The Florida Legislature has not ruled out appealing Wednesday’s state court decision to set new Senate districts that could bolster Democratic chances at the ballot box in 2016.
“We have not foreclosed the option to appeal on the state or federal level,” said State Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who led the Senate’s redistricting plan which a judge dismissed in favor of one presented by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
Galvano said Thursday the Senate is also exploring a legal option to request a rehearing of the redistricting case.
Similarly, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who Wednesday issued a statement proclaiming the maps are set, said he never intended to suggest an appeal was off the table. He said the decision is under legal review and any decision will be up to current Senate President Andy Gardiner and the Senate’s legal team. Negron said he was just trying to make it clear Republicans were prepared to fight to hold their majority in the Florida Senate in 2016 regardless of the way the map has been crafted.
Republicans currently hold 26 seats in the Senate while Democrats hold 14. Under the redistricting plan Circuit Judge George Reynolds approved Wednesday, President Barack Obama in 2012 carried the majority of the vote in 21 of 40 seats, according to an analysis by Democratic data consultant Matthew Isbell. That would, on paper, give Democrats improved chances to win current GOP-held districts.
Galvano, an attorney, said there are issues in Circuit Judge George Reynolds’ ruling from Wednesday that could merit an appeal. He said the way the process of redistricting was handled by the courts and even how minority-access districts were drawn in South Florida are being reviewed with the Senate’s legal counsel. Under the redistricting plan Reynolds approved, one South Florida district represented now by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, would see the black voting age population decline enough that it could affect whether an African-American can win the seat in the future.
An appeal would extend the already long-running redistricting saga that has raged for almost three years. It has cost taxpayers more than $8 million in legal fees and resulted in two acrimonious special sessions of the Florida Legislature that produced maps for Congressional districts and Florida Senate districts that the courts have refused to accept because of constitutional flaws.
The state constitution bars the Legislature from drawing districts for Congress and the Legislature to favor incumbents or political parties. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause have argued that the Legislature violated those rules when it initially redrew the lines and did so again this year when it tried to remedy those maps under a court directive.
Even though an appeal or rehearing could still take place, the Florida Senate is expected on Tuesday to hold a random lottery to assign district numbers to each of the 40 districts Reynolds approved.
That has potentially dramatic implications for the Florida Senate and the political fates of current incumbents. All Senate districts would be up for re-election in 2016, but current senators in legislative districts that draw an even number would get just a two-year term, allowing them to run for another full four-year term in 2018. Districts assigned an odd number would get a four year term.
While seemingly a small detail, it has big consequences and could determine if Tampa Bay will have a future Senate president in 2021. Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Pasco County Republican elected in 2012, has the support to become Senate president in 2021. However, if his district is assigned an odd number, he will get a four year term in 2016. Eight-year term limits would bar him from seeking re-election in 2020 when he would have become Senate President. However, if he draws an even district number, he’d be allowed to run for a new four-year term in 2018, that would carry him through 2022.
The map approved by Reynolds could have other major impacts on Tampa Bay and South Florida. Under that plan, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, could be searching for new districts to run in. Almost half a million people in east Hillsborough who are now represented by Lee would be split into two new districts. Either district could be represented by a senator from another county.
In Pasco County, Legg would be in the same district as Simpson, forcing the Republicans to potentially run in a primary against one another.
In South Florida, the map puts two senators, Republican Anitere Flores and Democrat Bullard, in the same Miami district, which would force one of them to move to a new area or oppose each other. Also Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Democrat, would be drawn into the same district as Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican.