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By Quinlan Mitchell
August 18, 2014
Caption : Florida lawmakers completed a last-minute revamp of the state’s congressional map last week, in the wake of a legal challenge to the state’s congressional districts. The map is scheduled to be reviewed in court on Wednesday.     

Florida lawmakers completed a last-minute revamp of the state’s congressional map last week, in the wake of a legal challenge to the state’s congressional districts. The map is scheduled to be reviewed in court on Wednesday.

In a special three-day session, Florida state legislators fixed significant problems with two Florida districts that ran afoul of a Fair Districts amendment passed in 2010. The districts’ boundaries were found to be the result of political gerrymandering.

Judge Terry Lewis ruled in July that the congressional map violated the amendment due to excessive tinkering with district borders for lawmakers’ own political gain.

“One of the ways in which political parties seek to gain or maintain an advantage over the other is through the redistricting process,” said Lewis in his decision. He went as far as to claim that Florida Republicans had made a “mockery” of transparency when they drew the now-unconstitutional districts.

After scrambling to meet the court’s August 15 deadline, lawmakers have presented a redrawn map amidst controversy over the new districts.

Divided largely along bipartisan lines, disagreements over the new districts come primarily from Florida Democrats, who claim the new congressional map does not meet the court’s legal requirements. By their estimation, the map does little to upset the current political landscape.

“This was a dog-and-pony show, and unfortunately that’s what we’re going to send back to the judge on Friday,” said Rep. Mark Pafford (D) in the Miami Herald.

Senator Jeff Clemens (D) called the new congressional map mere “window dressing” that “doesn’t meet the goals again.”

Democratic skepticism of Florida’s new congressional map also stems from Republican efforts to exclude them while redrawing district boundaries. Meeting in a closed door session last week to construct the new map, Republican representatives did not invite Democrats to participate.

“At the very least, we should have been invited to the table at the beginning of the process. That’s why we’re skeptical,” said Rep. Perry Thurston (D).

Redrawing a map that will exist in compliance with Florida’s Fair Districts amendment requires resolving issues with congressional districts number 5 and number 10, held respectively by Reps. Corrine Brown (D) and Daniel Webster (R). Brown’s district, a perfect example of a gerrymandered district, appears to carve out a sea of blue amidst the largely red (i.e.—Republican) electoral map.

“It is visually not compact, bizarrely shaped, and does not follow traditional political boundaries as it winds from Jacksonville to Orlando,” Lewis wrote of District 5.

What District 5 accomplishes with its bizarre shape is consolidating black and Democratic voters, ostensibly helping to give them a political voice. But it simultaneously keeps those voters out of largely white and Republican districts, potentially making it easier for Republican representatives to get elected.

Resolving the deeper issue of gerrymandering and preserving racial equity is at the heart of a much larger debate about the politics of congressional maps and what purposes they should be used for.

For Brown, however, the boundaries of her original district were perfectly fine. While Democrats largely opposed the new congressional map drawn by Republicans, Brown was not among them. Along with a small number of other Democratic representatives, she sided with Republicans in voting for the new district map Democrats claimed was not substantive.

Brown said in a statement in response to the court’s original decision that forcing “a redrawing of Florida’s congressional maps with such a short timetable is certainly not in the best interests of Florida voters.”

While that may be true, it seems that in Florida, redrawn maps are not in the best interests of politicians, either.

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