November 2, 2021
House Redistribution Committee Chairman Tom Leek rebuked Democrats on Tuesday for suggesting the panel look at the results of recent gubernatorial races to draw new political districts reflecting Florida’s near parity between Republicans and Democrats.
During a hearing covering the legal rules of the redistribution process, the Volusia County Republican warned that even mention of such an attempt could leave the resulting House and Senate or congressional districts vulnerable to legal challenges. .
Democrats argued it was a matter of fairness, but Leek, citing legal advice from the committee’s outside counsel, considers such speech a possible violation of federal voting rights law.
“We, in particular, as members of this committee, should not be suggesting that we should rebalance the cards based on the partisan division in the race for governor,” Leek said.
“You will take us down a disastrous and wrong path and we must stop saying it. I do not want to hear it in this committee because it is a flagrant violation” of the obligation of the Legislature not to favor any political party or holder, he said.
The Legislature is redrawing the political maps of the state to bring them into line with the 2020 census. The latest redistribution process, undertaken a decade ago, resulted in a litigation that lasted until 2016, the Democrats accusing Republicans of exploiting their control of the legislature for the benefit of fellow supporters.
House and Senate leaders have been adamant in avoiding a repeat of this tragedy.
On Tuesday, Fentrice Driskell of Hillsborough County, Democratic caucus policy leader, and Joe Geller, the committee’s rank Democrat, who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, insisted on the issue.
Geller noted following the hearing how close the governor’s final race was – Ron DeSantis won by 32,463 votes out of over 8 million votes in the 2018 general election.
“It’s not just a matter of process. I’m interested in the results. The last governor’s race, the presidential races – it’s a 1% state and if we end up with results very different from that, this will tell me that we did not have a fair process, ”he said.
“We can’t rebalance just to say there should be more, but we should also have in our heads that we reflect the views of the people of Florida. to a result that is completely out of balance with the fact that this is a divided state, I don’t think we did a good job. “
State law establishes principles that legislators must use at two levels. The first and most important level establishes that cards cannot favor a party or a holder; cannot discriminate against racial or linguistic minorities or diminish their ability to elect the candidates they have chosen; and must fight for the contiguous districts.
Secondary considerations are that districts should be as populated as possible; must be compact; and should follow existing political and geographic boundaries to the extent possible.
This does not guarantee parity in partisan representation by district, lawyer Andy Bardos of GrayRobinson told the committee, as members of parties or minority groups may cluster in geographic areas.
The Florida Supreme Court recognized that, “given these factors, there may well be an imbalance in the card that is not related to any intention. What matters is whether there is evidence of an intention to pack supporters or minorities into a district, ”Bardos said.
“If there are neutral reasons that cause a card to imbalance, and the legislature then had to make changes to that card in order to rebalance it, then there would be a potential for violating the intent to promote or to disadvantage the norm, “he said.
“The idea that you are going to adopt a card that is deliberately balanced on the basis of a partisan division in the gubernatorial race is a level one violation. We have to stop saying that. who say that, they should stop saying that, ”Leek told reporters.
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