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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."

Overshadowing the debate is the bitter contest between Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, over who will be president of the Senate in 2016. Negron has the votes and most of his supporters appear to want to see the Legislature pass a House map.

But several Latvala supporters have asked Gardiner to postpone the Dec. 2 caucus meeting until Senate districts are established but Gardiner refused. Latvala was also walking the halls. 

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Latvala supporter, said the two issues should not be tied together but he rejects the proposed maps because they will weaken Hispanic voting strength in Miami-Dade County.

“They pack Hispanics into two districts and crack them in a third,’’ said Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, arguing that this will weaken Hispanic voting strength, not strengthen it. “It’s not difficult to draw three Hispanic performing seats in Miami-DadeCounty. They are contiguous communities and it’s something that’s been done before.” 

He said that the logical approach would be to draw three districts each with a Hispanic voting age population in the high 70 percent, rather than the current configurations that he says “pack” Hispanics into two of the districts but then diminish the numbers in the third.

“I just don’t get it,’’ Diaz de la Portilla said. “I don’t want to question anybody’s motives but it’s funky. It’s weird.”

At a morning meeting between Oliva and Galvano, the redistricting chairmen defended their proposals saying that the proposals are designed to create the most compact districts while preserving Hispanic voting strength.

Galvano said that he has asked the Senate’s general counsel to talk with Florida International University political science Professor Dario Moreno, who has been retained by the Legislature to analyze the voting impact of the maps on Hispanic voters, about whether the proposals are retrogressive.

As the two men met to review the six proposed maps, and hear the House’s explanation for its map, Moreno reported back that “he didn’t think there was any retrogression” in the proposed maps, Galvano told reporters.

Reached by the Herald/Times, Moreno confirmed he had been consulted via a phone call on Thursday but because he was still under contract with the Legislature’s legal team, he could not comment.

Moreno testified in the August redistricting trial over the congressional map that because many Hispanics in Miami Dade are of Hispanic voting age population but are not registered to vote or do not show up to vote, the population of a district must be elevated to guarantee that voters will show up at the polls to elect a Hispanic candidate.

Oliva said he was confident that the numbers in all the draft maps proposed by the House and Senate are sufficient to elect thre Hispanics in Miami.

“I would tend to agree with our staff, who I think holds greater expertise in this area, and Dr. Moreno…that have said they don’t feel that this diminishes the ability of that community to elect someone of their choosing,’’ he said.

Galvano also used the meeting to answer questions raised about changes the House made to the proposed map, such as why a loop was created in District 17 in north Pinellas and PascoCounty that merges Sen. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, into the same district as Latvala. Legg voted with Senate leaders for the Senate map last week but Latvala voted against it.

Jason Poreda, staff director of the House Select Committee on Redistricting acknowledged that the line did not follow roadways or political boundaries but power lines but he said the change was made to make the district more compact.

 “It’s a unique situation because we are all very careful of how far we go in terms of conversations,’’ Galvano later told reporters. “In general, there were concerns raised about some of the areas we brought up in my questioning.”

Clemens said the development confirmed that the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution are nearly impossible to adhere to. He has proposed a bill to create an independent commission to handle the state's redistricting. 

"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."