True confessions: My first reaction to the headline news that the Florida Legislature had failed to adopt a redrawn congressional district map was one of anger.
The Legislature had failed to do the one thing it had come into session to do: adopt a new map for the state’s congressional districts. One hundred sixty adults, elected to serve the people, couldn’t adopt a map to secure the public’s representation in Congress.
But I’ve calmed down a bit since then.
I don’t have any inside information; I only know what anyone else can know about this process from reading the news from a variety of sources. But this is what I see, and what I see as the fundamental problem.
A compromise was not available. Period. The way the game was played, one chamber was going to win, and one was going to lose. There weren’t any face-saving devices available, any clever political rhetoric that might at least have made the loss seem more like a tactical retreat or a win-some-lose-some result.
The way the game was played pitted the irresistible force in one chamber (the Senate) against the immovable object in the other (the House).
For the Senate, that irresistible force was the Senate’s budget chair (and other leaders supporting him), who proposed the map amendment that lies at the heart of the division between the two chambers. One simply does not buck the leadership (of either chamber) without taking serious risks. It’s in the nature of the way our state legislative chambers are organized and the power that is wielded by those at the top.
To say this is not to condemn or condone this reality. It merely is to state the obvious.
The amendment had as its central public purposes reducing the number of districts into which Hillsborough County was divided from four to three and placing all of Sarasota County in a single district. Both of these objectives arguably are consistent with the state constitution’s requirements. As a consequence, however, Lake and Orange counties fared less well in terms of how they were divided up, allowing one to argue that the map was inconsistent with the constitutional requirements with reasonable plausibility as well.
On the other side, the House had declared itself fixedly determined to adopt the staff-developed map with very little modification as the best way to avoid further litigation. The modifications made by the House to the “base map” generally involved small changes to reduce the number of cities that were split between congressional districts when that was not numerically necessary.
From the perspective of the House, the Senate-approved map, with more substantial changes in district lines, risked allegations of partisan or personal manipulation, precisely what had led to the need for a special session in the first place.
So even when the Senate offered some options (incorporating the House changes in South Florida, for example, as they did at the eleventh hour), the House was almost certain to say “no” (as they did).
The House may be right on this. Unsurprisingly, some have speculated about the political backstory on the Senate’s redrawing of the district lines. It could have gotten messy.
Or maybe not.
But the larger lesson is about drawing lines in the sand. We’ve seen it before; we’re seeing it clearly here.
Draw a small line in the sand somewhere on the beach, and one can negotiate around it, giving some beachfront someplace else in exchange for preserving the line. Compromise is possible. Both sides can give, because both sides can get.
Once a line is drawn across the length and breadth of the beach (or the state), there is only winning or losing left for the parties involved. And no political leader will lie down on the sand for that without being forced.
Which, I suppose, is what the courts will do this fall.