Dissension roils Senate’s latest attempt at redistricting

Confusion and controversy continued to swamp the redistricting discussions Wednesday as one Senate Republican leader said he had “lost confidence’’ in the legal team while the redistricting chairman selected a draft map that several lawmakers said could be rejected by the courts as incumbency protection.

"I just don’t find any consistency in this. I think I’ve lost confidence," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, after listening to answers from the Senate's legal team during the second day of hearings on Senate redistricting.

After the six-hour hearing, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, filed a proposed map, S9084, that will serve as the Senate's starting point on Friday, when the committee attempts to vote out a map. It was similar to S9078, one of six draft maps drawn by House and Senate staff in advance of the redistricting session that began on Monday.

Galvano, who has argued that not all senators will have to run for re-election in 2016 even if their districts are significantly revised by the new map, also offered two options for determining which Senate districts will escape re-election. If approved, at least 14 senators will not run until 2018, even if the new districts represent new communities.

He also rejected arguments from Democrats and some Republicans and included in his map a district that links black communities of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties by crossing Tampa Bay, similar to the district now held by Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered lawmakers not to cross Tampa Bay when drawing the congressional map and Lee joined Democrats in arguing against it. Democrats allege the reason Republican legislators want to link the communities of Hillsborough and Pinellas is to protect GOP incumbents whose districts would otherwise lean Democratic.

"It’s my personal belief there is a political reason for not jumping the bay,’’ said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who submitted an alternate map that creates an African-American majority district in Hillsborough County without linking to black communities in South Pinellas County.

By linking black communities across Tampa Bay, legislators preserve a Republican-dominated seat in Pinellas County, similar to one now held by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. The African-American seat is currently held by Joyner.

Lee and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, also complained the Senate has failed to address the complaints by the challengers, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs who sued the Senate for violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when it drew the 2012 redistricting map.

The Legislature agreed to settle the lawsuit and returned this week for a three-week special session to redraw the map.

The Senate lawyers said its legal theory is based on the notion that the plaintiffs’ complaints are just allegations and they are ignoring them and starting over in redrawing the Senate maps. But Lee insisted that was a bad idea that could prompt the court to reject their map.

The Legislature must justify its own map and “not necessarily accepting the plaintiffs’ version of facts,’’ Cantero said.

Galvano said the numbering system may allow senators who are drawn together into a district with another senator to avoid having to move until they are up for re-election – in some cases 2018.

Later, Galvano announced later the Senate will use a second method for determining which districts will be given the even-numbered designation and the committee will choose which approach to use on Friday.

The state’s auditor general will “randomly assign district numbers” the same way it randomly selects lobbyists for audit, Galvano wrote in a memo to senators. The selection process for the alternate system will happen Thursday morning.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com, (850) 222-3095 and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas