It was supposed to be the year of the redistricting without drama. And in January, when the Florida Legislature met, this is what it looked like. Now not so much.
On March 4, the Florida House and Senate paused the culture wars long enough to adopt new maps of US House districts. Two, in fact, a plan A and a plan B.
Plan A is closer to what the Governor wants. Plan B is what comes into effect if the courts overturn the governor’s card. Always good to have a spare.
More from Mark Lane:Court overturns redistricting decision as more cards compete
More recut updates:Crowded field for House District 7, which should include southeast Volusia
Redistricting, like grasshoppers, is something that emerges every 10 years. This is when the lines for congressional, legislative, and even local commission districts are redrawn to reflect population changes. If this is not done, voters in high-growth places would have less say than voters in low-growth places. Before it was needed in Florida, fast-growing East Florida and South Florida were second-class citizens compared to the powerful rural interests of North Florida.
The big difference between the Plan A and Plan B maps is US House District 5, a North Florida district ably represented by a black congressman, Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee. Governor Ron DeSantis argues the Lawson district is an unconstitutional gerrymander even though the map was returned by the Florida Supreme Court which seemed to know what it was doing in December 2015, during this latest round of redistricting, after the legislators could not agree on a map.
But there have been new court rulings since then, and the governor appears to believe that more conservative activist courts could strike down the state’s Fair District Amendments as well as sections of the Voting Rights Act to give Republican candidates a clearer path to victory. A not unreasonable expectation, but still, nothing certain.
Save map drawn
The Legislature’s two-card approach, while unprecedented, seemed like a reasonable compromise. (If you put aside what plan A does to minority access districts, that is.) We’ll use your card, Governor, but if the courts say no, we’ll just have to use a replacement part that looks more like the card we use now. An approach that could move things forward. Don’t forget that the qualification of candidates begins on June 13, shortly.
But compromise is not the DeSantis way. He pledged on Twitter to veto the bill the same day it passes. (“I will veto the Congressional redistribution plan currently being debated by the House. DOA.”) The result will likely be what everyone has said they want to avoid this year, which is a protracted legal fight that would leave the map uncertain. beyond the next election cycle.
Sure enough, litigants have already lined up to fight on the cards. A federal lawsuit filed the day the Legislative Assembly adjourned asked the court to intervene because “there is a high likelihood that Florida’s political branches will not reach a consensus to enact a district plan for the Legal Congress in time to be used in the next elections of 2022”.
Which, whether the court takes up the case or not, seems like a fair assessment. Court cases that demand major changes in established law don’t happen overnight and Florida may once again be in the same predicament it was a decade ago when redistricting dragged on for five long years, through several levels of the court system and several Florida Supreme Court Actions.
In January, legislative leaders promised a cleaner, faster and fairer process this time around. And until the Governor inserted himself into the process, it looked like it would happen. But now, at least for the Congressional cards, it looks like Florida is ready to redraw the 2010 style — controversial, long and overtly partisan.
One could easily get the impression that one learned almost nothing from this exercise.
Mark Lane is a News-Journal columnist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.