November 09, 2015

Court to decide which map is 'just right' in congressional redistricting hearing Tuesday


GoldilocksThe Florida Supreme Court is Goldilocks in the redistricting saga that comes before it on Tuesday as lawyers for the House, the Senate and a coalition of voters groups try to persuade the panel in robes that their map is "just right" for the 2016 elections.

They all want the Baby Bear treatment.

The House, which took the Papa Bear approach and adopted a map drawn by staff following rigid rules and no exceptions, will try to say that its map is best. The Senate, which welcomed the input of its members like a more lenient Mama Bear, will say one of its two maps is best. And the junior player in the group -- the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- wants the court to follow the lead of the lower court and pick its map which blended the maps from lawmakers with a new configuration in South Florida.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis's Oct. 9 ruling adopted the bulk of the House and Senate maps in the northern and central portions of the state but rejected the proposed boundaries for District 26 in Miami-Dade County, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, and accepted the configuration drawn by the challengers.

It's uncharted ground for both the court and the parties but the ruling will carry new weight that could influence the outcome of the redistricting trial scheduled for December when the court recommends a state Senate map. It's high stakes for everyone and, unlike Goldilocks, we don't expect the court to be sleeping. 

The map recommended by Lewis throws at least three incumbent congressional candidates in much more competitive districts and Miami Dade, once again is at the heart of the dispute. In addition to Curbelo, the ruling could mean new boundaries for Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and it shuffles the landscape for Congress in the central and northern parts of the state. 

Lewis concluded that he did “not find from the evidence that the staff map drawers had a conscious intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.” But he said “I remain convinced” the best way to determine if there had been improper partisan intent was to explore the reasons for drawing districts that comply with the other standards, such as geographical compactness.

To that point, he criticized the “very minimalist approach” lawmakers used to rectify the flaws in Miami-Dade’s Districts 26 and 27 as something that “does concern me.”

In its July 9 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to keep the city of Homestead whole, and the Legislature’s solution was to create a district that performed better for Republicans by removing the black communities of Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and West Perrine from District 26 into the neighboring District 27, now held by Ros-Lehtinen.

The House and Senate argued that the only way to avoid reducing the ability of Hispanics to elect their own candidate was to leave the district more Republican-leaning as they have proposed. But Lewis rejected that argument, noting that “Hispanics have consistently elected the candidate of their choice” in the region.

He also rejected Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno’s testimony that the district as proposed by the challengers will “lock out” Hispanic voters.

“His testimony was long on pure opinion based on experience and short on systematic, scientific analysis of accepted statistical data,” Lewis wrote.

Meanwhile, we await what the court will do with the Senate maps. A hearing before Judge George Reynolds is scheduled for Tuesday and both sides have accused the other of manipulating the process.

More here.

November 05, 2015

Richard Corcoran: 'the system is broken'; time to consider independent redistricting commission

As the special session on congressional redistrict was imploding in August, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president, declared: "Bring me something that works." 

Now, after a second special session imploded Thursday and legislators left town without an agreement on a redistricting map to draw state Senate boundaries, incoming House speaker Richard Corcoran and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva are also on board. 

"The system is completely broken and it needs to be fixed and I’m completely open to a commission,’’ Corcoran, R-New Port Richey, told the Herald/Times.

Oliva is skeptical that anyone will be unbiased, said he is also open to the notion.

"I'm for looking into it because I certainly think we need to have maps that aren't disputed into the next census,'' Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, told reporters after the session ended. 

"I'm not as optimistic that those people will be so significantly more impartial than these people,'' he said. 

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who has proposed a bill creating an independent commission to handle the state's redistricting, said he has been approached by several Republicans who are ready to consider taking the job away from legislators.

"The Legislature is incapable of drawing its own maps that don't have political intent,'' he said. "You can't put 40 people together and have them set aside their own personal viewpoints and ambitions to have an unbiased process. It's just simply impossible."

But David King, attorney for the coalition that led the legal challenge, said lawmakers should not blame the Fair Districts amendments, which were approved by 63 percent of the voters in the 2010 election, for their inability to reach an agreement.

"Change is very hard to accept — especially when it requires our elected officials to set aside their own personal interests,’’ he said in a statement. "By blaming the amendments, rather than themselves, they are simply perpetuating their opposition to the will of the people and engaging in the very conduct that Florida voters clearly wanted to eliminate from our state."

Six states have their districts drawn by bipartisan panels or independent commissions, and Ohio has a proposal on its 2015 ballot to create an independent redistricting commission. In Arizona and California, a primary goal of the independent commissions is to create more competitive districts. More from our story on the issue here. 

Sen. Bill Galvano ready to gamble on a vote over Florida House redistricting map

In what may be seen as a Hail Mary pass to see if they can get enough votes to send the courts a Senate redistricting map that has the Legislature’s stamp, the Florida Senate leadership agreed to put the controversial House map up for a vote after exhausting all other options.

The decision was made after the two redistricting chairmen, Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva, met in a rare two-person conference committee Thursday afternoon. They had spent the morning reviewing the House map, as well as six new options for revising three Hispanic districts in Miami Dade that believed would draw opposition from Miami's three Hispanic senators. Then, with no discussion, they rejected the options and agreed to support the House plan. 

The Senate then scheduled a 4 p.m. vote on the map, as a full-court press for votes continued behind the scenes.

Senate President Andy Gardiner walked the halls, individually meeting with senators to persuade them to vote for the House bill and avoid another embarrassing meltdown that he told members could lead to the court drawing a second redistricting map. 

"They don't have the votes,'' predicted Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "They were caught between a rock and hard place. They needed to alter the map for political purposes and in order to get 21 votes and if they did that then the map becomes unconstitutional."

Continue reading "Sen. Bill Galvano ready to gamble on a vote over Florida House redistricting map " »

November 04, 2015

Short of votes in Senate, Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva agree to try to revise Miami districts again

Redistricting conferenceMiami-Dade's Hispanic districts remained the focal point of the high stakes conflict between the House and Senate over the redrawing of the state Senate boundaries Wednesday as it became apparent that Senate leaders did not have the votes to pass a House map that significantly revised the configuration of the South Florida districts.

The full Senate met for 30 minutes to take up the House's redistricting map, S9079 and, rather than taking up a vote on the compromise plan, they agreed to a rare two-person conference committee to work out their differences.  

Two hours later, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, met for 10 minutes in the Senate's cavernous conference room, filled with two dozen curious House and Senate members, deeply concerned about what any new map could mean to their political future. 

With little debate, Galvano and Oliva agreed to have staff make changes to only the Miami portion of the House map, picking up a configuration previously offered in a draft map known as S9080 and S9074. 

Continue reading "Short of votes in Senate, Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva agree to try to revise Miami districts again" »

November 03, 2015

House quickly advances its redistricting map as eight Republicans defect on vote

Oliva mapFlorida legislators made quick progress on redrawing the Senate map Tuesday, voting out a Florida House proposal after just an hour of debate, but the measure appeared headed for trouble as lawmakers edged closer to the self-imposed Friday deadline for the special session with no agreement in sight.

Eight Republicans joined with 39 House Democrats to reject the House map, S9079, as 73 Republicans supported it. The map, proposed by House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, attempts to follow the anti-gerrymandering guidelines of the Florida Constitution and includes three Miami-based Hispanic-majority seats, and four black majority-minority districts.

"It feels like we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day movie,’’ said Rep. Lori Berman, D-West Palm Beach. "Once again our chamber and the Senate have two different maps."

The full Senate is expected to reject the House plan, then call for a conference committee to work out differences before the end of the week. Lawmakers called themselves into a three-week special session -- the second redistrictign session this year -- to revise the Senate map after a lawsuit brought by a coalition of voter groups prompted them to conclude that the plan they enacted in 2012 violates the Florida Constitution.

The proposed House plan has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for targeting certain Republican incumbents, and for weakening the Hispanic vote in Miami Dade County.

Continue reading "House quickly advances its redistricting map as eight Republicans defect on vote " »

November 02, 2015

More late-night maps: challengers submit two new Senate plans

There was another round of map making intrigue in the Legislature Monday as the redistricting challengers offered up two alternatives  maps on the eve of the House's floor debate — this time proposing a fourth Hispanic seat in South Florida and an African American district contained solely in Hillsborough County.

The coalition of voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida “is concerned that the Legislature's proposals continue to reflect constitutional infirmities and evidently fail to take into account ongoing developments in minority voting in certain communities,” wrote David King, lead attorney for the groups that have challenged the Legislature’s redistricting maps.

He urged lawmakers to update its redistricting data, start over, and consider the plaintiffs’ maps.

The two proposals, CP-2 and CP-3, provide two alternatives to the minority majority seats before both the House and Senate. One creates a Hillsborough-only African American minority seat that doesn't cross Tampa Bay. The other creates a fourth Hispanic seat in South Florida. 

King said that Rep. Jose Oliva's plan, S9079, "while better than [Senate] Plan 9124, retains features that appear intended to create a more favorable map for Republicans at the expense of equality of population, compactness, and respect for geographic and political boundaries.

"Moreover, the Coalition believes the Legislature may violate the Florida Constitution if the Legislature neglects to create a fourth majority-minority Hispanic district in South Florida, in light of the evident ability to draw such a district."

The Florida House put its mark on the Senate redistricting map Monday, approving a new plan that merges pieces of the Senate plan and that of the challengers with its own additions in a way that slightly improves prospects for Democrats.

Continue reading "More late-night maps: challengers submit two new Senate plans" »

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."

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

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. 

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

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.”

Continue reading "Jack Latvala and others react to the Don Gaetz rebuke" »

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.”