November 02, 2015

Questions raised about House's intentions for changes in Senate map; Jack Latvala sees revenge

As House members convene to discuss proposed changes to a Senate redistricting map this afternoon, questions are emerging about what was the intent behind the changes.

In the House's proposed Duval County-based African American minority access district, for example, the black voter registration is dropped below any level previously proposed in a base map drawn by House and Senate staff.

"I can't wait to hear the explanation,'' said Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who now holds the seat. "It's comical and certainly unnecessary,'' she said. 

Her current district includes a black voting age population of 43 percent and the proposed Senate map, and similar proposal by the redistricting challengers, lowered that to 42.7 percent but under the map proposed by House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, the percentage drops to 41 percent. 

"I’m not sure what the overall strategy is there,'' Gibson told the Herald/Times. "Is his intention to have two Republicans represent Duval in the way he has it drawn? But every time you chip away you chip away at the ability of minorities to elect a candidate of your choice."

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Redistricting redux: Oliva map, Dem gains and so much more to come

Oliva mapIt's the first day of the third week of the three-week redistricting session today and the House Select Committee on Redistricting is set to meet from noon to four to decide how to bless the House version of a compromise map for the Florida Senate. 

The committee has been silent for two weeks as it awaited the Senate to finish its work and send over its proposal. That ended bitterly last week as a divided Senate voted 22-18 to pass the map, which included a Miami-Dade redraw that did two things: made the Miami-based Hispanic majority seats more logically aligned but also helped to assure that incumbents Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores didn't face each other. 

When its comes to 22-18, that's the number of Republican to Democratic districts in the map being proposed by House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, which is likely to get the thumbs up today in committee. That gives Democrats technically four more seats over the 26-14 divide today but, remember, Dems haven't always done that well in capturing seats in purple districts. No telling if this passes, that will change.

Meanwhile, there is no early end in sight. The House will be at this through Wednesday, when it is scheduled to vote out the map. The Senate will then take it up on Thursday and Friday. The trial court will hear arguments on Dec. 10, so don't expect the Florida Supreme Court to rule on the final Senate districts until sometime in January. 

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October 30, 2015

Jose Oliva rejects Senate's Miami plan, draws a map that favors Republicans 22-18

Screen shot 2015-10-30 at 3.10.52 PMHouse Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva quietly rejected a plan to revamp Miami's three Hispanic districts as proposed by the Florida Senate on a 22-18 vote on Wednesday. 

A draft map, S9079, that Oliva said merged the best of the Senate plan, with some of the modifications offered by the redistricting challengers, was filed Friday in preparation for the House Redistricting Committee meeting on Monday. 

The proposal restores the configuration of the Miami districts to an arrangement close to one originally drawn by House and Senate staff in what was labeled base map S9078, and it roundly rejects the changes offered by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, in an effort to keep Little Havana whole. 

Oliva told the Herald/Times that Diaz de la Portilla's change, however, "makes me uneasy" as he wanted to avoid court criticism for violating the Fair District's law's ban on drawing districts to favor or disfavor incumbents. In addition to strengthening the Republican performance of the Miami districts, Diaz de la Portilla's changes also removed the possibility that he would be paired with Sens. Anitere Flores, D-Miami, and Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay and it allowed for Littla Havana, the home of his brother, Alex, to remain whole in his district. 

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October 28, 2015

Jack Latvala and others react to the Don Gaetz rebuke

Reaction was tempered but swift to former Senate President Don Gaetz’s rare and personal 17-minute rebuke against fellow Sen. Jack Latvala on Wednesday.

“It seems now Sen. Gaetz is trying to deflect some of the blame for this whole fiasco,’’ Latvala told the Herald/Times.. “I’ve got a reward for anyone that can find any mention of my name in the Supreme Court opinion of having any secret meetings. It ain’t there. His is.”

Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege,’’ a rule that prevails over all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming the need for the special session to redo the maps on him.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ he said. “…But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

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Jose Oliva on Senate map: 'I've got a real concern' about incumbency issues

The chair of the House redistricting committee said Wednesday that while the narrowly-approved Senate redistricting map has some acceptable features, he is “very uneasy” about the apparent incumbency protection elements.

Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes said he feared the changes the Senate made to the staff-drawn map could led the court to conclude the map violates what is considered “tier one” standard that prohibits lawmakers from intentionally protecting incumbents or political parties.

“Numerically, it is in fact a more compact map,’’ Oliva said in an interview with the Herald/Times on Wednesday. “The concern of course is all that has been said regarding the tier one – who has spoken to whom – and I’ve got a real concern about all of that.”

The amended map has the effect of protecting the re-election chances of the amendment sponsor, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and of Sen. Anitere Flores, also of Miami. Both had been drawn into the same Miami-Dade district in the original Senate map — along with Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay.

Diaz de la Portilla’s change now gives Flores and Diaz de la Portilla separate districts and increases the ability of his brother, Alex Diaz de la Portilla to replace him.  Miguel, the elder brother, lives in Coral Gables while Alex lives in Little Havana. Both are in the same district under his proposed map.

Oliva said he was also encouraged by the map submitted late Tuesday by the challengers in the redistricting lawsuit, a coalition of voters groups led by the League of Women Voters. It was not considered by the Senate and Senate Reapportionment Committee chairman Bill Galvano said he expects it will be part of the debate with the House.

“I thought their map was helpful and, unfortunately the Senate didn’t have that to act up,’’ Oliva said. “It is something we will look at. It’s still early, but it looks like some parts of that map could create improvements.”

His greatest concern about the plaintiff’s map is the reduction of black voters in an African American-based seat in Broward County, District 31.

Oliva said the House will review the two proposals and prepare alternatives by the Friday deadline. The House Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet on Monday.

“Now, I’ve got what the Senate passed and what the plaintiffs sent and, hopefully, we can put something together that is a legislatively-approved map,’’ he said. “The goal here is to pass a constitutionally-compliant, legislatively-approved map.”

Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18

via @MaryEllenKlas

The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators pointedly used the opportunity to finger each other for the chamber’s mistakes.

Democrats voted together in opposition to the map, which they said would be struck down by the court as unconstitutional violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans.

Following the debate, however, angry emotions spilled into view as Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege," a rule that supercedes all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming Gaetz for the Legislature having to redo the Senate map.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ he said, reading from prepared remarks. “I take no satisfaction from this exchange. I did not seek it. But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

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October 27, 2015

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla defends map, admits he discussed it with his brother

Miami Republicans As Miami Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla successfully pushed an amendment to the Senate's redistricting map Tuesday, he was faced with the obvious question: does this benefit you -- or your brother.

Diaz de la Portilla is scheduled to be term limited in 2018 but his brother, Alex, is rumored to be interested in returning to the Senate as well.

The amended map has the effect of protecting his re-election chances and those of Sen. Anitere Flores, also of Miami. Both had been drawn into the same Miami-Dade district in the original Senate map — along with Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay.

Diaz de la Portilla’s change now gives Flores and Diaz de la Portilla separate districts and increases the ability of his brother, Alex Diaz de la Portilla to replace him.  Miguel, the elder brother, lives in Coral Gables while Alex lives in Little Havana. Both are in the same district under his proposed map. 

But, when challenged by reporters Tuesday, Diaz de la Portilla said the change is defensible. 

The current map "basically disenfranchises Hispanics in Miami-Dade County,'' he said. "This map is an improvement over any of the maps offered." 

Doesn't his change also remove the conflict with Flores? Won't a judge raise questions about that? 

"It has absolutely nothing to do,'' with that, Diaz de la Portilla told reporters. "I think the record is very, very clear and you can go to the recordings of when the maps were drawn -- and they're all there, it's a matter of public record, I encourage you to take a listen. You'll see the key here is we've had three Hispanic seats in Miami Dade County for almost 30 years now."

The map originally proposed by Senate leaders, "merged Doral with Little Havana," packed Hispanics and split Little Havana. He said the so-called functional analysis showed "it did not perform for three Hispanic districts." 

Did you consult or mention these things with your brother?

"Oh, I've mentioned it to my brother, of course. I've mentioned the idea of Miami Dade County preserving three Hispanic majority seats because it's important to my community."

Photo: Miami Sens. Diaz de la Portilla, Flores and Rene Garcia talk on Senate floor during redistricting debate.

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Challengers blast Miguel Diaz de la Portilla map, submit their own alternative

As another tense chapter in Florida's redistricting drama unfolded Tuesday, the challengers added to the suspense by blasting the proposed Senate map as an incumbency protection vehicle and offering up their own alternative map for the Senate to consider.

In a letter to Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the coalition of voters groups led by the League of Women Voters said they were “very disheartened to witness” the passage of an amendment Tuesday by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. They alleged it was a violation of the constitutional ban on incumbency protection, known as a "tier one" standard. 

The amendment “unpairs Senator Diaz de la Portilla — the amendment's sponsor — from facing Senator Flores in District 40 in [map] 9090, and increases the Republican performance of Senator Diaz de la Portilla's new district in 9124 [District 37],'' wrote David King, lead lawyer for the challengers. "These tier-one violations cannot be ignored, particularly when Senators have already criticized the base map selection process as one designed to avoid paring incumbents."

King’s letter included an alternative map drawn by a redistricting expert and Democratic consultant John O'Neill, who drew the map approved by the court in the challenge to the congressional redistricting map. King enumerated the defects in the Legislature's map and requested that lawmakers consider theirs instead.

"As compared with the base maps, the enclosed alternative remedial map, CPS-l.doj ("CPS-l"), offered on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause (the "Coalition") has significantly lower population deviation; better respects political and geographic boundaries, with only 10 split cities (and only 23 aggregate city splits) and 15 split counties; and has superior average compactness, with an average .49 Reock score and average .80 Convex-Hull score,'' King wrote. 

"... In contrast, it appears that the Legislature strategically strung together counties and configured districts in a manner that resulted in significantly higher deviations than necessary. 9090 has many more districts with diminished compactness, deviates more from established boundaries, and creates a more favorable map for Republicans in the process."

Here's King's letter:  Download 2015 10-27 King-Galvano and Oliva re Maps

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Miami-Dade becomes the go-to fix to bring the needed votes for Senate map

Faced with a close vote on a leadership-backed map to redraw state Senate districts, the Florida Senate agreed to modify three minority-based districts in Miami-Dade County Tuesday, hoping to win the crucial votes needed to send the proposal to the House and win support for the revision in court.

The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, argued that change was needed to make the districts more compact, in compliance with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution, and to preserve the voting strength of Hispanic voters. 

He argued that the original map, which was drawn by House and Senate staff and approved on a party-line vote last week by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, diminished the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice.

But the change also had the effect of protecting the re-election chances of Diaz de la Portilla and Sen. Anitere Flores. Both had been drawn into the same sprawling Miami-Dade district -- along with Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay -- in the original map advanced by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate redistricting chairman.

Diaz de la Portilla’s change now gives Flores and Diaz de la Portilla separate districts, increases the ability of his brother, Alex Diaz de la Portilla to replace him, but keeps Bullard’s home on the edge of the district now held by Flores. 

“This is a constitutional map,’’ Diaz de la Portilla told the Senate, before they approved the amendment on a voice vote. “This the right map for Florida and the right map for Miami-Dade County.”

Galvano defended the original districts but supported the modifications after rejecting more than a dozen other amendments offered by Democrats. 

The map immediately drew criticism from the challengers, a coalition of voters groups led by the League of Women Voters who successfully sued the Senate for violating the constitution. In a letter to Galvano and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, they said they were “very disheartened to witness” the passage of Diaz de la Portilla’s amendment and called it a violation of the incumbency protection provisions, known as tier-one violations. 

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Supreme Court rejects Rep. Dan Webster's request for 'seat at the table' in redistricting case

@MichaelAuslen

U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, won't be allowed to intervene in the congressional redistricting case that he fears could eliminate his district, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

In a short response to the request Webster filed last Thursday, the Court rejected Webster's argument that he deserves a "seat at the table." A new congressional map approved by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis violates the Fair Districts amendments by "disfavoring" an incumbent, Webster argued. That incumbent: himself.

"Equity would require that all interests be heard on this issue, especially that of a sitting United States Congressman about to be radically impacted," the filing by Webster's lawyer James Wilkes says.

State legislators, however, disagreed.

Lawyers for the House and Senate wrote that they didn't think Webster should be allowed to be part of the case "at this late stage." But they had no problem with allowing the former Republican speaker of the Florida House to file a brief on his behalf.

The case is intended to redraw maps that the Supreme Court says violates the state constitution. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 10, after lawmakers finish a special session to redraw state Senate maps in Tallahassee.