Fur flies on Florida Senate floor on redistricting vote, Latvala v. Gaetz

Notes from the News Service of Florida on today’s meeting of the Florida Senate:

CONVENED: The Senate convened at 10 a.m., President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, presiding.

PRAYER: Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, led the prayer.

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE: Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, led the Pledge of Allegiance.


— SJR 2-C, the Senate redistricting plan. The Senate moved quickly into debate.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she will oppose the map “because of what it does to my district.” She said she is not running for re-election, so the map won’t affect her. She said the map does not meet the wishes of the people in the district. Currently, the district includes Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County. Under the proposal, the district would include half of Sarasota County and other counties. “It’s just a terrible map for my district,” she said.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, discussed minority participation. She said the map focuses on the “floor” for minority participation, rather than the “ceiling, which would be the most we can do.”

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, called redistricting an “intriguing journey” since 2012. He said the plan, in part, would split Alachua and Volusia counties and lead to “packing” in the Tampa Bay area. “Meet the new map, it’s the same as the old map,” he said.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said she doesn’t think the map reflects the ethnic and political diversity in the state. Also, she raised an issue about the design of Volusia County districts.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the redistricting issue has cost taxpayers $11 million. He said the map was improved Tuesday with changes in Miami-Dade County but hasn’t been improved in other ways. He said voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2010 that required a new way of drawing districts.

“I think that we need to ask ourselves, is the vote we’re taking today a vote to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida?” Latvala said.

He said he doesn’t think it is the “right thing to do” to vote for the map. He said it will probably cost another $1 million for taxpayers if the map is approved. He said the Legislature has repeatedly lost in court.

“For the most part, we’ve gotten our butt kicked, we’ve gotten our clock cleaned in court,” he said. Latvala questioned, for example, the proposal to split Alachua County and the justification for refusing to jump the St. Johns River in Clay and St. Johns counties. He said voting against the plan would leave 10 days during the special session to come up with an alternative map.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, also said lawmakers need to “go back to the drawing board.”

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, followed with comments. Ring said all 14 Democrats will vote against the map and that it can’t get bipartisan support.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, raised a series of objections to the proposed map, including the elimination of a Hispanic-performing seat in Central Florida. He said not drawing such a seat is a constitutional violation.

Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, said the proposed map doesn’t represent the state. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, also expressed opposition.

Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said the “Fair Districts” amendments were passed by voters in 2010 as a mandate. She said voters wanted the right to choose the candidates of their choice. But she said the message “keeps getting lost.”

Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, then gave closing remarks. He said he has spent hundreds of hours on redistricting and pointed to “ambiguity” in how to address the issues. He said leaders have tried to make the process subjective and not partisan. Galvano said the map will go to the House. He said the House and Senate have already agreed to hold a conference committee to finalize the map and asked senators to keep the process moving.

Senators voted 22-18 to approve the bill, with all 14 Democrats opposed. Also opposed were Detert, Latvala, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

Gardiner said “certainly we are learning as we go.” He praised Galvano’s work on the issue.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, called a point of order and rose on the floor to say the “crust of civility” had been broken in the Senate. He said he asked the sergeant to get Latvala, who had left the floor.

Gaetz quoted recent media reports in which Latvala criticized Gaetz for the redistricting problems. Gaetz said he made mistakes as chairman of the Senate reapportionment committee during the 2012 redistricting process. He said he should have asked for authority to put under oath everybody who testified before the committee. He said it was determined later that political operatives proposed maps under the names of other people. Gaetz said requiring testimony under oath could have prevented abuses and he is sorry about that. But Gaetz said that is not what Latvala’s criticism addressed.

He also raised questions about Latvala’s actions during the 2012 redistricting process. Gaetz said he did not want to address the criticism on the floor but indicated he thought he needed to do so. He alluded to Latvala as a “bully” and the criticism as a “sucker punch.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner said “these are difficult days” but that the Senate is not going to be “in a situation where we keep going back and forth.”

Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, moved to adjourn until 2 p.m. Nov. 5.

Clemens asked about the conference process. Galvano said the House is expected to go to the floor in the middle of next week and send the bill back to the Senate later in the week.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the president opened the special session by saying there wouldn’t be personal attacks. He said it is “beneath the dignity” of the Senate for a member to stand on the floor and label another member a “bully.”

Simmons moved to adjourn. The Senate adjourned at 11:25 a.m.