Game changer? Challengers' Senate maps could mean Senate parity

Mary Ellen Klas | Miami Herald | 11/03/2015

Following the same formula they used last week, the challengers to Florida's redistricting maps offered up two plans on the eve of the first floor vote late Monday, lobbing a giant jump ball to the Republican controlled House.

If they are offered as amendments today, as expected, they could result in some interesting discussion.

Unlike any of the maps voted out by the Senate or the House redistricting committee's party line vote, the two maps offered by the League of Women Voters and and Common Cause of Florida look good on the things legislators openly talk about: the compactness of districts, the geographic territories split, the Convex Hull scores, the voting age population and the strength of minority voting access districts and majority minority districts.

But on the elements legislators pay attention to but won't acknowledge — the partisan composition — the maps could create Senate parity.

If the court were to adopt CP-2, for example, the Senate could lean 20-20. If it were to adopt CP-3, it could favor Democrats 21-19, based on the 2012 presidential election data.

In South Florida, much stays the same as what was proposed by the House map — which was patterned off the challengers' map. It merges Sens. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, into the district with Sen.Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. It puts Sen. Anitere Flores, D-Miami, into a black majority-minority seat now held by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay and it causes a bit of disruption for the Democrats of Palm Beach County, merging Sens. Joe Abruzzo, Jeff Clemens and Maria Sachs into the same districts.

But both maps also create a fourth Hispanic seat in South Florida, one that leans Democratic.

A major change is that in CP-2, it doesn't cross Tampa Bay, creating a Hillsborough-only seat that could elect an African American, abandoning efforts to string black communities together in both south Tampa and South Pinellas. By contrast, CP-3 does not offer that option, but retains the South Florida configuration.

The Florida Supreme Court may also have a say in this sooner than we realize. Because this is a new map, replaced by the invalidated one approved in 2012, the court must give it a facial review, as required in the Fair Districts amendments. That means it could come before the court even before it gets to Judge Reynolds in the trial court.

As Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, noted in committee on Monday, the Legislature now shoulders the burden of proof to show that its map meets the constitutional guidelines under the consent agreement with the challengers, as signed by the Senate and agreed to by the House.

"The consent stipulation says that any map we pass is not going to be given any deference,'' he said. "I think, believe it or not, we've already abdicated some of our responsibility to the court."

He argued the Legislature should accept the map by the plaintiffs. "How will they be able to argue against a map that they drew?,'' he asked. Better yet, if the court were to find the plaintiffs' map unconstitutional "we'd be: 'welcome to the club.'"

Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, noted: "A majority is never held by one party for all eternity,'' he said. "So it is a great challenge that we confront this and future legislatures."

After the vote, he said the House's map should remain free of questions about intent, and there is no way to discern the plaintiffs' intent, just as it is difficult to determine the Legislature's.

"How can you see intent? Intent is the eye of the beholder."

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