So, over the past several weeks, I’ve offered a breakdown of every state House, state Senate, and U.S. House race in Florida. It was a painstaking task. The main reason I did all of that was to simply make all of our readers aware of who’s running in every district and what the odds were of each candidate winning. That way, if you give a damn, you have all the more reason to get out and vote. But on a personal level, I also wanted to see just how much these new districts would change things. With the 2010 U.S. Census, congressional and state Legislature districts across the country have been redrawn for the 2012 elections based on those most-recent census numbers. But here in Florida, there’s a big difference — the Fair Districts amendments. These state constitutional amendments were passed in 2010 and made it so that new districts could not be “drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.” Additionally, “districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.”
The end result was supposed to be a state Legislature and House delegation that more-accurately reflected the demographics of Florida. In our state, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost half a million voters, with each party having between 4 million and 4.5 million registered members. So, logically, districts that were drawn using existing political and geographic boundaries, including county and city lines, would mean representation that was very close between the parties but in which Democrats would likely have a slight edge. The numbers in the state Legislature and U.S. House delegation from Florida right now, which came about under the old, highly gerrymandered districts, are as follows:
State House: 76 Republicans, 44 Democrats
State Senate: 26 Republicans, 13 Democrats
U.S. House: 19 Republicans, 6 Democrats
Now, under the new districts there will be the same 120-member state House, but an additional state Senate seat and two more U.S. House seats, based on increases in population. When we look at all of my breakdowns, assuming I’m right, the new representation will look like this:
State House: 76 Republicans, 43 Democrats, 1 Tossup
State Senate: 25 Republicans, 14 Democrats, 1 Tossup
U.S. House: 15 Republicans, 11 Democrats, 1 Tossup
In other words, while the Democrats stand to make some gains in the U.S. House races, they’ll still be the minority party, and the state Legislature will remain almost entirely unchanged. What happened? How did the Fair Districts amendments so obviously fail to make any difference in the political makeup of our representation?
The simply answer is this: gerrymandering never went away. In the U.S. House races, Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown is still in an absurdly gerrymandered district that hauls in most of the heavily black voting areas from Jacksonville to Orlando. In the state Senate, districts such as 14 and 19 serve only to cram as many Democratic voters as possible into weirdly shaped districts so that the surrounding districts will stay Republican. In the 14th, Central Florida’s Hispanic voters have been crammed into one district, and in the 19th the black population around Tampa and St. Petersburg has been thrown together in one ridiculously convoluted district. There’s the 6th and the 8th, which split Democratic Daytona in half, thus making sure that the city receives inadequate representation just so it’s voters will be diluted into two districts and allowing state Senator (and former Florida House Speaker and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida) John Thrasher to coast to re-election in the 6th.
Over in the state House, you have districts like South Florida’s own 88th, which includes a thin strip of territory that pulls Democrats away from the coastline district 89, thus creating a slightly Republican district there.
The Fair Districts amendments were passed over the strident objections of the motley crew in power. And when they passed anyway, that crew just ignored them when they could, using existing political boundaries only when it wouldn’t hurt Republican chances. There are a handful of exceptions to this, but those exceptions are totally eclipsed by the examples of districts drawn in such a way as to keep Republicans in power. And the whole sordid power grab has been helped along by liberal demands for minority-majority districts that cram Democratic voters into one district and ensure that each one of these districts is surrounded by Republicans on all sides. It’s short-sighted power-grabbing on every side, and when it comes to short-sighted power-grabs, it’s no surprise that Republicans get the best outcome. Short-sighted power grabs are their raison d’etre.