Judge rules Webster district, others should be redrawn
Monday, October 12, 2015
TALLAHASSEE – U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster is rallying votes to become House speaker, but his chances of keeping his seat next year were dealt a severe blow by a Leon Circuit judge on Friday, who sided with plaintiffs in Florida’s congressional redistricting case.
Judge Terry Lewis ruled that a proposed map of 27 congressional districts drawn by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, groups that filed the suit, were more compliant than maps proposed by Republicans in the state House and Senate.
“I find the alternative map proposed by the coalition plaintiffs ... best complies with the Court’s directions and with all constitutional requirements,” Lewis wrote in his opinion.
The Florida Supreme Court will review the ruling by the end of the month.
The ruling pushes Webster’s district, which currently sprawls into rural, Republican Lake and Polk counties, completely within Orange County. The changes turn Webster’s District 10 seat from a 4 percent advantage for Republicans over Democrats among registered voters to an 18 percent Democratic advantage.
Asked Thursday night, before Friday’s ruling, about prospects that he might switch districts rather than try to seek re-election in his current one, Webster said there still are plenty of court rulings yet to come, and he would have to see what the final results are before deciding what to do.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m waiting for the Circuit Court, the Supreme Court, the three-judge federal panel. And so until that’s all done, I think it would just be speculation.”
Lewis’ ruling also imperils other incumbents. U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee; Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami; and David Jolly, R-St. Petersburg, would see their districts lean to the opposite party. Jolly, though, is running for U.S. Senate.
Overall, the ruling could pave the way for Democrats to pick up two seats in Florida’s congressional delegation, where Republicans hold a 17-10 advantage.
The Supreme Court ordered Lewis to hold a trial on redistricting after the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a single map during an August special session.
The session was needed after the Supreme Court in July threw out the previous maps drawn by the Legislature. The court said GOP operatives colluded with Republican legislative leaders to pack black, Democratic-leaning voters into District 5, which currently snakes down from Jacksonville to Orlando, thereby “bleaching” the surrounding districts and making them more Republican-leaning.
The July ruling, the first time the high court interpreted the Fair Districts amendments passed by voters in 2010 prohibiting partisan gerrymandering, also mandated that District 5 be drawn from east to west, instead of the vertical, Jacksonville to Orlando configuration.
That meant Orlando’s black voters would be absorbed by surrounding districts, making it difficult for lawmakers to comply with the court order and save Webster’s seat.
Webster visited Tallahassee during the special session to complain about how his district was being redrawn. Such changes would also go against the Fair Districts amendments, he argued, because they also prohibit new districts from being drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor incumbents.
“The new configuration for District 10 makes the seat uncompetitive for anyone in my party, including me,” Webster told lawmakers then.
But even under the maps proposed by the House and Senate, Webster’s district is similar to those drawn by the plaintiffs and would be extremely difficult for a Republican to win.
Webster was given a boost in his bid for U.S. House Speaker earlier this week when the frontrunner, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., unexpectedly dropped out.
A group of up to 40 renegade GOP members known as the Freedom Caucus have rallied behind Webster and against “establishment” candidates such as McCarthy.
Webster’s long-shot bid could be his main hope of retaining a seat in the House.
There’s still a chance his seat could be saved, however.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who holds District 5, is filing a separate legal challenge in federal court. She alleges the July Supreme Court ruling violates the federal Voting Rights Act by mandating a dilution of the black voting age population in her district.
For more information: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/political-pulse/os-judge-rules-webster-district-others-should-be-redrawn-20151009-post.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+news%2Fpolitics%2Fpoliticalpulse+%28Central+Florida+Political+Pulse%29