Watch CBS News

Florida House Leaders Push Back On Redistricting Criticism

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - House redistricting leaders are pushing back against criticism by outside groups of draft proposals rolled out this week in the once-a-decade process to redraw congressional and legislative lines.

A day after House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tyler Sirois decried responses to the drafts from the "self-anointed, partisan political class," State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Cord Byrd on Friday pointed to how the "punditocracy jumped into the headlines."

"With all of the political rhetoric that's being tossed around in the media, very little of it speaks of the constitutional standards that apply to our maps," Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, said at the start of a meeting of his subcommittee. "That irony is not lost on me, nor should it be on you either. External groups are judging us on the very thing we cannot evaluate, consider or even know."

Byrd and Sirois, R-Merritt Island, alluded to the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts requirements in the Florida Constitution that prohibit new districts from favoring individuals or political parties. Voters approved the Fair Districts requirements in two constitutional amendments in 2010.

Byrd, as did Sirois, advised members of his subcommittee to "divest yourself" from external groups with vested interests in the new lines and "their rhetoric which are aimed at imputing their political ambitions into your decision making."

The drafts, which were developed by House staff members and released Monday, will eventually be replaced by proposed committee bills sometime after the start of the 2022 legislative session, which will begin Jan. 11.

The House and Senate will ultimately need to negotiate a map for congressional districts. Common ground appears to have emerged on a key issue of establishing a new congressional district in Polk County. Florida will go from 27 to 28 congressional districts next year because of a population gain in the U.S. Census.

The Senate, meanwhile, is drawing a new Senate map, while the House will handle a new House map.

Shortly after the House drafts were released Monday, Matt Isbell, a Tallahassee-based analyst who has worked for Democrats, called the maps "terribly drawn," "just lazy" and "inferior" to the Senate's proposals.

He said one of the House congressional plans "is a pretty notable gerrymander," as it "nukes" the District 7 seat in Central Florida held by Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, while maintaining Democrats' hold on two seats in the Tampa region.

Isbell added that the House's first legislative map proposal would give Democrats "concessions" around Orlando, but "short-circuits" the Democratic Party in Tampa and would split heavily Democratic Tallahassee from two to three seats.

Meanwhile, the anti-gerrymandering group RepresentUs, working with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, gave "F" grades to the House's congressional maps, indicating "poor for the category, could be much better."

RepresentUs and Princeton had given Senate draft congressional maps a "B," indicating "better than average for the category, but bias still exists."

The House legislative redistricting proposals did much better, scoring "A" grades from the RepresentUs and Princeton team.

Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, said Friday he'd like more notice of when additional maps or changes would be released. Also, Daley said more consideration needs to be given to public input submitted through a legislative redistricting website.

Byrd said members of the public have submitted eight House map proposals.

Concerns were also raised Friday by lawmakers and local officials about House district proposals that would further split cities such as Tallahassee and Tampa and counties including Orange and Seminole.

Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, said local officials are "obviously concerned about the cannibalization of our community."

Byrd said the staff proposals are a "starting point."

"This is why we're workshopping it now," Byrd said. "That's why we've had the education up to now, so that we can understand and comprehend what staff has given us to consider."

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.