Redistricting’s Extra Innings: Citizens May be the Ultimate Winners

Redistricting’s Extra Innings: Citizens May be the Ultimate Winners

The World Series of baseball ended last night with a come-from-behind ninth inning and a booming bats twelfth for the Kansas City Royals. Definitely a game for the record books.

Meanwhile back in Florida, game number . . . sorry, I guess I’ve lost count . . . of the Florida District Map Series plays out this week as the House takes a swing at the Senate district map passed by that chamber last week.

Representative Jose Oliva, who chairs the House’s redistricting committee, took to the mound Friday and pitched an alternative map to the one the Senate forwarded, one he indicated took more account of the map submitted by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought us to this series. His committee approved that map Monday by a party-line vote.

Representative Oliva graciously observed that the plaintiffs’ map came late in the Senate’s process, making it difficult for them to incorporate its elements in their review. With the benefit of more time, Representative Oliva asserted, the House’s proposed map accommodates more of their concerns.

Senator Bill Galvano, who leads that chamber’s redistricting process, was equally gracious in observing that the House proposal might indeed prove to have more compact districts and expressed interest in considering those revisions.

One might have thought that the Senate district map would prove even more contentious than the U.S. House map, since so many people’s political careers, in both chambers, depend upon how the lines are drawn.

But that appears not to be the case. Or, perhaps more accurately, that may prove to be very much the case, but with the political forces aligning more neatly along a single fault line, creating stronger and more well-defined teams. That fault line is the leadership battle in the Senate.

Of course, the Fair Districts amendments to our state constitution prohibit designing districts with the intent of promoting or undermining individuals or parties. Inevitably, though, the choice of a map will have some effect on the fate of individuals and parties.

So, as long as the effect results without explicit intent, all’s well.

Which is, perhaps, where this game is going.

This is just my take on all of this, of course. I am not a Tallahassee insider; none of the factions are talking to me.

It appears that there might be a convergence of interests that (a) increases the likelihood of court approval by embracing some of the plaintiff’s suggestions; and (b) increases the likelihood that Senator Joe Negron, and not Senator Jack Latvala, will become the next Senate president (an outcome that probably appeals to the House leadership). While the second intention is inconsistent with the spirit of the Fair Districts amendment, the first is not.

Embracing plaintiff suggestions may help legitimate the overall process, whatever else may be going on. I suspect that the courts, if presented with a solid, fact-based, persuasive argument for the map that reflects the Fair Districts principles, will prove much less willing to explore the ulterior motives of members.

The Fair Districts amendments will not eliminate the role of political and personal considerations in the drafting of district maps. Given the stakes for which the redistricting game is played, I doubt that any reform can achieve that.

But compelling the Legislature to consider and make a compelling case for their map based on standards directly related to representation, not just partisan advantage, sets limits on the degree to which the consideration of those advantages can dominate the redistricting game. Those limits, in light of court decisions, appear to be real.

So, yes, the series has gone on interminably over these last three years. And yes, we’ve gone to extra innings, at no small cost to taxpayers. And yes, this game, too, may go to the judges, rather than be resolved by the Legislature on the playing field of legislative politics.

But it also is true that our legislators have been put on notice that standards of representation matter. And they’ve noticed . . . and, here in what may prove the last inning, started making the necessary adjustments.

For me, that’s a walk off home run for the citizens’ team.