[Tallahassee, FL] Senate leaders are wrong to argue that they can make limited changes to a redistricting plan that was found unconstitutional, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith told reporters Tuesday.
Speaking on a conference call the day before a special redistricting session begins, Smith blasted Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz’s (R-4/Niceville) contention that the upper chamber can simply tweak its maps to answer the complaints of the Florida Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court threw out the Senate plan and specifically highlighted eight districts that justices said were unconstitutional. Senate leaders have suggested that the ruling essentially upheld all but 20% of the 40 districts drawn by the chamber – so minor renovations were needed.
“We’re not starting with a clean sheet of paper, as some of our critics wanted us to,” said Gaetz. “We’re starting I think with a roadmap that will help us get where we need to go.”
But Smith said that’s not possible, in part because redrawing the eight districts will set off a chain reaction in the surrounding districts that could ripple across the state.
All districts have to be relatively equal in population, meaning any change that brings in population from or sheds population into a district not mentioned by the court’s order will have to be offset elsewhere.
“Contrary to what Senator Gaetz suggests, the score is not 32-8. The score is 0-1,” Smith said. ” … There is no such thing as tweaking the map.”
Gaetz did not return a call seeking a response.
Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz
Smith also said Democrats would suggest their own map in the coming session. Efforts by party leaders to cobble together an alternative plan largely floundered in the regular session because black Democrats revolted against plans they saw as weakening minority-friendly districts.
“Our map will be designed to implement the will of the people,” Smith said.
No decision has been made on whether to launch a more protracted battle against the House map, which was upheld by the Supreme Court but could be challenged again with evidence and specific claims, Smith said.
The comments came on the heels of a report by The Miami Herald that Senate lawyers were seeking to delay until after the November elections a trial court’s consideration of the Congressional plan approved by the Legislature.
Attorneys for the chamber argued that if the court were to invalidate the plan, it could lead to a tangled attempt to redraw the maps, which would still need to be pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Dept. before qualifying for party primaries begins.
“It is not necessary – and is wholly impractical and unreasonable – to resolve Plaintiffs’ claims in time for any remedy to be implemented before the 2012 elections,” according to a copy of the filings posted on the Herald‘s website.
But a coalition of voting-rights groups slammed that reasoning and said it could call into question the rights of anyone elected from those maps.
“Moreover, assuming that Plaintiffs’ claims are meritorious, the delay requested by Defendants will guarantee that Plaintiffs, along with all Florida voters, will suffer the irreparable harm of the election of members of Congress from districts that violate the Florida Constitution,” attorneys for the coalition wrote.
By: Brandon Larrabee/The News Service of Florida