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House Close to Approving Redistricting Maps as Coalition Charges “One-Party State”

| January 30, 2012

The congressional district the House is proposing for Flagler County would no longer include portions of Orange, where John Mica is based.

The House Redistricting Committee approved blueprints for Florida’s political future Friday, but not before taking aim at a set of amendments offered by a coalition of voting-rights groups including the League of Women Voters.

Measures redefining the boundaries for the Legislature (HJR 6001, 6011) and Florida’s 27 congressional seats (HB 6005) passed the panel on a series of party-line votes, bringing the House role in the once-a-decade redistricting process close to a conclusion.

But few think the process is likely to end with final House and Senate votes on the measures, expected by the end of next week. While Gov. Rick Scott seems likely to sign the congressional plan, the Florida Supreme Court must review the legislative plan — and both could be challenged under either the state’s new anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments or the federal Civil Rights Act.

“At the end of the day, somebody’s going to sue,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.

The maps the House panels approved would change Flagler’s place in the congressional district, which would no longer include portions of Orange County, where John Mica is based. Currently, that 7th Congressional District stretches from the outskirts of Jacksonville to Sanford and Altamonte Springs, where it snakes around considerably. If Flagler loses Mica, it would mean losing Mica’s seniority and the benefits of his chairmanship of the powerful House Transportation Committee. The new district would include all of Flagler and St. Johns, most of Volusia, and a large portion of Putnam. The Florida House district would include all of Flagler and portions of Volusia and St. Johns.

Republicans said the maps represent a landmark in Florida politics as the first ones drawn under the new state standards, approved overwhelmingly by voters last November.

“There’s not an ounce of political intent in these maps,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

On Friday, Democrats remained largely quiet, a continuation of their stance during a series of meetings on redistricting. The minority party never proposed their own maps — an acknowledgement, they said, of the realities of the process in the GOP-dominated chamber.

“This is 100 percent partisanship,” Jenne said after the maps were approved.

Without Democratic alternatives to tee off on, Republicans on the panel instead trained their fire on a proposal submitted earlier this week by the League of Women Voters, Latino advocacy group the National Council of La Raza, and Common Cause Florida.

The coalition of groups asked Weatherford to offer on their behalf an alternative plan that included the concept of “nesting” three districts for the 120-member House inside each district in the 40-seat Senate. While the groups declined an offer to testify in support of their maps, they sent an 11-page letter to Weatherford’s committee laying out the plan and blasting the Legislature’s efforts so far.

“The maps proposed by the House and Senate Redistricting Committees promise to perpetuate a system of one-party control in Florida in clear violation of the Florida Constitution,” the letter said.

Weatherford fired back at Friday’s meeting, castigating the groups for refusing to appear.

“I think the citizens of Florida deserve better than a … letter the night before the committee meets,” he said. “And I think the citizens of Florida deserve better than a map proposed to this committee two and a half days before we take a vote.”

House members also said the coalition’s proposals — which failed on unanimous votes — wouldn’t pass the compactness test laid out under the Fair Districts amendments.

“My three-year-old could draw something a little bit more compact than that,” said Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, about the organizations’ proposal for the Tampa Bay area.

Democrats joined the Republican members of the committee in shooting down the proposals, though Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he was concerned by the tone of the comments toward the league and its allies.

“I certainly would never tell an organization that they act like a 3-year-old or use some of the words that I heard today,” Rouson said.

Ben Wilcox, who represents the League of Women Voters and attended Friday’s meeting, declined to comment afterward.

Jenne, meanwhile, suggested that the treatment of the coalition’s proposals vindicated Democrats’ decision to pass on offering their own redistricting alternatives.

“We submit our own maps, everything that was said about the League of Women Voters would have been said about all of us sitting down at the end there,” he said.

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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