Have Florida Republicans learned redistricting lessons from the past?

As previously discussed on this site, I was intimately involved in the 2002 redistricting fights and watched the 1996, 2012 and 2014 fights with keen interest.

In 2002, the GOP had complete control over the reapportionment process for the first time and they went wild, creating maps that Democrats could not compete on at the legislative level but one that stretched the GOP so thin at the Congressional level in an effort to maximize Republican seats, they invited robust Democratic challenges for the next decade in multiple GOP-leaning districts.

The 2002 reapportionment process was marked most notably for me, by Democrats who were willing to trade their votes for seats, and therefore undermine any opposition court case. Thankfully, the 2010 Fair Districts amendment codified much of what was objectionable, but had stood in the 2002 maps.

In 2012, the Florida House took Fair Districts into strong consideration in the drawing of the State House map, but the Florida Senate drew a partisan map for its body and both chambers conspired to lock in a maximum partisan advantage in Florida’s Congressional Delegation.The courts acted and the maps that were used from 2016 to 2020 were much fairer.

But now in 2022, the GOP seems to be pushing a maximum Republican advantage in State Senate and State House districts while the Senate has advanced a congressional map that is not only fair, but might be considered, given the circumstances seen as overly generous to the Democrats. It is worth noting that the legisdlature limited public input and testimony this go-round which was not done in quite this manner in 2002 or 2012.

In fact, in 2002 despite drawing skewed maps the legislature was very open to public input, even if was just cosmetic. I offered my own State House and Senate plans and testified in-person in front of both bodies redistricting committees representing various entities (In the Senate, my testimony and map ended up being the official FDP offering, but in the House, I was testifying on behalf of other entities).

Meanwhile Governor DeSantis has waded into the process, in unprecedented fashion, showing his hand early and risking a waste of political capital with a legislature that doesn’t seem particularly interested in his thoughts on the subject thus far.

How do we explain all of this?

1- Many Republicans (or Democrats) weren’t around for past redistricting fights.

2- The limit on public input this go-round has the legislature getting little push-back on their preferences.

3- The Governor’s incursion into the process was an indication that he saw lawmakers as insufficiently partisan – what’s clear is incumbent protection and pursuing the path of least resistance is the way the legislature has proceeded. They don’t want to lose in court this time around.

So what lessons has the GOP learned from the past, based on this process so far?

1- Limit visibility of the process which isn’t a good thing but fits the path of least resistance premise

2- Protect incumbents in both parties

3- Ignore the public

4- Ignore the Governor

5- Try to push the limits of legality without being as blatant as the Senate was in 2012

We’ll know in the coming week and months if this process ends up being as painless as the legislature clearly wants it to be.

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