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Reaction to latest redistricting ruling: silence, confusion and joy

Confusion is the primary reaction to the redistricting ruling today as legislators, elections officials and others sort through the order to immediately redraw congressional maps and contemplate what impact it will have on elections this year. 

"It's like jello -- you don't know where it all stands but it certainly has explosive implications for Florida politics,'' said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida and a redistricting expert.

Responding to reporters question Friday, Gov. Rick Scott implied that he won't be getting involved in calling legislators back into special session to redraw the map but he sounded ready to put an end to the discussion.

"The Legislature is reviewing what the court decided and the Legislature has the power to make their own decision about calling special session," he said while campaigning Friday in St. Petersburg.

Ron Labasky, general counsel for the state's 67 supervisors of elections, said supervisors are trying to figure out what to do next.

"It's like a car wreck when everyone gets out of their car and wonders what happened and they're not too sure if they all had the same experience,'' he said. 

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who were ordered by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday to produce a revised map in two weeks, reacted with silence. They are expected to comment by Monday -- maybe in the form of an appeal to the First District Court of Appeal and a request for a stay. 

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, continues to oppose any suggestion that her winding, 10-county district be revised. Lewis threw out her district on July 10,  concluding it was drawn in violation of the state's Fair District rules because it was designed to benefit Republicans.

“Judge Lewis’ ruling this morning to call the legislature back into session and force a redrawing of Florida’s congressional maps with such a short timetable is certainly not in the best interests of Florida voters, and in reality, it is only the Governor who can call the Legislature back into session,'' she wrote, (forgetting that the House speaker and Senate president can jointly call lawmakers into session as well.)“In addition, as I have stated previously, I firmly believe that the lawsuit concerning the Florida congressional district maps is, in reality, part of a bigger movement to diminish congressional districts represented by minorities not just in Florida, but across the nation.  If successful in the state of Florida, those behind this movement will continue to attack minority seats and minority voting rights in every state throughout the nation."  

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, joined with the plaintiffs in hailing the ruling. 

“The way I see it, the court ruled in favor of Florida voters,” he said in a statement. “But, unfortunately, I expect the state might try to appeal to delay having to carry out the court’s directive before the election.”

MacManus said the bottom line of the ruling is one word: confusing.

"It's extremely confusing to everybody involved,'' she said, noting that the 43 primary election candidates and 63 general election candidates running for Congress would have to refile for office under new maps.

But they aren't the only ones affected, she said. So are supervisors of elections, who don't know what dates to expect and how to pay for the proposed special election Lewis is considering ordering.

Labasky said a new map will have little affect on congressional districts south of Orlando but will affect the north and central Florida districts adjoining Brown's district, or the district of U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, whose district is also invalid. 

If a new map is drawn, he said, existing candidates may switch districts or “theoretically you may see some new candidates jumping in.’’  

Labasky is urging supervisors to "sit tight and don't let your hair on fire" because things could change. "Let's see who files the next document,'' he said.

MacManus believes the "biggest question is whether Corrine Brown will file a federal lawsuit and take it out of the state's hands,'' she said. And, will the legislature be able to approve new maps, absent the community input they said was going to be a hallmark of the redistricting process? 

Meanwhile, the voters groups who brought the case are predictably pleased. 

"This is a champagne moment for Florida voters, who have waited too long for fairly drawn congressional districts,'' said of Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "Judge Lewis has laid out a path that will allow all Florida voters, for the first time in decades, to elect their representatives in fair and constitutional districts.”

Peter Butzin, chair of Common Cause Florida which also joined the lawsuit, said Lewis' ruling "protected the rights of Floridians."

“Although holding an election based on fair and constitutional districts may create some logistical challenges, protecting Floridians’ right to select the representatives of their choice is a fundamental value that cannot be put off until next election,” Butzin said.