Perhaps, as a critic of the Legislature’s first two drafts of congressional districts has said, the third time will be the charm. Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday to once again draw a map for each of Florida’s 27 congressional seats. It is a drama being watched in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., as shifting lines just a few miles in one direction or another could decide the futures of several members of the state’s U.S. House delegation. The session follows a July 9 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that the state’s existing congressional map violates one of the two anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments voters approved in 2010. Lawmakers drew the initial lines during the once-a-decade redistricting process in 2012, then tweaked them last year after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said Republican political operatives had managed to improperly influence the process. But the Supreme Court — which has a relatively liberal majority and has generally but not always ruled against the GOP-controlled Legislature in redistricting cases — said Lewis’ ruling didn’t go far enough and that at least eight of the districts should be redrawn. The rulings led lawmakers to agree to also redraw the state Senate map — another special session for that purpose is scheduled in October — and also has led some Republicans to question the justices’ decision.
“Most respectfully, I believe the Supreme Court has gone far beyond what they should in requiring that these lines be drawn to the satisfaction of Democratic political operatives,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who headed the Senate’s redistricting committee in 2012.
Already, some dominoes have started to fall. Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly has announced he will run for the U.S. Senate, perhaps realizing his Pinellas County congressional seat would likely become far more difficult to win.
Under a plan drawn by legislative staffers to serve as a “base map” for the upcoming session, President Barack Obama won what would become Jolly’s district by almost 11 points. The proposed district also went for former Gov. Charlie Crist in his unsuccessful attempt to reclaim the governor’s mansion in 2014; Crist, a Democrat, has said he will run for the seat if it includes his home, as it does under the base map.