Sen. Ray Rodrigues hopes Thursday is the day the Senate Reapportionment Committee settles on maps for Florida’s now-28 congressional and 40 state Senate districts. Florida Politics spoke to the Estero Republican — who is chairing the once-a-decade redistricting process in the Senate — before this critical meeting.
FP: What’s the timeline for the Senate finishing its maps?
RR: The soonest that could go to the floor would be next week. And that’s possible. I don’t know if it’s definitive, but it’s a clear possibility if we get our maps out (at Thursday’s meeting). And so the goal is to get maps out so that we’re in position to get to the floor as quickly as possible.
FP: As a select committee will you vote on maps and amendments, per se?
RR: The select subcommittees wrapped up on Monday, and they didn’t take formal votes, but they reached consensus as a committee on what maps to recommend that the full committee look at. All those maps were publicly noticed well before the workshop, discussed in the workshop, and had opportunity for public input and feedback. I’m going to accept their recommendations. So when those recommendations came to me, I looked at, ‘What maps should I put into my bill to bring forward to the full committee?’ I only looked at selections that came from each of the select subcommittees since I had consensus on that, and those maps involved in the process. And then as you saw, I filed each of the maps that I’m going to bring forward to the full committee for their consideration.
FP: What tipped the scales for you?
RR: Our counsel and staff looked at the two maps and the things we looked at were, right off the bat, both sets — congressional and Senate — were Tier 1 compliant in both maps. Then once we check those boxes — and yes, both maps are equally compliant with Tier 1 and will present no issues in the matter of potential litigation there — then the next step was, which of the maps are more compliant in Tier 2? And in addition to that, (we decided) which are the maps that most consistently apply the principles that the full committee directed staff to use and drew maps before the subcommittee process began. And the two maps that I put forward are the two maps that counsel and staff believe met that criteria.
FP: There was talk at the subcommittee about whether you have a majority minority district on the Senate map for Southeast Florida versus having an effective minority district. Why did you end up going with the decision that you did?
RR: The counsel I received from staff and on that is we meet the baseline metrics of the number of seats that are minority majority and effective minority districts with either map. One map would have had additional minority majority districts and fewer effective minority districts. If we had gone with the map that had the multiple minority majority districts, then we would have had an impact on Tier 2 metrics. So if you looked at the inset of those maps, that were publicly posted, the effective minority is clearly more visually compact in all the three metrics. Reock, Polsby-Popper and Convex Hull matched as significantly more compact across the board. And since it is an effective minority district, from what counsel has advised, there’s no legal threat to going that way. And in fact, choosing the map you’ve chosen and being consistent and pushing forward with the map that is more compact across the board metrically, this is something that the court has indicated in previous litigation, as long as you’re compliant with Tier 1, they find it acceptable and preferable actually — if you go back to the previous decisions courts had found outside of the Florida Supreme Court — that pursuing compact districts is a natural defense to the charge of gerrymandering. (We pursued) those compact districts — recognizing we have to balance not just the compactness, but keeping municipalities whole, keeping counties whole, in using geographic boundaries — because all those are spelled out as co-equal criteria. But doing those things puts us in the strongest position possible to defend them in the future.
FP: So being effective minority is the same in meeting those standards as being majority minority?
RR: What I would say is on the baseline map, because that’s what the court looks at, have you diminished the number of majority minority districts and have you diminished the number of effective minority districts? The map we recommend, it does not diminish. We will have the same number of majority minority districts for both African American seats and Hispanic seats with the map that we put forward.
FP: The League of Women Voters Florida in particular has questioned whether the Legislature is relying too much on what was defined as majority minority or effective minority based on the 2010 census, rather than the new Census. Are they incorrect in that?
RR: Our counsel believes our legal obligation is to avoid retrogression as measured off of your current baseline. That’s why we feel like we’re meeting the legal standards. If the League of Women Voters disagrees with that, then I’m sure that’s a matter that will be litigated in the future. What we do with the 2020 Census cannot retrograde from what was done in the 2010 census. And we believe we’ve achieved that objective.
FP: You are not looking at the home addresses of sitting Senators?
RR: No home addresses and no party affiliation, or party data. On home addresses, that’s not looked at at all. On the racial and the party affiliations and performance, that is looked at in the functional analysis that the court ordered to be done to determine if there’s been retrogression of majority minority or effective minority districts. Those are the only districts that those criteria — partisan affiliation and performance and racial affiliation — have been used.
FP: So you have never looked at, say, the partisan performance of Southwest Florida’s districts?
RR: I could not tell you what my district will be in party affiliation. I have no idea. I’m sure it’s been written about somewhere. But I’ve tried to avoid that so that the process isn’t tainted when it comes to me having to select a map.
FP: Have you had to dodge calls from national Republicans interested in this process?
RR: Actually, no. None of the national organizations or state organizations have reached out to me. I think that’s a result of, right out of the gate, we laid down very clearly that we were going to be compliant with the constitution, make sure we were compliant with the federal requirements and obey all state statutes. And everyone clearly understands because of the result in the litigation last time that you can’t be drawing maps to either favor incumbents or to favor a political party over another. I’m hopeful that us coming out the gate very strongly, that what we’re going to do is send that message for those calls not to come.
FP: Some memos went out about the ACLU attorney that presented maps and about Miami Herald coverage.
RR: The only memo I’ve sent out, I sent out a memo to let members know that he submitted maps and testified but didn’t disclose his affiliation with an organization that clearly has an interest in the process based upon their litigation in other states. The Herald was mentioned in that because that’s where I found out about that affiliation. But I’ve done no other memos dealing with the Herald or any other individuals because no one else has come forward and done that. And frankly, had the court not found (following the redistricting process 10 years ago) that there was a shadow organization and condemned the fact that individuals were testifying and submitting maps without disclosing their motives, there wouldn’t have been a need to do that. But because the court did do that, I had to do that for anyone that did that.
FP: Online, some people hoping for a more aggressive congressional map are questioning if the House should even take up the Senate’s map. Is there an obligation they do so?
RR: The way this has been done in the past is we will each put forth our own map, and then if the two maps don’t agree, we go into conference. It’s treated much like the budget, which is going to bring forth what we think is the right way to do this process. And if we agree with each other, then we both pass it out. If we don’t, we’ll be forced to go into conference and negotiate.
FP: What does conference look like when you are talking about lines as opposed to numbers in a budget?
RR: I’ve only seen conference once. That was a Special Session, I think during my sophomore (House) term. The Senate was chaired by then-Majority Leader Bill Galvano. The House conference committee was chaired by future Speaker José Oliva. They only had one meeting and if you’ll go back and look, that was a debacle. So I’m hopeful that our conference will look much more like the appropriations conference where we can reach an agreement and much less like the last time we had a redistricting conference where the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. Not only did that conference meeting not end well, the two chambers never did pass out what they agreed, and that’s part of what led to the problems with the court.
FP: A lot was made at the beginning of the process that no one was going to look at prior maps and build this whole thing from scratch, but the Senate maps do feel very similar in ways to what is present now. Was that in any way intentional?
RR: The committee would be more qualified to answer that. The committee started with recognizing we have to draw and protect Tier 1 districts. And then we went through the natural lay of the land drawing districts and ended up with what we ended up with. My understanding from staff is that we did start with a blank slate. If we followed the suggestion of the Fair Districts Coalition — at least what they said publicly because they never did come and testify in committee — but what they said publicly to the press that was printed was that we ought to take their map and tweak it with population. I don’t think we would have been filling our constitutional duty to do that. Our job is to go follow the directives in the fair district amendment and make sure that we’re apportioning according to population and political and geographic boundaries. So that was the directive. We gave it to staff and then they brought back a map that did that.
FP: Why was it important to complete this early in the Session?
RR: I think it’s always good when you have important legislation to get it done as early as possible. And in this case it’s particularly important. Once we agree on a House and Senate map, it passes both chambers and a joint resolution then goes to the Attorney General for 15 days to review for any glaring legal deficiencies. Seeing none, it then goes to the Supreme Court for a 30-day review. At that point, anyone who wishes to challenge the maps that have been published for legal reasons, they have that opportunity with the court. It’s a high-level review that the court does at the end. If they take the entire 30 days, when they get to the end, they’re either going to approve it or they’re going to say, ‘There are problems in these areas, they need to be remediated, go address these issues and then bring us back your updated map.’ It’s important to complete that process as soon as possible because qualifying is scheduled to begin in the middle of June. The sooner we finish this in Session, the more time we have to get through the Attorney General review, the court review and to take any remediation steps, should the court order that.
FP: Is the House moving fast enough?
RR: I trust the leadership of the House and the leadership of the redistricting committee in the House. I’m sure that they’re going to get their maps done as quickly as possible.
This transcript of the interview was edited for clarity.