Editorial: Senate's task is clear

Editorial | Pensacola News Journal | 03/14/2012

As the Florida Senate opens its special session on redistricting today, it must do what it failed to do previously: Draw 40 Senate district maps that conform to the Florida Constitution.

It was obvious from the first that the two proposed Senate districts across the western Panhandle violated the fairly clear and simple guidelines state voters approved in passing a pair of constitutional amendments on redistricting.

Obvious, that is, to anyone not in the Senate leadership.

The amendments put great weight on creating "compact" districts that use existing geographical and local political boundaries. That is, put the voters from any particular county and city into the same district as much as possible.

The Senate, instead, used the concept of "communities of interest" to justify cutting Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in half — horizontally — to protect the districts of the two senators who represent this area — Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Greg Evers, R-Baker — who both happen to live in Okaloosa County. (Gaetz chaired the Senate Reapportionment Committee.)

Now, we know that many local movers and shakers like the idea of being represented by Gaetz, set to become Senate president. He is a powerhouse who has won the respect and support of downstate senators while also working hard to ensure that the Panhandle gets its due in Tallahassee, after too many years of being ignored.

No question, Gaetz has represented this area well.

And, depending on how much of Okaloosa County ends up in the westernmost district, he could still represent this area.

But he won't be in office forever. And then there's the small matter of the Florida Constitution and the will of the voters.

A clear majority of the Florida Supreme Court had no trouble in ruling that at least 8 of the proposed Senate districts were not just wrong, but clearly counter to the intent of the approved amendments. (Senate Democrats, most of whom supported the original map, now say the court invalidated all 40 districts, and a complete rewrite is needed.)

We expect that the Senate will now do what's required.

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