Searching for votes to pass a map, Senate asks House to revise Miami districts

Mary Ellen Klas | Tampa Bay Times | 11/05/2015

Miami Dade's Hispanic districts remained the focal point of the high stakes conflict between the House and Senate over the redrawing of the state Senate boundaries Wednesday as it became apparent that Senate leaders did not have the votes to pass a House map that significantly revised the configuration of the South Florida districts.

The full Senate met for 30 minutes to take up the House's redistricting map, S9079 and, rather than taking up a vote on the compromise plan, they agreed to a rare two-person conference committee to work out their differences.

Two-and-a-half hours later, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, met for 10 minutes in the Senate's cavernous conference room, filled with two dozen curious House and Senate members, deeply concerned about what any new map could mean to their political future.

With little debate, Galvano and Oliva agreed to have staff make changes to only the Miami portion of the House map, picking up a configuration previously offered in a draft map known as SB 9080 and SB 9074.

"Instead of going through the changes at this point, let me make a recommendation,'' Galvano said. "That recommendation would be to look at South Florida. What I would like to do is look at the base maps that have been proposed and see if there is a configuration within those base maps that could be juxtaposed into S9079 that would improve the overall metric."

Oliva said, "we're very open to look at that."

There was no other discussion and they agreed to return again on Thursday.

The Senate earned the votes of Miami's three Hispanic Republicans to narrowly pass its map to the House on a 22-18 vote last week. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, voted with Senate leadership to support the map after Diaz de la Portilla's amendment was approved to strengthen the three Miami's three Hispanic-majority districts.

But, after it became clear that the amendment also helped to remove Diaz de la Portilla from the same district as Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, Oliva said he feared it could be criticized by the court as being designed to protection an incumbent. The House then changed the configuration of the map, using a configuration similar to one proposed by the redistricting challengers, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.

Diaz de la Portilla blasted the change as a significant diminishment of Hispanic voting strength, noting that one of the proposed districts diminishes Hispanic voting population in a way that he believes may not elect a Hispanic candidate.

“The Oliva map diminishes the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice in one of three Hispanic seats in Miami-Dade,” he told the Herald/Times. “I can’t support a retrogressive map.”

Diaz de la Portilla said late Wednesday that the draft "base" map drawn by staff, which Galvano said would be considered as an alternative to the House map, is also not an acceptable configuration for protecting Hispanic voting rights.

According to the data, he said the map packs Hispanics into those proposed Districts 36 and 37 and divides communities in proposed District 35 that will not guarantee an Hispanic could be elected and he would not support it.

"For almost 30 years, the Hispanic community in Miami Dade has had three seats in the Florida Senate,'' he said. "This new map leaves our community with just two Hispanic seats. This map is patently unfair for Hispanics in Miami Dade. This is just wrong."

What Galvano left unsaid was what to do about the concerns raised by other senators during the Senate session, and what impact that may have on their ability to retain the votes to pass a map.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who voted for the Senate map last week said he "very strongly" objected to the decision by the House to split Lake County into two districts and divide The Villages into multiple districts. "Could you consider that in your deliberations?" he asked.

Galvano replied: "Your concerns are noted" but he made no mention of them when he met Oliva.

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