It would have been easy for Rod Smith and the FDP to follow another course. Given the partisan nature of redistricting and the general malaise felt by Florida Democrats, Smith and party lawyers had three alternatives: A) disengage from reapportionment much the same way as the FDP had in 2002, allowing public interest groups to fight a lonely fight against the Republicans; B) Submit a partisan map to the Supreme Court, C) Honor the Fair Districts Amendment passed by 63% of Florida voters in 2010 by signing on to a fair non-partisan plan that likely keeps a GOP majority in the Senate for the next decade. The plan originally submitted by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause draws fair districts based on communities of interest and the Voting Rights Act, and
Smith wisely chose option C. In the process he increased the credibility of the FDP on the reapportionment issue to new heights. Throughout recent years the assumption was that the Democrats did not really believe in the principles of Fair Districts, but were simply pushing the Amendment because they were in the minority. Any astute political observer would come to that conclusion based on the self-preservation doctrine most Democrats have subscribed to since falling into the minority.
But what in fact the Florida Democratic Party has signed on to is a plan that endangers incumbents, including DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENTS in some areas, but draws equitable and fair lines. These lines are likely to maintain a GOP majority of 22-18 or 23-17 in the Senate, but will finally place communities of interest in districts likely to be represented by Senators who may actually represent their interests. Certainly an incentive for the Democrats in supporting the non-partisan plan is that it would completely eliminate any chance Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale has of returning to the Senate for the 2013 session. Bogdanoff, from heavily Democratic Broward County has needed some creative map making by Don Gaetz and the Senate Redistricting Committee to even have a shot of reelection. Her seat under the new Senate passed maps is a Democratic leaning district DESPITE being a GOP gerrymander to try and save her.
The one minor issue I do have with the LWV/Common Cause/FDP map is that it would still allow both Don Gaetz and Greg Evers to run in separate NW Florida districts. However, the plan does likely mean that Evers would be succeeded by a Senator from either Escambia or Santa Rosa County, rather than another Okaloosa based member. Otherwise, the map is painstakingly fair, leaving incumbents vulnerable, protecting minority seats and likely maintaining a GOP majority, albeit a much smaller one.
The move squarely positions the FDP as the people’s party and enhances the credibility of the party in a time of excessive polarization nationally. For his other flaws, Rod Smith deserves credit for this extremely surprising and wise move.