Florida’s Supreme Court rightly threw out several Congressional districts basically invalidating the entire state map on Thursday. Under the “Fair Districts” law, Florida’s Congressional map was a complete disgrace. Florida’s Republicans have arrogantly drawn maps that skirt the boundaries of the law. The long-standing arrogance and sense of entitlement that Florida’s Republican leadership has demonstrated time and again fits the unwillingness to actually fulfill their governing responsibilities and draw maps that are actually representative of the state’s population and demographics.
Prior to the mid 1960’s and the Baker v Carr decision, Florida’s Democrats who at the time had almost complete control of the levers of power throughout the state behaved in a similar manner trying to resist increased representation from then heavily Republican cities like Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and St Petersburg and liberal areas like Miami that would elect more anti-establishment (northern) Democrats.
The maps need to be redrawn but to a truly FAIR standard. One thing here needs to be pointed out clearly: when Democratic activists around the state scream that we have more registered Democrats than Republicans thus there should be more D-leaning districts than R that is false. I actually think the State House map which has roughly about 54-56 Dem leaning districts and 64-66 GOP leaning districts is a fair map. Here’s why:
Democrats enjoy a registration advantage partly because of rural southern areas
Parts of North Florida and the interior portions of North Central and South Florida are still very much traditionally southern and conservative. Most of these areas except where there are concentrations of military families (ie. Okaloosa, Bay, Walton and Santa Rosa counties) tend to still have more registered Democrats than Republicans. This skews perceptions of what areas are actually capable of electing Democrats.
Democrats are packed in large urban areas
One requirement of Fair Districts is to draw compact, logically-looking districts that maintain some semblance of communities of interest. Because of the concentration of Democrats in small geographic clusters in the state, particularly in Southeast Florida, it’s difficult to draw a map with 61 Democratic House districts that is truly fair. However, the Congressional and State Senate maps have been drawn where under 40% of the districts truly lean toward the Democrats. This is contrasted with the State House where about 46% of the seats can be said to lean Democratic under the current map.
Large populated areas exist where Democrats don’t even compete
The Democrats have not fielded a serious State House campaign south of Sarasota on the west coast of Florida since 1998. They haven’t fielded a serious Congressional campaign in that same geographic area since the 1970’s. Similarly, North Central Florida outside of Alachua County has hardly seen a serious Democratic candidate for anything legislative or congressional since Buddy MacKay left his Congressional seat and ran for US Senate in 1988. More recently, the areas between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville have fallen into this same pattern. So basically, Democrats are not even remotely competitive in large geographic swaths that are not exactly rural areas. While the Democrats increasing dominance in South Florida, and the urban cores around Orlando and Tampa/St Pete are impressive and important, the party will never attain a majority in legislative bodies or the Congressional delegation even on a truly fair map until this changes.
No question the Congressional lines need to be redrawn. But Democrats across the state cannot complain if a truly fair map is finally implemented and Democrats don’t attain a majority in the Congressional delegation. And while it is fashionable to blame the Florida Democratic Party for all the electoral failures, this one is largely beyond their control until local parties start recruiting and fielding better candidates in some of the areas mentioned above.