GOP Tosses Hail Mary to Stall Fair Districts
by John Kennedy | April 3rd, 2012
A week after the Florida House approved the Legislature’s latest attempt to redraw Senate districts, the plan Tuesday still had not been forwarded by Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to the state Supreme Court.
Bondi’s delay is raising concerns among Democrats — who say it’s part of a larger GOP strategy to heighten pressure on the court and U.S. Justice Department, which also must approve the state plan. Candidate qualifying is set to begin June 4, and the timetable for the reviews already comes close to hitting that deadline.
“Florida Republicans efforts to delay the court’s review of the map is nothing more than a Hail Mary pass,” said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. "After the Florida Supreme Court’s historic rejection of the first state Senate map, Republicans are not confident their second gerrymandered map can withstand court muster so they are stalling.”
The week that has passed since the special session ended with a redrawn Senate plan represents a marked contrast to Bondi’s speed in sending both a House and Senate redistricting proposal to the court in February. Under state law, Bondi has 15 days to act after legislative approval.
But when the first plans were approved, Bondi sent the maps to justices about 24 hours after the final vote in the Senate. At that time, Republican legislative leaders had talked of fixing any failings the court might find in the maps while the Legislature was still in session.
Instead, justices unanimously approved the House plan. But they rejected the Senate’s proposal in a 5-2 decision also made public March 9, the last day of the regular session. The special session which ended last Tuesday was called by Gov. Rick Scott for lawmakers to redraw the Senate map.
House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he has “no idea” why Bondi has held the revamped plan a week. Bondi’s office said the attorney general has until April 11 to file a petition with justices.
“We will file the petition by the deadline,” said Bondi spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale.
Weatherford said he is confident, “it will not have an effect on the (qualifying) deadline.”
But Democrats say the clock-eating approach fits a pattern.
Attorneys for the Republican-led Legislature have already sought — unsuccessfully — to have a trial delayed until after the November elections on the lawsuit filed by Democrats and allied organizations challenging proposed congressional district boundaries.
Last week, Bondi joined with House and Senate attorneys in asking federal officials to begin their review of the new Senate plan — even before it goes to the state Supreme Court.
But Democrats think that request, likely a longshot, may be mostly public relations. They say it’s intended to blunt accusations that Republicans are stalling in hopes courts will adopt the current map to avoid adding chaos to the candidate filing period.
“I don’t know if the Justice Department will look at the Senate map,” Weatherford said. “But now there’s nothing stopping them.
“The Supreme Court could look at it, too, even before it’s sent by the attorney general. It’s all online,” Weatherford said.