Lawmakers play nice over redistricting process — for now

Florida FL Puzzle Pieces Map Working Together 3d Illustration
Democrats are confident fair and legal lines will be drawn. Republicans swear that's true.

The truncated but still months-long process of redrawing Florida’s state and federal jurisdictions rolled forward Thursday. Two committees — one focused on congressional boundaries and the other on House and Senate lines — met simultaneously, further showcasing newly available tools for drawing and submitting maps.

For now, the infamously partisan process remains cordial and friendly. Rep. Kelly Skidmore, ranking Democrat on the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, said she looked forward to the challenge of “fair and legal districts” that comply with an anti-gerrymandering amendment passed by voters just over a decade ago.

There’s been plenty of skepticism over whether that will happen. National pundits have suggested the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature when redrawing congressional seats in this state could nearly erase the eight-seat majority Democrats enjoy in the U.S. House today. That’s in part because Florida, a state Republican Donald Trump won by 3 percentage points in 2020’s presidential race, gained one more district than it had a decade ago, the last time Florida lawmakers reapportioned the state.

“This is going to be one of the most exciting committees because we have the challenge of adding the seat, plus the guardrails of plus-or-minus one person in balancing the seats,” Skidmore said.

Federal law demands near-perfectly divided districts for congressional seats. The ideal population, based on the 2020 count of residents, would put each district as home to 769,221 people. The Legislature may vary districts in size by one.

Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican and chair of the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, told Florida Politics after his appointment that he expects a clean process this year.

“My goal is 10 years from now members look back on this process and be proud of it and know we followed state and federal law and followed the constitutional process,” he said.

That’s not what happened in 2012, sitting lawmakers acknowledge. The Florida Supreme Court in 2015 threw out the maps drawn then by a different Republican majority for Congress and the Senate, while leaving a House map in place.

Notably, Republicans enjoy a more lop-sided majority in the House than the Senate. The chamber has 78 Republican members and 42 Democrats. That’s despite Florida’s infamous swing state status.

It’s too early to gauge the actions of the House Redistricting Committee so far, however. At both the Congressional Redistricting and Legislative Redistricting subcommittees, respective chairs Sirois and Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, largely went over a script about the legal guidelines outlined in Florida’s constitution, state statute and federal law. Staff offered a brief overview of features for a new redistricting website launched Wednesday, which lawmakers and the general public can use to generate their own maps for consideration.

Byrd expressed confidence that lawmakers this time will benefit from court direction on applying the Fair Districts amendment that wasn’t available a decade ago.

“They did not have the benefit of historical reference or court precedents to guide them through this process,” Byrd said. “However, now we do.”

For now, Democrats appear, at least outwardly, to trust GOP colleagues at their word.

“I know that you and (full House Redistricting Committee) Chairman (Tom) Leek are honorable and men of your word, and with that in mind, I look forward to — and I know we all do — an open and transparent process where we want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” said Dan Daley, ranking member of the House Legislative Redistricting Committee, to Byrd. “Members, as you already know and as the chairman already touched on, what we’re about to do is one of the most important things we do as a body and is actually a pillar of our democracy, so I look forward to working with the chair and the committee to draw fair maps that comport with the Florida Constitution.”

Outside groups have already complained about transparency however, and the scheduling of subcommittee meetings at conflicting times drew immediate criticism.

“Unfortunately, true, meaningful engagement is hard when two of the redistricting committees meet at the exact same time,” said Jonathan Webber, Florida Conservation Voters deputy director. “But I do respectfully request that you please ask the Speaker or whoever is in charge of setting the committee times to please schedule the state legislative and congressional redistricting committee meetings at separate times so that Floridians can fully engage in this process. The people of Florida deserve the opportunity to weigh in on both meetings in real time and shouldn’t have to pick and choose which meeting to attend.”

___

Renzo Downey contributed to this report.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]



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