Tia Mitchell: Lessons learned from special session No. 2

Tia Mitchell | Florida Times Union | 08/22/2015

Special session No. 2 ended the same way the regular session did earlier this year: with drama, hard feelings and House and Senate Republicans blaming each other.

If you had asked me a couple of days ago, I would have said that there is less acrimony between the two chambers who were able to end special session No. 1 with a budget deal and smiles. Boy, was I wrong.

I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall when Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, stood on the House floor to debate in favor of the congressional map drafted by staff. He criticized the Senate for approving changes he believed could run afoul of the Florida Supreme Court and pointed out that special session No. 3 is happening in October because the Senate admitted to violating redistricting guidelines in the state constitution.

“Across the rotunda they’re tinkering with the maps. The nerve!” Gaetz said. “I mean, the Florida Senate admitted they broke the law, didn’t tell us, worked with the petitioners, showed up and said we broke the law.”

But there was a bipartisan spirit of contempt on the House floor by Friday, the final day of the special session. When the Senate suggested extending the special session to allow more time to work out a deal, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, encouraged members to decline.

In the process, he also compared senators to criminals and said they hadn’t faced noticeable consequences after admitting to breaking the law during the 2012 redistricting process. The Senate’s admission of violating redistricting rules triggered special session No. 3 in October.

“When you rob someone and you admit it, you’re known as a robber. When you burn someone’s house down and you admit it, you’re known as an arsonist.

Apparently when you violate our state constitution and admit it, you’re known as a senator,” Moskowitz said Friday.

Ouch.

This is how we left special session No. 2. No one knows what this blow up will mean for special session No. 3.

Usually, each chamber is tasked with drawing its own map during the redistricting process and the other side simply signs off. That means normally the House would not have much say in how the Senate decides to draw any new boundary lines.

But with the courts involved and members of the House saying the Senate can’t be trusted to play by the rules, we are in new territory.

There were attempts during special session No. 2 to make the process more transparent: Members could not discuss redistricting with each other unless it was during a public meeting. Everything was documented. Anytime changes to the map were proposed, the person suggesting the amendment had to testify he or she had not been influenced by outsiders with a political agenda.

Yet even after all the safeguards and commitment to sunshine, it was still a very political process.

Ultimately, the fight between the House and the Senate centered on how to draw districts in Central Florida. Voters in Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola and Orange counties were most affected.

Both of the proposed maps left U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, unhappy. She would have to campaign in North Florida counties for the first time if she wants to remain in Congress.

Although I can’t even say this is for sure because right now the old maps, with Brown’s district stretching south to Orlando, are still in place.

The final takeaway is: It ain’t over yet.

The Florida Supreme Court still has to sign off on the new maps. It can pick the House version, the Senate version or come up with its own plan since the Legislature failed to reach an agreement.

Regardless, Brown has already filed a legal challenge in federal court, saying an east-west configuration for her district violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Without a new map in place, however, there isn’t much for the feds to review.


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