Redistricting, the Florida Legislature, and November Elections: Possibilities for Republicans

The limbo of the redistricting trial is making headlines nationally, yet it is very unclear where this circus is headed.  Judge Terry Lewis has scheduled a  meeting next week to discuss what will happen next in the congressional redistricting case. Then, they will at least clarify if there needs to be a new map for the November elections. The League of Woman Voters of Florida argue that voters shouldn’t have to vote on an illegal map, however, the logistics of drawing a new map and making all the candidates scramble for districts is highly unlikely.  Judge Lewis stated that he actually did no consider 2014 elections because he assumed that one side would appeal.  Although David King, the lawyer for the coalition led by the League, is arguing that an election on an unconstitutional map is by definition unconstitutional, it is a pretty safe bet that the districts will stand through November.   Look next week for the final decision.

However, there is another wild card: the Senate districts are also in court and based upon this decision, it seems highly unlikely that they will come out intact. So while it is certain that the congressional map will have to be redrawn, the GOP is looking at another round of embarrassing headlines. Will this happen before election day? There is a very real chance that Crist could end up having veto power over the Senate maps – will Republicans try to speed up the lawsuit in order to avoid this? There are a lot of interesting factors at play.

As far as congressional seats, Speaker Weatherford and Senate Leader Gaetz announced that they would not appeal the decision, state instead that “While the court directed that Congressional Districts 5 and 10 be redrawn, the court rejected the Plaintiffs’ challenge to eight other districts, thereby upholding 25 of 27 congressional districts statewide and leaving intact the vast majority of the actions taken by the Legislature.” The spin was good – Gaetz and Weatherford definitely tried to make it seem as if only 2 districts were in the wrong. The problem is that those two districts are in the middle of the state, making all the surrounding districts also invalid. The whole of North Florida is going to be redrawn.

But by who? Who exactly is going to get a shot to draw these new lines? The legislature has the first crack at it, unless Lewis does something unconventional (which is a possibility considering everything involved and his harsh words to the Republican operatives).

There are the options if the legislature is given the chance to re-try:

1) Gaetz and Weatherford’s only way to remain in control of the process is to call a special session before November, calling in members and pausing campaigns in order to garner more negative headlines. While this could be a disaster for anyone running a close campaign, it is the only way to ensure the most amount of control of the process for Republicans. This could also be the best way to protect privileged information and the consultants that they used in the process.

As much as it would be a golden opportunity for Weatherford to carve out a perfect section in order to ensure his further political aspirations, it is exactly those future plans that might make him back away and leave it to the next session. He is obviously planning for further involvement in Florida politics and this scandal has certainly tarnished his perfectly chiseled chin. Conservatives do not like gerrymandering any more than liberals do and the negative attention could delay a future political run. This case is definitely negative attention and while it could tarnish Weatherford, it would also make him a lot of friends if he plays it right. Gaetz, being a slightly less ambitious creature, could also refuse to call a special session. There is a lot to be gained and lost in this scenario.

2) Rick Scott wins in November, new legislature draws lines in regular session in the spring. I doubt her would call a special session over the holidays to deal with redistricting, although that is another option, but the outcome would be the same and it would result in a map that is slightly better, although not drastically different. However, the new legislature brings new personalities in the mix and it will be interesting to see the process unwind, but it will not be drastically different – just enough to make the courts happy.

3) Crist wins – then Scott would have to call a special session in November in order to keep Crist from having veto power over the map. There is no lame duck session for the legislature – the newly elected officials take office immediately, unlike the governor. So Scott would still have the Republican House and the Republican Senate, but new leaders at the helm. While this is unlikely to change anything, new interests and new players may shake things up and it is likely that the map would be something that could quickly get approved by the Supreme Court, which would mean a better map for Democrats.

4) Crist wins and Scott does not want to call a special session and Crist has to negotiate with the new legislative leaders in the spring. This is extremely unlikely – no Republican wants Crist to have the ability to veto either of the maps. However, the further the Senate hearing gets put off, the more likely that Crist will have veto power over the Senate maps. That battle could be epic

All of these scenarios present challenges for Republicans and a lot of critical thinking around the tough choices. The amount of negative press is hurting the Republicans – as tightly as they attempt to hold onto their coveted ideals, gerrymandering and manipulating the fair process is bad form.  Congressional maps are a big deal on the national stage and it must be assumed that many figures had a role in carving out districts for special interests. Republican maneuvering could know no bounds if the special interests want both maps far away from Crist’s veto pen.  Of course, this also means that Republicans have all the more motivation to keep Rick Scott in office, so this will mean an increase of federal funds into his campaign and also from federal special interests who have no desire to see any more Floridian Democratic Congressional members. Will this be a dramatic increase? Perhaps.

Will the Florida Democratic party use this to raise funds? The lawsuit showed without a doubt the malicious nature, so as many times as they can get that in front of the voters the better. Florida matters, not just on as a state government, but on the national stage. Any democratic or republican candidate for President is tuned into the governor’s race, so of course there is a far amount of outside money pouring in. As Jeb Bush taught America, state politics matters in a Presidential election. The Florida Democratic Party should use this to fund raise on a national level.

Is there an effective way for Democrats to have more control over the map making? Probably not. The FDP could use it as a wedge issue for conservatives and attack members who were involved, even though few of them are up for election. Certainly it should be held against any Republican incumbents who were in office in 2010 who voted for the maps, although the reality is that many of them probably did not know what was happening behind closed doors. You can certainly fund raise off the effort, yet there just isn’t much to be done beyond complain and perhaps a few clever memes. Ultimately, besides reminding the public as often as possible about malfeasance, there is not a lot to use as leverage if Crist does not become elected.

In the end, Florida will end up with a few districts who are slightly more competitive. Will it make a huge difference? Probably not, as we talked about a few months ago. The bottom line is that Democratic candidate recruitment is so poor that even if more competitive districts are drawn, there is a real question if Democrats can take advantage of the new districts. Kartik laid out the effects of lack of competition yesterday in an excellent article that pointed out how lack of competition hurts both sides.   Hopefully at least this will encourage more people to be aware of the redistricting process.

4 comments

  1. Scott Gaillard · ·

    Excellent article. The bad press angle may be little overblown. Voters hate gerrymandering but it is far down on their list of priorities. If it was a more salient issue, the politicians drawing these salamanders would have been thrown out over the last 20 years. Instead these lines have served as an incumbent protection and promotion vehicle. It’s inside baseball to most people, but that is why it’s great to read it here.

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    1. Thanks Scott! Compliments are always nice.

      And I agree on the bad press – while the national press is making headlines, this does not trickle down to the local level. However, our local tea party put out an anti-gerrymandering email condemning the RPOF, so there is some hope there.

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  2. Torrey Craig · ·

    I have to re-echo Scot praise for this article. I do wonder if this will all be a tempest in a teapot as I foresee this going to federal courts as a voting rights issue. Should that occur then the dance could be restarted all over. Might the federal court not draw the maps?

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  3. […] all, this is uncharted territory for all interested parties.  I wrote about various options on here a couple of weeks ago and a few of those will still be a factor.  Of course, the Legislature does still have the option […]

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