Democratic Florida Lawmakers Call For End To Redistricting 'Skullduggery'

Jim Turner | News Service of Florida | 07/14/2015

Republican legislative leaders, who have been huddling with staff and counsel, continue to offer little comment publicly as they decide how to respond to a Florida Supreme Court ruling last week that eight congressional districts must be redrawn.

But state Democrats haven't been holding back.

Shortly after Thursday's court ruling, Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, announced that he would reintroduce legislation for the 2016 session to create an independent commission to oversee future district-map drawing.

And on Monday, Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, wrote to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli requesting that all meetings on redistricting involving lawmakers, staff and attorneys be held in public.

"The Republican leadership will never be able to adequately redress these wrongs, but you at least owe it to the people of Florida to not repeat them," Cruz, who is slated to become House minority leader after the 2016 elections, wrote to Crisafulli.

Since Thursday, there has been scant reaction from House and Senate Republicans to the long-awaited court ruling that ordered the Legislature to redraw congressional lines within 100 days.

"When the president has a comment, I will let you know," Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in an email Monday.

In an opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the Supreme Court majority ruled that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis was correct to find that a congressional map approved in 2012 as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process was corrupted by the efforts of Republican political consultants —- violating an anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" constitutional amendment voters approved in 2010.

After the ruling came out, Gardiner and Crisafulli said through spokespersons that they were reviewing the ruling.

Also still analyzing the ruling to determine if it has potentially negative consequences is at least one Democrat.

Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose district jaggedly stretches to Orlando, is considering taking legal action.

Brown's district was one of two that Lewis invalidated last year and was again invalidated with the latest decision.

"She has not made any decision yet as to what, if any, legal avenue she will take," Brown spokesman David Simon said Monday in an email.

Under a new map, the district might have to run across Florida's northern border from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, and Brown wrote Thursday that such a change could disenfranchise minorities entitled to Voting Rights Act protections.

After being ordered last year to redraw the lines of districts represented by Brown and Republican Daniel Webster, state lawmakers shifted the lines with relatively little impact on other seats. But the Supreme Court ruling will require lawmakers to take more far-reaching steps.

As for Dudley's proposal, he is looking to change how the future once-a-decade redistricting process is handled starting after the 2020 Census.

"For far too long, we have had a poor facsimile of democracy in the state of Florida,” Dudley said in a statement. "Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, it has been the elected officials who have chosen their voters. Despite a clarion call from the people to end gerrymandering and restore fairness to the redistricting process, the Florida Legislature has continued to engage in misdirection and skullduggery."

But what Dudley wants isn't new, and Republican leaders haven't shown interest in the topic.

A similar proposal (HB 1027, SB 1370) was offered during the 2015 legislative session by Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami. Both bills died without getting committee hearings in either Republican-dominated chamber.

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