Butterworth pans redistricting plan
By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- Attorney General Bob Butterworth wants the Florida Supreme Court to reject the Legislature's new map of state House and Senate districts, claiming that lawmakers ignored county boundaries and public testimony and drew "extremely contorted" lines.
A petition filed shortly before a 5 p.m. Monday deadline asks the justices to find the maps "not valid."
The justices have 30 days to find the plans legal or order the Legislature to make changes. Under Florida's Constitution, the new maps are not valid until the state's high court approves them.
Six of the seven justices, who played a crucial role in the 2002 presidential election cliffhanger, were appointed by Democratic governors, and the seventh was appointed jointly by Democrat Lawton Chiles and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
The maps in question divide Florida's 16-million residents into 120 House and 40 Senate districts that set the framework for control of the Legislature over the next 10 years. The Butterworth petition focuses only on legislative seats, not the new lines for congressional districts.
Butterworth said the shapes of some House districts in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties defy logic and cry out for explanation. But he said lawmakers' unwillingness to adopt "objective standards" at the start of hearings last summer only invites suspicions about their motives.
"The reapportionment process, if objectively implemented, should result in a fair plan by which voters may select their legislators, rather than legislators selecting their voters," Butterworth wrote. "Many districts of the proposed plans have facially inexplicable shapes."
As a term-limited Democrat in his final year in office, Butterworth's criticism of two Republican-created redistricting maps adds another political jolt to what is already the most partisan undertaking by the Legislature.
Republicans accused Butterworth of raw partisanship and noted that he did not challenge similar redistricting maps drawn by his fellow Democrats a decade ago.
"I think it's a partisan move on his part," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor. "I've always liked Bob Butterworth, and I respect him, but I'm pretty disappointed he would do this, especially when he didn't do it 10 years ago."
House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, who learned last Friday that Butterworth's lawyers were preparing to challenge the maps, said the attorney general has a constitutional duty to defend the maps now, as Butterworth did in 1992.
"You have a duty to defend that plan zealously against all legal challenge, and without partisan influence," Feeney wrote in a letter to Butterworth.
Butterworth disagreed and said he was pointing out flaws to avoid more legal problems later. The maps face legal challenges from other groups, and the U.S. Justice Department must approve the new districts for compliance with the Voting Rights Act in five counties, including Hillsborough.
A previous Senate redistricting map was thrown out by the Justice Department in 1992 because it did not link black voters in Tampa and St. Petersburg into a single minority district.
"Believe it or not, we're out there to help protect the Legislature," Butterworth said.
Butterworth did not fault legislators for reducing the influence of minority voters, a recurring theme of many federal court decisions on reapportionment across the country in the '90s.
Rather, he cited case after case in which he said lawmakers ignored natural boundaries and pleas from constituents in redrawing districts to reflect the past decade's population shifts.
He cited a hearing in Naples Sept. 24 at which "virtually all" speakers, including a local Republican Party leader, objected to any maps that would link Collier to Miami-Dade or Broward counties. The map approved by both houses connects about 30,000 residents of Pembroke Pines in southwest Broward with Collier County, 80 miles west at the opposite end of Alligator Alley.
"It is difficult to reconcile the maps with the public testimony," Butterworth wrote.
He also described a South Florida House district in which a section of Miami Beach and Star Island are split from the rest of the coastline and joined with the Brownsville community, a part of Miami's urban core.
The Miami Beach City Commission passed a resolution opposing the map for that reason, and Butterworth attached a copy of the resolution to his court papers.
He cited side-by-side House seats in southern Palm Beach County "joined like "gears' " with the teeth representing concentrations of Democratic or Republican voters.
He said Alachua County is split among four House districts, even though it has only 218,000 residents.
Attorneys for the Legislature have seven days to answer Butterworth's arguments.
Sen. John Laurent, R-Bartow, a leader in the Senate's redistricting efforts, said it is impossible to draw districts of equal populations without occasionally crossing county and city boundaries.
Laurent also said the Legislature did not adopt many "objective standards" because that would have made it easier for opponents to challenge the maps, based on allegations that the standards were violated. He called Butterworth's logic "perplexing."
Bill Jones of the League of Women Voters of Florida, who has criticized lawmakers' maps for their focus on gaining partisan advantage and protecting incumbents, praised Butterworth for refusing to rubber-stamp the Legislature's work.
"Excellent," Jones said. "It's obvious to a kindergartener when they look at these plans that they're not compact, and it's obvious to someone who's a little bit older that there's gerrymandering."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire