Call him Johnny Come Lately. Rod Smith, the current Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chairman, was once upon a time in a not so distant galaxy a State Senator. Senators, particularly those without a strong ideology, vote their self -interest more often than not. In 2002, Smith was one of the deal makers on reapportionment, selling out the seat of fellow north Florida Democrat Richard Mitchell (D-Jasper), and advocating/voting for a plan that protected incumbents, added to a GOP majority and drew zig-zagging district lines. As the Legislature convenes today for a Special Session to redraw the Senate map after court rejection, Smith is coming out of the box swinging at the GOP and offering an unprecedented alternative plan which makes sense for Floridians of all political stripes.
Public officials tend to change over ten years and Rod Smith in 2012 is showing greater public awareness and understanding of the stakes around redistricting. In 2002, Chairman Bob Poe and the Florida Democratic Party staff ran a poorly organized public effort to oppose the GOP drawn maps. In fact, Senators like Rod Smith and others from liberal southeast Florida had sufficient cover to vote for the incumbent protection reapportionment plan because the FDP was so inept at framing the public debate. Over on the House side, seven southeast Florida Democrats voted for the most partisan gerrymander in post Baker v Carr Florida history. Those Democrats were never publicly repudiated by the state party despite the best effort of House Minority Leader Lois Frankel (D-West Palm Beach) to make their lives difficult within the Democratic House Caucus.
Smith’s public posture in recent weeks has put the State Senate squarely on the defensive, asking the types of questions that needed to be asked in 2002 but were not. While the last redistricting cycle was prior to the passage of the important Fair Districts Constitutional Amendment, the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic effort in 2002 made it very simple for elected officials in both parties to conduct the process arrogantly and without fear of retribution.
Here are some of Smith’s best quotes of the week:
“I took the position from Day One that a map is no less unconstitutional simply because Democrats may support incumbency protection than if Republicans supported incumbency protection”
“A map does not become mysteriously correct just because it has 21 votes. It also must more carefully adhere to the court’s guidelines in following geographic boundaries, compact districts and drawing minority districts in the most compact way possible.”
“Contrary to what Sen. Gaetz suggests, the score is not 32 to 8. The score is zero to one, If the Senate doesn’t get it right this time, the score will be zero and two. Frankly, the Senate will not get a third shot in writing a map.”
Smith’s alternative plan is reported to be a strict adherence to the spirit of the Fair Districts Amendment that passed in 2010. That’s what Florida’s citizens overwhelmingly voted for and that is what as FDP Chairman Rod Smith is providing. Past sins can easily be washed away in politics by doing the right thing. In 2012, Rod Smith is showing that he has learned for 2002 and is now working in the best interest of his party and the citizens of Florida.