Aug. 25, 2015 — Like what happened last week in Virginia when the Republican legislature fumbled the redistricting special session and adjourned before drawing a map, the Florida GOP legislative leadership quickly followed suit. On Friday, the special redistricting legislative session adjourned without producing a new congressional plan. The irregular assembly was court ordered to correct legal deficiencies in eight federal districts.
To summarize, the Florida Supreme Court struck down parts of the congressional map on July 9 remanding it back to the state legislature because the eight seats, four from each party, did not comply with partisan and communication restrictions that pertain to an enacted 2010 redistricting voter initiative.
Why did the meltdown occur, and what happens now? In short, politics is the basic reason, thereby yielding a situation where both Republicans and Democrats will be making subsequent moves.
The session deteriorated for several reasons other than failing to agree upon new congressional district boundaries. At the top of the list looms a redistricting session expected to begin in October to reconfigure the state Senate.
Though the high court did not invalidate the Senate map, it was obvious such would soon be the case. Therefore, the legislative leaders went ahead and voluntarily scheduled a re-draw. Understanding this caveat, it is not surprising that internal state Senate political considerations would trump the legislature complying with their requirement to change the affected congressional districts. When personal career choices conflict with congressional politics in the halls of a legislature, the former will take precedence every time.
Secondly, the Hillsborough County legislators strenuously objected to their domain being segmented into four different sections under the proposed plan. The large Tampa Bay area delegation proved to have enough strength to help force the stalemate.
Additionally, court politics proved a significant factor in failing to reach an accord. While Republicans are in solid control of the state legislature (Senate: 26R-14D; House: 81R-39D), the Democrats have the majority on the seven-member state Supreme Court.
In Florida, judges have service limits and, before his second term ends, Gov. Rick Scott (R) will be able to change the court’s complexion. Obviously, the Democrats want to maintain their advantage. They also want to make substantial gains during the state Senate redistricting session, optimizing their check in that the state Supreme Court will approve all boundary changes. Therefore, prospective court appointments became political footballs during the special session.
Two options are now on the table to complete the congressional re-drawing process. First, Gov. Scott could call the legislature back into session in order to avoid ceding the redistricting pen wholly to the state Supreme Court. If so, the process begins again. Not doing so means the map would simply revert to the state high court, thus empowering the Justices themselves to draw the new plan.
Considering the partisan composition of the court, Republicans will want to avoid the court option. Yet, if the handling of this original special session is any indication of what may happen in the future, failing again to complete the task is certainly possible should the legislature return. Legislative bodies relinquishing power to the courts over tough political decisions is something that happens all too often, so the Florida Supreme Court eventually determining the fate of the Sunshine State congressmen may well be an eventuality.
The Kentucky Caucus
The Republican Party of Kentucky, at its state convention over the weekend, voted to change their 2016 presidential primary system to a caucus. This will allow favorite son Sen. Rand Paul to compete in the presidential event while continuing to appear on the ballot for his re-election. Over 75% of the voting members supported the caucus motion.
Sen. Paul had asked for the change and agreed to guarantee the $500,000 necessary to finance the caucus procedure. The state party must receive $250,000 by Sept. 18 in order to move forward with the caucus logistics. Each participating candidate will be charged $15,000. If the funds are secured, the caucus will be held March 5. If not, the procedure reverts to a May primary.