Upon deeper review of the Florida Supreme Court decision on Friday invalidating the state Senate's redistricting plan, a startling fact came to light: the Republican-dominated chamber's brazen and arrogant attempt at protecting incumbents through the district numbering system.
While justices cited constitutionally improper boundaries in eight of the 40 Senate districts, the court's 234-page majority opinion also condemned trickery with numbers that improperly protects incumbents.
The foundation of this complex situation lies with the fact that the once-adecade redistricting process necessitates new elections for all legislative seats.
That's a dilemma in the Senate where some member terms would expire after only two years instead of the usual four. That also presents an opportunity, though.
The chamber proposed senators winning 2012 election in districts with even numbers would serve two years while those in odd-numbered districts would be seated for four years. Thus, Senate candidates in even districts would campaign in 2012 and then again in 2014.
The state Constitution's term-limit provisions for senators do not force them from office after winning two elections, only after serving eight consecutive years.
That opens the door for some senators to serve an entire decade under redistricting.
And that's how the Senate rigged the rules when staggering elections — by switching the numbers on some districts from even to odd or visa versa.
As the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reported on Wednesday, Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican in District 10, won elections in 2006 and 2010. The Senate proposed switching her district to an odd number, allowing her to run for another four-year term in 2012 — potentially earning 10 years in the Senate.
Four additional senators whose terms are set to expire in 2014 would also benefit from number switches.
This is just as bad as incumbent and political party protection by stacking districts with favorable voting blocs, one of the reasons behind the 2010 voter-approved so-called Fair District constitutional amendments. Those new standards also require compact districts where feasible and the preservation of minority voting rights.
The Senate renumbering strategy came about a month after the chamber revealed its initial map in November. The sudden numbering switch clearly indicated incumbent protection since all but one sitting senator would have qualified for a four-year term in the 2012 election.
While quite cunning, the high court saw through the subterfuge. The majority opinion stated the proposed map "was rife with indicators of improper intent" with a numbering system that "plainly favors certain incumbents."
The Senate began meeting Wednesday in a special session to redraw the maps. If the chamber fails again to pass constitutional muster, the Supreme Court will take on the task.
Along with redrawing eight oddly shaped, non-contiguous districts, Senate must number districts in a fair manner — and overcome a shameless propensity for partisan power plays.
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