Faced with a close vote on a leadership-backed map to redraw state Senate districts, the Florida Senate agreed to modify three minority-based districts in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday, hoping to win the crucial votes needed to send the proposal to the House and win support for the revision in court. The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, argued that change was needed to make the districts more compact, in compliance with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution, and to preserve the voting strength of Hispanic voters. He argued that the original map, which was drawn by House and Senate staff and approved on a party-line vote last week by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, diminished the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice.
But the change also had the effect of protecting the re-election chances of Diaz de la Portilla and Sen. Anitere Flores, also of Miami. Both had been drawn into the same sprawling Miami-Dade district — along with Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay — in the original map advanced by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate redistricting chairman. Diaz de la Portilla’s change now gives Flores and Diaz de la Portilla separate districts, increases the ability of his brother, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, to replace him, but keeps Bullard’s home on the edge of the district now held by Flores.
“This is a constitutional map,” Diaz de la Portilla told the Senate, before it approved the amendment on a voice vote. “This the right map for Florida and the right map for Miami-Dade County.” Galvano defended the original districts but supported the modifications after rejecting more than a dozen other amendments offered by Democrats.
The map immediately drew criticism from the challengers, a coalition of voters’ groups led by the League of Women Voters who successfully sued the Senate for violating the constitution. In a letter to Galvano and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, they said they were “very disheartened to witness” the passage of Diaz de la Portilla’s amendment and called it a violation of the incumbency protection provisions, known as tier-one violations.