Editorial: Redistricting may hit close to home

Editorial Board | St. Augustine Record | 07/21/2015

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that the Republican-drawn redistricting map is unfair and gave legislators 100 days to redraw the districts and make things right.

The court ruled that the redistricting process following the 2010 census did not conform to Florida’s Fair Districts Constitutional Amendment.

Lawmakers will now be sent back into special session for the second time this year, in order to hammer out new districts. The Aug. 10-21 session will cost taxpayers about $150,000.

But that’s chicken feed compared to the $8 million in legal fees Republican legislators spent fighting their losing battle in court: also taxpayer dollars. At this point, it seems unlikely that St. Johns County will be directly affected, but we won’t know that for sure until the maps are drawn, says county elections supervisor Vicky Oakes.

Of the eight districts singled out, the 5th and 13th have the most potential to make sweeping impacts in Florida.

The 13th District is basically St. Petersburg. Already Rep. David Jolly from the 13th has seen that his district would take in much of the black, largely Democratic voters and has announced that he’ll leave his House seat to run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat — which Rubio is vacating for his run at the White House. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, fresh off a defeat by Gov. Rick Scott, is expected to announce for Rubio’s seat as well. And the expected new demographics of the district may favor a born-again Democrat like Crist.

But it’s the 5th District in which sparks are likely to fly. Its eastern border hugs St. Johns County’s western boundary. This is the historically strange district that wiggles 140 miles southwest from Jacksonville to Orlando, picking up black, Democratic voters all along the way. Rep. Corrine Brown has reigned there since 1993. You might recall that, prior to the 2010 redrawing, St. Johns County residents were among her constituents.

It is uncertain why given the weird makeup of the current 5th District, but conventional wisdom says that the new district will wind 160 miles west from Jacksonville all the way to Tallahassee. One of the key concerns of the constitutional amendment was that districts be as compact as possible so that voters had local issues upon which to base their votes, and local representatives to vote for. The new district certainly doesn’t seem to fit that criteria.

Are we dumping one Democrat-packed district for another?

It might seem, at first glance, that having a district carved out to favor Democrats is a purely left-leaning effort. But the truth is, it can favor Republicans. That’s because when you stack the deck for Democrats in one district, you actually leave more Republicans in adjoining districts. They can pick up two or three seats by sacrificing one. And that’s why Rep. Brown’s district has remained essentially intact since 1993, whether the Legislature was Democrat- or Republican-led.

Brown says she’s considering filing suit to delay the new maps. That’s likely because Tallahassee voters, especially the strong black vote the new district is expected to distill, don’t know her. But they do know Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a 35-year-old black politician who won in 2014, and may have his eye on that House seat.

Some political insiders say that as many as 100 new races could take place across the state, as politicians position themselves for their best shot under the new rules. Remember what former Sen. John Thrasher’s resignation wrought here.

Roll Call online newspaper says the end result may be an extra Democratic seat after things shake out. Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told Roll Call, “This was about making sure at the end of the day voters can choose their members, not the other way around.”


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