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New redistricting lawsuit takes aim at Senate seats

The League of Women Voters of Florida and several other groups filed a new lawsuit Wednesday, claiming the Legislature protected incumbents in its redrawing of Senate seats, in violation of the fair districts amendments to the state Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in circuit court in Tallahassee, focuses on changes that affected Tampa Bay, suburban Orlando and Daytona Beach. It claims three Tampa Bay Senate seats (Districts 17, 19 and 22) were gerrymandered to help Republicans. The suit charges that District 22, a Pinellas and Hillsborough seat won last month by Republican Jeff Brandes, could have been drawn more compactly and all in Pinellas County, but that Senate Republicans included part of Tampa "with the intent to maintain its party's dominance of the area's Senate seats and protect incumbents." 

The suit also accuses the Senate of deliberately crafting two Orlando-area Senate seats to prevent two Republican incumbents, Andy Gardiner and David Simmons, from being forced to run against each other. The lawsuit also alleges that the Senate drew some districts "to help and thus intentionally favor Senator (Jack) Latvala in his quest to become Senate president by helping candidates who were pledged to vote for him."

The map has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court, following a limited review. "We believe a full review of the Senate map will reveal that Senate districts were drawn in complete disregard of the new criteria," said Miami lawyer Gerald Greenberg, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Greenberg is with the law firm of Gelber, Schachter & Greenberg of Miami. Named as defendants are Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Senate President Mike Hariodopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon.  

The lawsuit is not expected to have any immediate effect on the Nov. 6 general election. The groups filing the complaint, including Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza, hope to persuade the courts to force lawmakers to redraw the districts for future elections. 

-- Steve Bousquet