THE FLORIDA HOUSE GAVE PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO STATE LEGISLATIVE MAPS
By Andrew Pantazi
The Florida House has settled on a new proposal for its legislative districts, approving a map out of committee Wednesday and sending it to the floor for a full vote.
As the Florida Senate coalesced around bipartisan approval for new congressional and legislative maps last week, the Florida House canceled its congressional redistricting subcommittee meeting last week and focused, with some more partisan rancor, on its legislative proposals.
The newest map appears to incorporate previous suggestions made by the Democratic lawmakers — it follows a preferred drawing of Tallahassee that doesn’t split that community; it drew two South Florida districts that now keep the Haitian community intact; and it split Miami Gardens only twice instead of an original four times.
Yet Democrats, who haven’t submitted any of their own proposals, balked at Wednesday’s meeting, saying it was inappropriate to vote on a map that was just released Monday.
The map made mostly slight technical changes — mostly ensuring districts follow roadways or city lines — from the one discussed a week earlier, and the committee walked through each of those changes. Two major changes included how the map handled Bradenton and Miami Gardens.
One Democrat, Rep. Anika Omphroy, voted for the map, saying she liked how Broward County looked in the proposals. She said she still had some concerns and would like to see amendments brought to the floor to improve the map.
“I would like for us to take another look at whether or not we’ve fully explored the possibilities for additional House districts to be looked at as access districts” for minority voters, she said.
Every other Democrat voted against the map.
Joe Geller, the House Democratic ranking member on the redistricting committee, requested a delay in the vote, saying the new maps were “significantly changed” from previous versions, even though the committee walked through each of the changes, some of which were done at the request of Democrats.
The state’s Fair Districts standards bar favoring or disfavoring political parties, and no one openly discussed the map’s partisan impacts.
The map would likely make little change to the partisan makeup of the Florida House, where Republicans hold 78 of 120 seats.
Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Andrew Gillum would’ve each won three, two and one more seats than the current map, respectively. Bill Nelson and Nikki Fried would’ve each won two fewer seats.
There are 42 House districts in the new map where statewide Democratic candidates would have won at least seven of the last eight elections, compared to 41 now.
There are 62 House districts where statewide Democratic candidates have won at least once, compared to 63 now.
While the Florida Senate saw more bipartisanship in its redistricting process, House Democrats have shown less of a willingness to participate in the process, instead complaining about the maps without offering alternatives.
House Democrats didn’t propose their own version of maps or identify specific areas of the map they objected to, unlike Democrats in the Senate.
A solid chunk of Wednesday’s meeting, like every previous meeting, involved Democrats asking Rep. Tom Leek, the Republican chair of the committee, to define basic terms and answer questions that Democrats have asked repeatedly at nearly every meeting.
In the new maps, two House districts were re-drawn to better respect the Haitian community in the northern part of Miami-Dade County, keeping the Haitian population largely in 2 house districts, as it is in the current map
Overlaying the American Community Survey’s estimates of the Haitian population shows that the districts have about as many Haitian people in them as is possible.
Even though this was an area where the staff seemed to make an improvement to the map based on Democrats’ suggestions, Democrats spent the bulk of the meeting focused on asking questions about the districts.
Despite having a decade to prepare, House Democrats have shown up to these hearings largely underprepared. They’ve also repeated the same questions at nearly every meeting, and they’ve rarely shared specific concerns about districts.
At one point Wednesday, Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil asked if the committee considered traveling across the state for public meetings. The committee discussed doing so at previous committee meetings, so obviously it had been considered and the idea rejected.
When Leek told her that she already knew the answer to the question, she said she didn’t.
When Democrats have shared concerns, they’ve repeatedly discussed proposed changes they’d like to see in terms of “communities of interest,” which aren’t protected under Florida’s Constitution. Often, that wasn’t even the appropriate term.
At one point last week, Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a West Palm Beach Democrat, talked about preserving coastal communities. Chairman Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, reminded her that communities of interests weren’t a protected standard.
Yet Florida’s standards require considering geographic boundaries, such as water, and they require compactness. Skidmore could’ve made the same proposal using the state’s legal standards.
Right after Skidmore, Rep. Kristen Arrington, a Kissimmee Democrat, made a similar point with another district, focusing complaints on the time it takes to drive from one end to the other and the communities of interest in that district. Yet she could’ve made similar points while talking about compactness and crossing major waterways, which have protections under the Florida Constitution.
Jacksonville’s proposed six districts, for example, cross the St. Johns River twice, even though the City Council has said in its own redistricting that unnecessarily doing so is inappropriate.
On Wednesday, Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil complained that there was little opportunity to host town halls with her constituents about the maps since the committee had only gotten two workshop proposals before the holidays.
Leek replied that lawmakers could’ve used the workshop proposals to make amendments and suggest their own maps and that he had admonished the committee to engage their constituents about what they’d like to see changed.
“If folks did not do that or could not find a way to do that, I apologize, but you should have,” he said.
Democratic consultant Matt Isbell noted on Twitter that a major factor in at least one court case last decade was the existence of alternative maps.
The House staff have not explained how they determined which districts deserved protections for voters from racial minorities.
Cecile Scoon of the League of Women Voters has repeatedly asked the committee to perform a statewide analysis of racially polarized voting using precinct-level elections and demographic data, which is often the first step in determining what districts deserve protections, as the Tributary has previously reported.
Without such an analysis, the Legislature can’t know that voters from certain racial minority backgrounds vote cohesively and that white voters vote cohesively enough to deny those voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.
Proving those factors is the first step in showing that a district needs state or federal protections.
It’s possible, especially with Latino and Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, that those voters don’t vote cohesively enough as a bloc to trigger protections, which might make it inappropriate to prioritize increasing the Latino population of those districts over drawing more compact districts.
The House and Senate legislative district maps will merge into a single resolution for the chambers to approve. Any representative could still propose amendments to the maps on the floor. The Senate, for example, unanimously approved an amendment by Sen. Shev Jones to its congressional map proposal.
The congressional redistricting subcommittee is scheduled to meet next Friday, which would make Wednesday the deadline for the committee to submit new proposals to its meeting packets.
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On The Calendar
The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee will host its first public hearings tonight to gather community input about its local redistricting plan at 6 p.m t Ed White High School.
The committee will host three more hearings the following Thursdays at 6 p.m., on Feb. 3 at Atlantic Coast High, on Feb. 10 at First Coast High and on Feb. 17 at Raines High.
The Florida House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee is scheduled to meet next Friday.
You can stream that or find past meetings on The Florida Channel.
Submit your maps
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