Senate Democrats, in rare position of leverage, vow unified vote against GOP map

Mary Ellen Klas | Bradenton Herald | 10/27/2015

The Florida Senate Democratic caucus, nearly outnumbered two to one in the 40-member chamber by Republicans, have found themselves in a rare position of strength amid a divided Republican caucus that is now splittered by a bitter feud over the 2016 Senate presidency fight.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said several Democrats had been approached by Republican leaders this week, asking them to vote for the GOP-backed redraw of the Senate map when the measure is up for a final vote on Wednesday. The full Senate today is taking up several amendments to the proposal which was voted out of the Senate Reapportionment Committee on Friday by a 4-3 party line vote.

"I think they have a problem,'' Braynon said. "I know that it's going bad enough that some of our members are asked."

It is unclear whether the map presented by Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has the votes to pass the Senate, with several Republicans indicating they may not support the map. Two of them, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said they believe the map fails to address many of the complaints offered up by the challengers who sued the Senate for violating the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution.

Fueling the dissension is the Senate presidency fight between Sen. Joe Negron and Sen. Jack Latvala. Galvano, a Negron backer, has pushed for a map that does not make any changes to the base map as created without any member input, behind closed doors by Senate staff — a position the House leadership also supports.

At a meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus before the Senate met, Braynon urged his colleagues to vote together to reject the Senate's proposed map and said he would be offering several alternatives to prove the point that members should have a role in improving the maps. He urged his colleagues to support them.

"We don't have a voice,'' Braynon told the caucus, which includes 14 Democrats compared to the Republican's 26-member caucus. "We don't want to be this 14 of use forever. The way this process has gone...we are setting a precedent where we have zero input into how the next map is drawn. We cannot standby and have the other side pass a map we have zero input into."

The House leaders have indicated they would support a map only if it is constitutional and have indicated that they believe the best way to prove there was no improper partisan intent is to stick to the base maps drawn by the House and Senate staff with input only from their lawyers.

After the meeting "I think we are in a very unique situation,'' he said after the meeting. "What I'm saying is not just a Democratic view. You can listen to the comments from Sen. Lee and Sen. Simmons. They have the same problems. So it implies we won't be the only ones...

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