Dissent and distrust continued to overshadow redistricting discussions Wednesday as the Florida Senate embarked on another long day of deliberations over maps.
“We pick out pieces of rulings when it serves our purpose,’’ said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon after listening to answers from the Senate's legal team during the second day of hearings on Senate redistricting. “…I just don’t find any consistency in this. I think I’ve lost confidence.”
Lee and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, spent much of the meeting trying to ask the question: where do the base maps address the complaints by the challengers? The answer, from Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and the Senate’s lead attorney: the draft maps don’t address the plaintiffs complaints and they don't need to.
The League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs sued the Senate for violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when it drew the 2012 redistricting map.
The Legislature agreed to settle the lawsuit and returned this week for a three-week special session to redraw the map.
The Senate lawyers said its legal theory is based on the notion that the plaintiffs complaints are just allegations and they are ignoring them and starting over in redrawing the Senate maps.
Bad idea, said Lee, the Senate’s appropriations chairman and former Senate president.
"All of these maps may have changed but the concepts that the plaintiffs found unconstitutional have not always been addressed in these maps,’’ he said.
For example, the plaintiffs note that crossing Tampa Bay to create districts to benefit incumbents violates the constitution. Draft maps 9070, 9072 and 9076 all cross Tampa Bay to link communities in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in Senate District 22, now held by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
But Galvano, and the Senate’s lead attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, say that while the lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs provoked them to admit the enacted map was unconstitutional, it’s not enough for them to admit their allegations are right.
Instead, Cantero told the Senate committee, the Senate believes all of its draft maps are constitutional.
The goal, he said, is “not necessarily accepting the plaintiffs’ version of fact but being able to justify your version of facts…If we have a rational justification for it then it is perfectly legitimate.’’
Lee pressed: where is the justification? They broke for lunch and when they returned they didn't immediately return to the answer.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the League of Women Voters president Pamela Goodman on Monday, Galvano invited the plaintiffs in the case to appear before the Senate redistricting committee saying he would “welcome your thoughts and input on the six proposed base maps.” Download 10.19.15_Galvano_re_LWV_invite
The lead lawyer for the league declined but, in a letter signed Tuesday, warned that the Senate may not want to ignore their initial complaints.
“As you know, in May 2015, our clients provided detailed, written objections to twenty eight of the unconstitutional districts in 9030 [the enacted Senate map.],’’ wrote David King, the league’s lawyer. Download 2015 10-20 King-Levesque
“We were disappointed to learn that in drafting the six base maps, Legislative staff did not even consider those objections. Rather, the Legislature's base maps reflect new methodologies and approaches, ones that appear to prioritize reducing county splits above other Tier-2 considerations.
“Of course we will continue to monitor the Legislature's process and will, if necessary, provide feedback at the appropriate time. We remain optimistic that the Legislature will do what it must to assure that its ultimate approach results in the most constitutionally compliant map possible, such that additional input from our clients will not be necessary.”
Meanwhile, there is one area where the Senate lawyers did want to pay attention to the plaintiff’s complaint: the area of the district numbering. The incumbent senators in even-number Senate districts would not have to run for re-election in 2016 because they were elected to four-year terms in 2014, the lawyers said they have concluded.
“There is nothing in the complaint that objects to the numbering system so the system that is used is based on a random drawing process,’’ Cantero told the committee.
The districts would undergo a mathematical formula created by Redistricting Staff Director Jay Ferrin to determine what 20 districts had the greatest percentage of the population in their existing districts and they would then not have to run for re-election.
Lee became agitated. “We just want to keep wanting to have it both ways,'' he said. "I just feel like every time we get an answer we’re living in an alternative universe here. We know what we want the answer to be but it never comes out that way.”