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

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The Florida Senate says 2021 redistricting won’t be a repeat of 2011

By Andrew Pantazi
The Tributary

The Florida state Sen. Ray Rodrigues kicked off this redistricting cycle with an important admission: The Florida Legislature messed up last time, and legislators can’t allow that to happen again.

A decade ago, Florida voters passed constitutional amendments requiring fair districts according to certain standards: compact shapes, no favoring incumbents or political parties and no denying equal opportunities racial or language minorities.

The Florida Legislature’s approved state Senate and congressional maps failed that test according to the courts.

“Some hard lessons were learned in the previous cycle, and I believe we will learn from those lessons,” said Rodrigues, who is leading the Florida Senate redistricting committee. “… I intend for this committee to conduct itself in a manner that is consistent with case law that developed over the last decade. That is beyond reproach and free from any hint of unconstitutional intent.”

Florida Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero). [The Florida Channel]

While Rodrigues quoted from court rulings, how he quoted them was noteworthy.

Rodrigues cast the fault for last cycle’s redistricting failures at both parties, which was not how the courts ruled. Florida’s redistricting was controlled entirely by Republicans, and it was Republican political consultants who the courts blamed for corrupting the process.

For example, Rodrigues quoted from the trial court in one of the redistricting cases, but he edited out language that directly blamed Republicans:

What is clear to me from the evidence, as described in more detail below, is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They accomplished this by writing scripts for and organizing groups of people to attend the public hearings to advocate for adoption of certain components or characteristics in the maps, and by submitting maps and partial maps through the public process, all with the intention of obtaining enacted maps for the State House and Senate and for Congress that would favor the Republican Party.

They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process, utilizing the access it gave them to the decision makers, but going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.

Still, Rodrigues’ admission was an encouraging sign for advocates who fought the Legislature’s gerrymandering last time.

“It’s been really a very good feeling to hear the recounting the actual history and the problems our state ran into and the waste of time and energy and the creation of distrust with the people,” said Cecile Scoon, the new president of the Florida League of Women Voters, which successfully sued the state last time. “In the past representatives promised to follow the law, but they didn’t.”

[Florida Senate meeting packet]

Rodrigues promised this time the Legislature would hold itself to a higher standard, including by trying to ferret out ‘astroturfing,’ in which paid political consultants use scripts to build false narratives during public comment.

“We will protect our process against the astroturfing that occurred in the past where partisan political operatives from both parties wrote scripts and recruited speakers that advocated for certain plans or district configurations, create a false impression of a widespread grassroots movement,” Rodrigues said.

He said speakers must disclose if they’re lobbyists or if they received any compensation. One way this is bound to affect people is that he will require that people disclose if their travel was provided by a group. In many cases, organizations like central labor councils will provide bus transportation for groups going to Tallahassee.

This morning, the Florida Legislature released a new website at FloridaRedistricting.gov where people can submit their own map proposals.

Rodrigues said he was still considering whether the committee will travel the state like last time and whether it will allow for virtual public comment.

Jonathan Webber, deputy director of the Florida Conservation Voters, urged Rodrigues to open up the process as much as possible.

“Fair political districts are the most important aspect of our democratic republic,” he said. “The integrity of our entire system is in those little lines on the map, which are now completely in your hands.”

On The Calendar

The Jacksonville City Council members from the Southside (Districts 4, 5, 6 & 11) will meet to discuss redistricting tomorrow, Sept. 22, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at City Hall’s Lynwood Roberts Room.

City Council members from the Northside and Westside (Districts 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14) will meet Thursday, Sept. 23, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. City Hall’s Lynwood Roberts Room.

The Florida House Redistricting Committee will meet tomorrow, Sept. 22, from 2:45 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at the Florida Capitol.

The Florida House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee will meet Thursday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

The Florida House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee will meet separately at the same time.

The Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee met yesterday and though it hasn’t set the date for its next meeting, it will likely meet again the week of Oct. 11.

You can find yesterday’s meeting on The Florida Channel, which will also live-stream each of the Florida House meetings this week.

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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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...