Conceding that the anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendments they had bitterly opposed were not as onerous as they had feared, the Republican-led Florida Senate voted 34-6 for two redistricting maps that will reshape the state’s political boundaries for the next decade.
By a 34-6 vote, with seven Democrats joining the 28 Republicans, the Senate approved its state Senate maps.
“We’ve seen the positive effects of Amendments 5 and 6,’’ said Sen. Don Gaetz, the Senate redistricting chairman, noting that the result is that districts are more compact, that minorities boundaries are preserved and that the districts were drawn “for the first time in history” without the intent to protect incumbents or political parties.
“The plan before you is not a Republican plan or a Democratic plan,’’ said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican. “This is truly a non-partisan plan, blending the insights of both parties.”
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, however, disagreed, noting that the maps “are tremendously familiar” to the 2002 maps that voters rejected when they imposed strict redistricting standards by a 63 percent vote in 2010.
“I believe it doesn’t comply with the specific standards that are now part of the Constitution,’’ she said.
Rich accused the Republicans of using the districts of the members who are term limited to reconfigure the districts of the members who want to return.
“The only districts that I believe look tremendously different are the termed out seats, where there is no incumbent,’’ she said. “It certainly is odd that we, unlike the House, have no members who are not termed out who are not in conflict with each other or have not significantly moved their district.”
Gaetz disagreed with Rich’s argument, saying “The facts don’t bear her out.”
He then chastised Democrats, and proponents of the Fair Districts amendments, for failing to provide an alternative except those offered by Rich and by the League of Women Voters on the final day “apparently unwilling to expose their proposals to public scrutiny”.
“Why not?,’’ he asked. “What were they afraid of.”
But Gaetz and Rich did agree on one thing: it will be up to the courts to have the final say. The Legislative map must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court, determine if they comply with the new amendments and other redistricting standards required by law.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, who was one of the Democrtas to join Republicans to support the maps, recalled her time as Senate President in 1992 when legislators created the winding and controversial minority districts that continue today.
“The courts will never throw out a whole plan – unless something atrocious has happened,’’ she advised. She said she will support the maps because she has not been persuaded there is a flaw.
“My district isn’t everything that I love but it’s a wonderful district,’’ he said. “It’s a good one. I’m pleased. I’m really pleased.”