The release of the new Senate maps on Saturday led to a frenzy of speculation regarding the fate of sitting Senators and ambitious House members. What is painfully obvious is that the process has clarity thanks to the Fair Districts Amendment that overwhelmingly was approved statewide in 2010, but that the politicians, particularly in the State Senate, still seem willing to buck the will of the voters, their constituents, to achieve political ends. The Republican leadership fight is still fresh in many people’s memory, and Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) took advantage of this by seemingly displacing both Andy Gardiner (R-Apopka) and David Simmons (R- Altamonte Springs) in his map. Simmons responded by stating he would move north into Seminole County in order to avoid a bloody primary fight between political allies. Gaetz also managed to avoid drawing himself into the same district as fellow Okaloosa County Republican Greg Evers (R-Baker) cleverly using Interstate 10 as a boundary between the coastal and inland districts. This was originally done in the 1992 redistricting and maintained in 2002 but is one of the clear examples of why the Fair Districts Amendment was proposed and passed in the first place.
Further south, as we referenced yesterday, Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) and Ellyn Bogdonoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) are now somewhat bizarrely in the same district, although it is possible that Sachs could run in the more Democratic seat carved out of Western Palm Beach County. In that seat (currently numbered Senate District 27) current State Rep. Joe Abruzzo (D-Wellington) declared he would jump into the race almost immediately after the maps were issued, causing a free for all musical chair game among Palm Beach County Democrats. Several other districts have questionable intent as well. As my colleague Dave Trotter pointed out soon after the new maps were issued, the Florida Senate continues to try and skirt the spirit of the Fair Districts Amendment while settling political scores.
The ultimate verdict on the new map will come from the courts, unless the Senate rejects the map outright this week. It is difficult if you are truly objective about the matter not to agree with Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith, who dismissed the new map as a stalling tactic. Smith stated “the map Sen. Don Gaetz has proposed brings us no closer to complying with the court’s ruling and is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by the GOP Senate leadership to stall the implementation of Fair Districts and cling to their gerrymandered power. Not only have they thwarted the will of 63-percent of Florida voters, they are now thumbing their nose at Florida’s Supreme Court. It’s clear they have no intent to comply with the court’s ruling.”
Smith may seem like a partisan hack with gubernatorial ambitions to many in the Senate leadership, but they would be wise to heed the counsel of their former colleague on this matter. While the State House has been considered the more partisan body over the course of the GOP legislative hegemony that began in 1996, clearly they understood the mandate from the voters in a way the Senate still cannot properly grasp. For one of the few times in recent memory, the Senate would be wise to mimic the House to regain some common sense and decency.