A newsletter covering redistricting, the Census and the fight for political power

This is Changing Florida, a Tributary newsletter keeping you up to date on redistricting, demographics and the fight for political power in the Sunshine State.

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Northeast Florida will lead some of the Legislature’s redistricting efforts

Neptune Beach Rep. Cord Byrd and Fleming Island Sen. Jennifer Bradley were appointed to lead subcommittees focused on drawing new maps.

By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

Northeast Florida will have a dominant voice in drawing the state’s new congressional and legislative maps with local legislators chairing two of four Republican-led redistricting subcommittees.

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, will lead the Florida House’s subcommittee that will draw House maps. Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, will lead the Florida Senate’s subcommittee that will draw congressional maps, with the added challenge of determining how to draw in an extra district due to Florida’s population growth over the last decade.

In a legislature with no shortage of controversial issues, redistricting arose as one of the last decade’s most significant, resulting in repeated court battles. The contentiousness over redistricting doesn’t seem likely to subside in the coming months.

Even though Republicans often win statewide by the slimmest of margins, the party holds 59 percent of Congressional districts, 60 percent of Florida Senate seats and 65 percent of Florida House seats.

With an already favorable map, University of North Florida political scientist Michael Binder said he imagines the committees will attempt to draw maps that preserve as much of the status quo as possible.

“I can’t imagine a Republican House or Senate putting in significant effort to redraw maps when it has substantial built-in advantages already,” Binder said. On the other hand, he said, the shapes of congressional districts are drawn by legislators who are often eyeing their opportunities to run for higher office.

“Where they live and what their plans are to run for Congress in the future, that’s always something that’s going to be on the back of somebody’s mind if they’re on one of these committees.”

In 2010, Florida voters approved constitutional amendments requiring maps that weren’t drawn to favor incumbents or political parties. Two years later, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the Legislature’s congressional and senate maps, eventually adopting new ones.

Since then, the Florida Supreme Court has grown significantly more conservative. Four of the five justices who approved the new maps have been replaced with more conservative lawyers, while the two dissenting justices remain.

Before committee meetings begin Sept. 20, both Byrd and Bradley told The Tributary they intend to study the Florida Supreme Court’s decisions of the last decade to help guide the process this time.

“We have a lot of guidance from the court,” Bradley said. “The individuals responsible [for the 2010 redistricting] didn’t have that, but we do. We’re going to rely on that.”

They’re not the only locals appointed to the committees. Republican Sen. Aaron Bean and Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson will both serve on the state Senate’s redistricting committee, and Republican Rep. Jason Fischer will serve in the Florida House’s congressional redistricting subcommittee.

The committees overwhelmingly favor Republicans, who hold majorities in the House and Senate. The Senate’s main redistricting committee has four Democrats and eight Republicans. The House’s main redistricting committee has eight Democrats and 16 Republicans.

Byrd said that while redistricting is inherently a partisan process, he believes he “has respect among my colleagues [for] taking a sober, legal approach to the task.”

He named four Democrats who he said he can talk to for a gut-check on partisan issues.

“My friends on the other side of the aisle,” he said. “They know where I stand, but they know I’m going to shoot straight.”

Jacksonville Rep. Angie Nixon, who also serves as the Florida Democratic Party’s organizing director, said in a statement that redistricting can influence a wide swath of policy.

“There’s a fear that Republicans may try to divide us by drawing unfair district lines that are more convenient for themselves than the Floridians they serve,” she said. “We expect fairness when undergoing this process. We expect transparency and openness with the public. We expect Republicans to understand that it’s about more than votes — it’s about the distribution of resources. It’s about public safety, health care, schools and infrastructure. It’s about ensuring equity between the haves and the have nots for the next 10 years. If those expectations are not met, Floridians will make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

Bradley committed to prioritizing public input in the process, though she said where Senate committee meetings are held and whether they hold hearings across the state is not decided.

Byrd said he would leave decisions about holding hearings across the state to House Redistricting Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Leek, who did not return a request for comment.

Florida House Democratic leader Bobby DuBose also did not return a request for comment.

On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council Special Committee on Redistricting meets again on Thursday, Sept. 9, from 1-3 p.m. at City Hall.

The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee meets Monday, Sept. 27, from 3:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.

The Florida House begins committee meetings Sept. 20 but has not yet published when its reapportionment committee will meet.

Submit your maps

We want to see what you think Florida’s Congressional, Senate and House districts should look like.

We’ve already gotten two submitted City Council maps that we are going to feature next week with descriptions from the people who drew them.

Here’s how you can get started drawing your own maps.

  • Go to DavesRedistricting.org.
  • Create an account.
  • Go to DavesRedistricting.org/maps.
  • Select New Map.
  • Choose Florida as your state.
  • Select your plan type (“Congress”, “State Senate”, “State House” or “other” for local districts).
  • Click apply and it will take you to a new screen where you can begin drawing districts.

When you’re done, send a link to your map to info@jaxtrib.org, so we can feature it in a future newsletter.

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Don’t miss our redistricting updates

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Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He is a Jacksonville...