The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” trying to advantage Democrats.
The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,’’ wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.
But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.
The sparring legal briefs, filed late in the evening on Wednesday, offer a glimpse into the arguments in the Senate redistricting trial scheduled Dec. 14-18, before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.
Lawmakers tried and failed to adopt a Senate map for the 2016 elections during a three-week special session that ended early this month so the job was handed to Reynolds who has asked each side to present alternative maps.
The coalition named the incumbents they believed were protected by the proposed Senate map -- from Miami Sens. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, to Panhandle Sen. Greg Evers and Rep. Matt Gaetz -- and said the Legislature failed to enact a Senate map during its special session “because of partisanship, self-interest, and palace intrigue,’’ a reference to the Republican infighting over the future Senate presidency.
The Senate proposal was submitted to the court by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate redistricting chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a combination of two staff-drawn maps but it was never voted upon by the Senate.
The plaintiffs argued that the Legislature ordered staff to draw six “base” maps but never told them to “correct – or even consider – the constitutional defects identified by Plaintiffs” in the map the Senate had previously agreed had been illegally gerrymandered.