Senate defied state's voters

Randy Schultz[ck_comma] for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board | Palm Beach Post | 03/13/2012

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court correctly slapped down the Florida Senate's new political map, and much of the slapping concerned Palm Beach County.

Amendments 5 and 6, which voters approved in 2010, forbid the Legislature from drawing districts to benefit incumbents. Senate leaders treated that demand the way Hugo Chavez treats popular dissent: They ignored it. The Senate map, the court majority noted, is "rife with improper intent" to benefit incumbents.

The justices criticized, among others, Palm Beach-Broward districts 29 and 34. District 29 is the new version of District 25, with 82 percent of the same voters. Represented by Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff, it runs from Juno Beach to Fort Lauderdale and is designed to pack affluent whites into a long, skinny coastal district. District 34 is the new version of District 29, with 79 percent of the same voters. Represented by Democrat Chris Smith, it is designed to pack poorer black voters into a long skinny district between the railroad tracks.

This map works for Sens. Bogdanoff and Smith, who live in Broward, but not for the voters or Palm Beach County. It is incumbent protection at its worst. The court praised an alternative from plaintiffs challenging the map. It is more compact and horizontal, and puts most of four districts in Palm Beach County.

Even after that major correction, the Senate has many more to make. In the western Panhandle, for example, districts 1 and 3 are stacked horizontally, like pancakes, so that Republicans Don Gaetz, the next Senate president, and Greg Evers don't have to run against each other. Those districts will have to go vertical. In the Jacksonville area, the map packs black voters into a district adjoining that of John Thrasher, also part of the Republican leadership, to make it more GOP-friendly.

The court also noted the trick of numbering districts. After redistricting, all 40 senators must run. To keep terms staggered so that only half run every two years, some run for two-year-terms and others for four-year terms, under odd and even numbers. The Senate plan uses numbers that allow term-limited incumbents like Sens. Bogdanoff and Gaetz to serve more than eight years.

No "activist judges" were at work here. The court ruled the Florida House map legal under Amendments 5 and 6 - congressional maps face a separate challenge - and rejected the plaintiffs' claims of partisan line-drawing. The Senate map, though, contains "bizarre and unusual shapes," inconsistent boundaries and in many cases no supporting data.

That happens when politicians try to pick voters. When senators gather today to start redrawing, they should follow the House's example and respect the voters, not the incumbents.

- Randy Schultz,

for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board

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