New map gets nod, forces all state senators to run in 2016

Daniel Sweeney | Sun Sentinel | 10/26/2015

The Florida Senate's redistricting committee has approved a map that will go to the Senate floor for a vote next week.

The new state Senate districts have been randomly numbered, which now makes it a "legal reality" that all senators will have to run for re-election in 2016, according to the committee chair, Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Galvano had previously maintained that senators not up for re-election would not have to run as long as the new district populations were somewhat similar to the old and the districts were numbered the same.

But that contentious theory has now been put aside.

If the full Senate and House approve this map it will mean that state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, and state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, will be in the same Palm Beach County district. No incumbent will be in the western district now held by Abruzzo.

Abruzzo has said he will move to the new district and run there.

"I will be running for re-election in the western Palm Beach County Senate district in which I currently and historically have been elected to represent the vast majority of the communities," he said.

Broward County has no such issues, because the three Broward-based senators are leaving due to term limits. But the future would be far murkier under this map in Miami-Dade County, where three senators have been drawn into the same Hispanic district.

One of them, Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is likely to move just slightly westward to run in the district most similar to his current one. But senators Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, and Anitere Flores, R-Miami, could have to run against each other in a primary election. And under the new map, a new African-American district would arise in northeast Miami-Dade. That district appears wide open.

The upcoming floor vote in the Senate, which should take place early next week, will see Democrats try to argue for a map that includes district lines that don't cross Tampa Bay. Such a map was offered to the committee Friday by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, but he withdrew it when it became clear it didn't have the votes to pass the committee.

But it's not clear any map has the votes to pass the Senate floor.

Even members of Galvano's own party were concerned the map approved by the committee did not address the concerns of the voting-rights groups that sued over the old maps.

"What we need to really guard against is falling in the same trap we fell into a couple years ago when we passed our original plan," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Even Republicans on the committee seemed hesitant to vote for the map. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, one of the most vocal critics of the Republican plan, warned of reaction among constituents should the Legislature fail once again to pass a map as it did during congressional redistricting.

"No legal team will come bail me out in my home community because I walk around like a moron with my head in the sand while I'm up here," he said.

Lee told Clemens that the Democrat's plan raised some important issues, and asked him to try again on the Senate floor to "let the full body take a look at what you're presenting here."

Still, despite referring to the map as "fatally flawed," Lee joined his fellow Republicans in passing the map out of committee, and it passed along party lines, four Republicans to three Democrats.

The major point of contention next week will be how much tinkering the Senate can do to the map. During congressional redistricting, the House redistricting chair, state Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, insisted on only minimal changes to the base map created in seclusion by legislative staff. Senators, however, believed the legislature should have a greater role in crafting the final product.

"We are in a very constrained legislative world," Galvano cautioned. "The product that comes out of our chamber will not even be given the benefit of the doubt. ... I am confident that [the map] is a constitutionally compliant product that is worthy to go to the floor."


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