“We’ll see you in court.”
With this one line the Florida Democratic Party fired a salvo at the Senate whose redrawn maps barely passed out of the House on Tuesday. The 61-47 vote in favor of sending the revised Gaetz plan to the Supreme Court for review is a strong indicator that this plan is not even close to being universally accepted outside the halls of the Senate Office Building. While several Democrats voted for their own self-interest in the Senate and passed the incumbent and partisan protection plan, House Democrats, in a remarkable demonstration of party discipline, largely voted no as did several Republicans.
The Senate’s Republican majority has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the will of the voters and shown a remarkable amount of arrogance in the process. In the past they would have gotten away with it as an impotent Florida Democratic Party would have no doubt mismanaged the public campaign and given the Republicans no orchestrated or organized opposition to their schemes to maintain power. The Democrats uncanny ability to bungle any attempt to frame a positive message in order to hold the GOP’s feet to the fire in the past decade and a half has repeated itself time and again. But that now appears to be history.
As we have previously pointed out on our site, Rod Smith has his own checkered history on this issue. As a Senator in 2002, he was instrumental in cutting a deal that saw Richard Mitchell thrown into a GOP leaning seat and the Democrats left with very few pickup opportunities around the state. But that was before Fair Districts, and at a time when the FDP had no cohesive organization and absolutely no plan to deal with redistricting other than to file hopeful lawsuits.
Learning from those errors, and backed by constitutional change, Smith put forth an aggressive public relations strategy that has put the Republicans on the defensive. The House Republicans, knowing that the Democrats were well organized and singing from the same script in the public arena, passed a map that is about as fair as could be expected from a group of extreme legislators. The Senate on the other hand, chose to play by old rules and got burned both in the court of public opinion and in the courts itself.
The Senate did not learn the lesson of its initial rejection and Smith’s Democrats kept the pressure up. Unlike 2002, when reapportionment was an issue that didn’t perculate outside the political chattering classes, ordinary citizens began to act with some knowledge of the process and put pressure on the Senate. Smith’s public relations master plan had paid off and shown that Democrats can organize on a mass level and frame the message and debate in a way we have failed to do on the state level in fifteen years.
As the Senate maps head to court, Smith and the Democrats have presented a strong unified message with the backing of the party’s elected officials and constituents. This in itself is a positive change from the recent past, even if the Supreme Court for whatever reason decides to approve the proposed Senate districts.