Florida’s Democrats love to play the victim especially when it comes to the way districts are drawn in the state. Redistricting has provided a continues excuse for Democratic under performance in elections from Congress to the State Legislature. In many ways, it is the gift that keeps on giving especially when so many Democratic activists in this state lack the historical or institutional knowledge to know any better.
But now that the Supreme Court has acted and the initial proposed Congressional maps from the State Legislature are not only largely fair, but likely give the Democrats an advantage (though no one will want to admit this should the final map resemble the current proposed one since the excuse for constant loses escapes if the map’s fairness is acknowledged) some activists are making different sorts of complaints.
My issue with the way Congressional districts have been drawn in Florida the last three decades is about how political the process has been. That includes the actions of many Democrats who have been interested in promoting/protecting themselves as well as currying favors with Republicans through the years. In southeast Florida many Democrats are complaining about the maps because two sitting Democratic members of Congress Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel have been drawn into the same seat. Remember incumbent protection should NOT be a criteria in the drawing of districts.
For those who are unaware of why many of the districts in Southeast Florida run north-south, it was the bi-product of the desire of then Senate President Gwen Margolis to craft a seat for herself in 1992. This took E. Clay Shaw’s seat which was wholly within Broward and represented by a former Mayor of Fort Lauderdale and drew it up and down a narrow coastal strip, making the district at the time much more likely to elect a Democrat. In 1992, though Margolis lost but in 2000 Shaw won barely against Democratic State Rep. Elaine Bloom in a race that involved several hundred spoiled ballots. Seeing Shaw’s vulnerability in 2002 and now in control of the redistricting process, Republicans drew his seat further north taking in the most GOP-friendly areas of Northern Palm Beach County and drawing tentacles into Republican-leaning areas of western Broward and Palm Beach while completely eliminating the heavily Democratic areas of Miami-Dade County, putting them in Peter Deutsch’s district.
In order to work around this coastal district, and keep incumbents in both parties safe, several odd-shaped districts were created both in 1992 and 2002. The lines were straightened out somewhat in 2012, but the reality of this is that even though Broward County has continued to grow population wise, it is the anchor on just two Congressional districts as opposed to 3 and a half in the 1990’s. Protecting incumbents and tying to together areas for partisan and ethnic purposes have allowed Palm Beach and Miami-Dade a disproportionate amount influence in the Congressional delegation relative to Broward. Despite having close to half a million more people than Palm Beach County, Broward has one fewer resident member of Congress. This is unfortunate and quite frankly not really acceptable in any “fair districts” scheme.
The proposed maps correct this issue by making the district currently represented by either Deutch or Frankel depending on your perspective based in Broward. That’s a good thing for the county. But many Democrats including several in Broward itself have over the last few days show more an inclination to value relationships with sitting members of Congress and incumbent protection over correcting this inequity. This is unfortunate and alarming. Partisan and incumbent protection concerns should NOT override fundamental fairness.
On another redistricting note, we’ve noticed the proposed maps might give Senate President Andy Gardiner a shot to run in the redrawn CD-7 currently represented by Congressman John Mica. CD-7 in the proposed map dips deeper into Orange County than it quite frankly needs to and while that helps to make the proposed seat more Democratic it also essentially gives Gardiner an opportunity to run in the district should he choose in the future.
Back to main topic of this article – South Florida Democrats, particularly those in Broward County should not play the same political games as the Republicans they at least for public consumption, oppose. The proposed districts give Broward County an opportunity to once again have a third resident member of Congress as it did from 1992 to 2006 and that makes the map worth defending.