Negron, Abruzzo, Clemens seats could change in FL Senate redistricting

Palm Beach Post | Palm Beach Post | 07/30/2015

TALLAHASSEE — After reaching an agreement this week with voting-rights groups, Florida lawmakers face the chore of going into special session in October to redraw Senate districts.

But the agreement with the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause Florida and others that legally challenged the Senate’s current map doesn’t list the districts that have to be changed. And the opponents’ objections have encompassed 28 districts — fully 70 percent of the districts represented in the 40-member Senate.

“The Senate has indicated that it’s going to redraw the map,” said David King, a lawyer for the groups that were fighting the plan. “I would assume that they will address the challenged districts. If they don’t, they’re going to have to justify those decisions in the remedial (legal) process.”

Lawmakers also will hold a special session Aug. 10 to redraw the state’s congressional map. But during that session, lawmakers have to comply with a relatively specific Florida Supreme Court decision spelling out the eight districts that need to be changed, as well as swapping populations to make sure the reconfigured seats serve the same number of residents.

The roadmap for redrawing the Senate districts later in the year, however, is not so clear. A joint memo issued Tuesday by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, didn’t give many specifics. It simply said the Legislature’s staff will draw a map “that complies with the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling (on the congressional districts) and all other relevant legal standards.”

But here are some of the major areas that King’s clients have focused on:

TREASURE COAST AND SOUTH FLORIDA

Opponents of the current Senate map — the League of Women Voters and its allies — dinged the district of Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican and the rival of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, for the Senate presidency following the 2016 elections. They said Negron’s District 32 was drawn to favor him and the Republican Party, in part by splitting counties and in part by drawing the district further north than it needed to be, with District 25 picking up a strip of land between Negron’s seat and District 27. District 25 is represented by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, while District 27 is represented by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

The opponents also alleged that districts were specially designed for Miami senators including Republicans Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores, along with Democrat Gwen Margolis. Diaz de la Portillla represents District 40, Flores represents District 37, and Margolis represents District 35.

TAMPA BAY

A major focus of the map’s opponents was the Tampa Bay area, where they said a number of districts were shaped to try to help the GOP and incumbents. For example, District 17 was allegedly drawn to favor former Sen. Jim Norman — he later dropped his re-election bid — and Republicans generally. The seat is now held by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz.

The plaintiffs also zeroed in on the configuration of District 22, which crosses Tampa Bay to link parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. That seat, currently held by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, could be more of a toss-up district if it were drawn completely within Pinellas County.

They also questioned District 20, represented by Latvala, saying it could be made more compact and less favorable to the GOP.

DAYTONA BEACH AND NORTH FLORIDA

Perhaps one of the most straightforward parts of the arguments against the current Senate map comes in Volusia County. There, opponents say lawmakers split Daytona Beach’s African-American population between two districts to dilute its influence and to make certain that both District 6 and District 8 favored Republicans.

The seats are currently held by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, and Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange.

Opponents argued that the lines were drawn to make sure that Hukill’s district was more Republican than it otherwise would have been. The opponents proposed uniting Daytona Beach in that district, making it more of a toss-up seat.

The opponents also have been challenging three North Florida districts they said were drawn to try to make District 7 — now represented by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island — friendly to the GOP. Combined, the lines for Districts 3, 5 and 7 ensured that the trio of seats would produce two Republican wins and one Democratic seat, instead of the other way around. The plan also allowed Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican who represents District 5, to avoid facing Sen. Alan Hays of Umatilla in a Republican primary. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, represents District 3, while Hays represents District 11.

GALVANO AND GRIMSLEY DISTRICTS

One target of the opponents of the map was an amendment to the plan that shifted the lines for a set of districts in Central Florida and nearby areas. The amendment was purportedly an effort to remove Plant City from a Lakeland-area district.

But even some Republicans said the changes were meant to prevent a primary fight between then-Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and former Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Both now serve in the Senate, and Galvano is chairing the committee that will draw the new lines.

“I understand that people in here want to help their friends, some of the House members, to come over here,” then-Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said on the Senate floor.

Districts 15 and 24, which were changed to move Plant City — a move that then rippled through the current Galvano and Grimsley districts — were also part of the plaintiffs’ challenge. District 15 is represented by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, while District 24 is represented by Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

The plaintiffs also argued that the map had an added bonus for Republicans: It prevented District 21, currently represented by Grimsley, from being a Democratic-performing district. Grimsley is now deputy majority leader in the Senate. Galvano, who represents District 26, serves as majority leader.


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