The Democrats in the Florida House had an interesting week in Special Session. While Republicans wasted taxpayer money fighting over petty spoils and beating up on the Supreme Court, House Democrats attempted from at least a public relations to rise above this pettiness that after all comes from being in power without any sort of accountability for all too long. But some House Democrats are not above playing politics when it comes to district lines.
Rep. David Kerner filed an amendment in committee to restore something similar to the current map in Palm Beach and Broward counties, almost strictly for incumbent-protection purposes. Kerner’s Amendment would have assured Congressman Ted Deutch and Congresswoman Lois Frankel, both Democrats had separate districts from which to run. This amendment and the current drawing of those districts in my opinion is in direct violation of the spirit of the Fair Districts Amendment even if they are interpreted as constitutional. 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. Palm Beach anchors all three districts with which it sends representatives to Congress. Broward only anchors two, and elects representatives from those two that live in the county. Again, Broward has close to HALF A MILLION more people than Palm Beach.
The current map has given Palm Beach County more political influence than it deserves. I would make the same case about the State Senate map but will save that discussion for when those maps are redrawn in a few months. For some Democrats protecting incumbents was a reason to oppose the Republican efforts to redraw lines in compliance with a court order.
Regarding the House Democrats desire to have an independent redistricting commission that has been a needed change since the 1990’s. Unfortunately when the Constitutional Revision Commission in 1998 was close to putting this in its recommendations, it was Democrats namely Hispanic and African-American democrats that curtailed it. As Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s reaction to court rulings and reapportionment shows, some leaders in the minority community are willing to cast their lot with Republican lawmakers to ensure survival or even just to score political points. My sincere hope is that we are past this within the Democratic Party but I am far from certain that we are.
On another matter the claim by some Democratic leaders that the new House map was not bipartisan, while likely true is unlikely to impact the court. Why? In 2002, the legislature passed a highly partisan map but the court found that it was drawn with “bipartisan support” partly because 10 of 45 House Democratic Caucus members (mostly from Broward County) had supported the map. This Special Session, the House map was supported by 8 of 39 Democrats, a percentage similar to in 2002. So it is entirely possible the House map will not be considered sufficiently partisan for the Supreme Court to not consider it entirely or some component of it when drawing the new map. I would also note the court in 2002 was at least in theory more liberal than today.
House Democrats should be applauded for the strong stands they took. But uniting Democrats behind the idea of a commission and being able to convince the court that the map redraw was a partisan exercise are going to be very difficult. But certainly this is better than rolling over and playing dead as Democrats have done for years when it comes to this issue.