Judge Hands Democrats A Huge Win In Florida Just In Time For Elections

The GOP in Florida has lost a major battle they should never have had a chance at winning in the first place. A judge for the Leon Circuit has ruled in favor of district maps drawn up by voters’ groups, and not the GOP-controlled legislature. These maps give Democrats a new chance at capturing the state’s Senate in upcoming elections by making districts competitive again.

The House is another story, because Republicans dominate Florida’s House by a huge margin. Right now, they hold the Senate by a 26-14 margin, despite the fact that registered Democratic voters outnumber registered Republican voters in the state. Judge George Reynolds rejected the state Senate’s maps as partisan, saying:

“While the Senate maintains that the selection of Senate Map 1 was without partisan intent and that all safeguards were taken to insulate staff from outside political influence, it is difficult to infer anything other than impermissible partisan intent in the selection of Senate Map 1 based on its political performance.”

Gerrymandering has been losing a lot of ground around the nation, particularly in the wake of a little-known Supreme Court decision earlier this summer that upheld Arizona’s citizen redistricting commission. Arizona’s legislature sued in federal court after the commission drew Arizona’s new districts, claiming the Constitution doesn’t give them that authority. It was a 5-4 decision, but the Court sided with the independent commission, which paved the way for other states to create their own independent commissions to combat the scourge of gerrymandering.

“Safe districts” are a major problem for voters and the population because they give one party a distinct advantage over the other for years at a time. States end up with disproportionate representation in their legislatures and in the federal government. Florida is a prime example of this, with more Democratic voters than Republican voters, but far more Republicans controlling the state.

Safe districts can cause two massive problems that seem contradictory: The first is to make legislators lazy, because they don’t have to fear serious challenges from the opposition. However, it can also make them more extreme politically, because they fear primary challenges from their lunatic fringes. This is part of how the GOP’s lunatic fringe, a.k.a. the Tea Party, took over. Republicans screwed themselves with their gerrymandering efforts, because they created hyperpartisan districts for themselves, some of which were way too far right. When you create entire districts for your lunatic fringe, your lunatic fringe takes over.

Florida’s new maps—one for the House and one for the Senate—will be drawn by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. These two groups spearheaded the four-year long war against the Republicans’ own redistricting plans. The court rejected those plans as illegal under a voter-approved ban on gerrymandering.

State Sen. Joe Negron, of Stuart, seems to think that the Senate should cut its losses with this, although others are reviewing the judge’s decision and seeing if there might be a way to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Negron thinks that the people of Florida will continue to elect “principled” Republicans in spite of the new maps.

Florida’s Supreme Court has struck blows to nearly every one of the legislature’s redistricting challenges, so if they do appeal, they can probably expect to be shot down yet again. Negron might actually be a voice of reason for the GOP on this. It’s time for them to give it up and find real, honest ways to reach voters.

That requires real work on the party, though, which is too difficult for them.

Earlier in December, Florida’s Supreme Court approved the independently-drawn Congressional district map, which was also far less gerrymandered than previous maps. It will hurt some Republicans and also some Democrats, but helps to end the “safe district” problem at the federal level, too.

Other states with independent redistricting commissions include California, Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington. These commissions do not include lawmakers as a general rule, which is necessary to create the fairest map possible.

Ohio voters approved a ballot measure earlier this year to reform the redistricting process in their state. With that, the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s commission, and this latest ruling in Florida, we’re seeing a slow, agonizing death to the gerrymandering process, which will help voters get their voices back and prevent politicians from languishing in their seats, and catering to their fringe elements, because they come from safe, hyperpartisan districts.


Image by Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

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