate to approve.

Lawmakers offer a flurry of amendments to proposed congressional district map

@JeremySWallace

After days of listening to how their staff redrew Florida's 27 Congressional districts in relative seclusion, state legislators on Wednesday started taking their own turn at re-mapping the state.

By the end of the third day of the 12-day special session on redistricting, at least eight state legislators were working on alternative redistricting plans that, in some cases, would significantly change an initial base map that lawmakers started debating on Monday. The result is that who represents millions of Floridians in Congress is far from being resolved.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, took a different approach to halt the Legislature's entire redistricting process because of how it portends to change the 5th Congressional District she has represented since 1993. Brown said she was ready to file a new lawsuit calling on the federal courts to block the Florida Supreme Court's directive to change her snaking Jacksonville-to-Orlando district because it would reduce the percentage of black residents who are of the voting age.

"Today, I filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief against the continued use of any congressional redistricting plan that dilutes the voting strength of African Americans," Brown said in a statement to the media.

It was the Florida Supreme Court earlier this summer that ordered the Florida Legislature to meet in a special session to fix the state's congressional districts. They ruled that the Legislature's previous redistricting process was "tainted" and eight of the state's districts violated constitutional mandates against favoring incumbents or political parties.

Proposed amendments to the Legislature's base map make clear where the primary battle fronts will be over the course of the next two weeks. Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Leon counties were all key topics on Wednesday as legislators raced to prepare new maps in time to be considered during day long committee hearings planned on Thursday and Friday.

More here.

August 12, 2015

Congresswoman Brown files new lawsuit to block redistricting

@JeremySWallace

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, has filed a new federal lawsuit to stop a proposed redistricting plan that would dramatically change her Congressional District.

"Today, I filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief against the continued use of any congressional redistricting plan that dilutes the voting strength of African Americans,” Brown said.

The percentage of black resident of voting age population would decrease under a proposed new configuration of Brown's 5th Congressional District. Currently, Brown's district runs from Jacksonville through parts of Gainesville and into Orlando. The Legislature is proposing to redraw the district as prescribed by the state Supreme Court to instead stretch west from Jacksonville into Tallahassee.

"District 5 in Florida and minority access districts across the nation cannot, and will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought civil rights gains we have made during the last 50 years," Brown said. "As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.”

Her suit comes as the Florida Legislature is into the third day of a 12-day special session to redraw the state's congressional districts after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that some of the current districts violated the state constitution's prohibition against drawing districts with the intent to favor of disfavor incumbents or political parties. 

Three takeaways from special session

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No meetings are scheduled for today as legislators race to beat a 6 p.m. deadline to propose changes to the base redistricting map that could get its first votes on Thursday.

A Congressional plea: U.S. Rep. Dan Webster made clear he isn’t giving up his seat in Congress without a fight. Webster, R-Orlando, in Tallahassee on Tuesday, blasted the proposed base redistricting map because it would make it nearly impossible for him to win re-election because of how many registered Democrats would be added back into his district. “The new configuration for District 10 makes the seat uncompetitive for anyone in my party, including me,” Webster said.

Explaining the splits: For nearly 8 hours, state lawmakers peppered the legislative staff that drew the base maps to explain why they split counties like Sarasota, Leon and Hillsborough counties in pieces when theoretically they could have been kept more together. Responding to Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, staffers said keeping Hillsborough contained in two Congressional districts was possible, but it would have had regional implications that would have made other districts less compact. For Sarasota County, which would be split into two different districts, staffers said that decision helped improve the compactness of the neighboring 17th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee County Republican.

No Amendments: It became clear on Tuesday that even the harshest critics of the proposed base map are going to struggle to change it. That’s because members have been told that if they want to change how counties they are from are handled, they must assure every district in Florida remains in compliance with the state constitution and each has an exactly equal population. In addition lawmakers cannot do anything that unintentionally damages the chances of minority candidates from winning office. “Putting all those factors together is going to make it difficult,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who has been trying to stop the Legislature from splitting Tallahassee into two separate districts. “I’m optimistic, but I’m less optimistic than I was.”

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

First senator makes bid to amend proposed redistricting maps

@JeremySWallace

Sarasota County would be whole again and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney would continue to represent much of southern Hillsborough County under a proposed redistrict map amended state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has proposed.

Detert becomes the first state senator to formally offer an amendment to a proposed base redistricting map that legislative staff created last week as a starting point for the 12-day special session to redraw the state’s 27 Congressional Districts.

In the House, two amendments have already been filed, including one by Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth. Under Kerner's amendment, Palm Beach County's configuration would be altered from the proposed base map. Coastal areas of Palm Beach County would remain in a district represented by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach. Under the proposed base map, most of coastal Palm Beach County would shift into a district represented by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.

Sarasota County has been one of the biggest contention points under the base map because it would split the county’s population into two different districts, after being wholly in one for the last two decades. Redistricting staffers said Sarasota County’s present 16th District was compact and contiguous, but they broke it up to make a neighboring congressional district more compact.

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August 11, 2015

Update: Brown's to file lawsuit over congressional map on Wednesday

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, said she would file a lawsuit on Wednesday urging the court "in an effort to keep Congressional District 5’s boundaries as they are currently." 

Brown has argued for weeks that the court’s directive to shift her district’s configuration will weaken the rights of black voters. Last week, she tried to use a pending lawsuit challenging the state's congressional map as her lever to bring down a proposed map moving through the Florida Legislature, claiming it will result in "minority vote dilution and hamper the ability of the state's minority residents to elect a candidate of choice."

But that opportunity expired Monday when the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, William Warinner and James Miller, asked the federal court in the Northern District of Florida to dismiss the case.  Download Warriner 2015-08-10 Notice of Voluntary Dismissal

The plaintiffs had complained that Brown's district, as drawn by the Florida Legislature, was "bizarrely shaped," an "unjustifiable concentration of African-American voters" and a violation of their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.  Download FL warinner 20140116 amd complaint

Last week, Brown filed a motion to intervene in the case, claiming that the "base maps" proposed by the Legislature will result in "minority vote dilution and hamper the ability of the state's minority residents to elect a candidate of choice."

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano told the Herald/Times Tuesday that while legislators may disagree with the court’s order to draw an east-west map, they could pass it to comply with the state court and hope for a federal court to intervene.  

"We still have the potential of a federal claim with regard to the Voting Rights Act and the impact that could have,’’ he said. 

Legislators come loaded with ammunition against the court in redistricting hearing

Florida Republicans took off the gloves Tuesday in the first of two public hearings to discuss the redistricting map, accusing the Florida Supreme Court of “embedding” a map drawn by Democratic “partisan operatives” into their ruling and suggesting that if they adopt the court’s recommendations, they “investigate” the people who filed the lawsuit that forced the redrawn map. 

“How does the court come in here to run roughshod over the legislature?” asked Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, adding that the process has caused him “heartburn.”

Stung by the court ruling that ordered that eight congressional districts be drawn because the map was “tainted by improper partisan intent,’’ the legislature’s lawyers spent the morning advising that legislators had no choice but to adopt a map proposed that creates an east-west district across north Florida that would favor the election of a black to Congress. 

George Meros, lawyer for the House, and former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, lawyer for the Senate, specifically suggested they adopt the alternative Congressional District 5, proposed by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, two of the plaintiffs who sued lawmakers. The district now stretches from Jacksonville to north of Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, R-Jacksonville.

“We believe the most prudent thing to do is to have that as a safe harbor and have the east-west configuration in there,’’ Meros said, adding he “believes that the east-west configuration of CD5 is required.”

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