Efforts to promote either path are in their early stages, but both sides are motivated to change the status quo. The extended redistricting battle has cost taxpayers $11 million, according to the Miami Herald.
“How many special sessions have we had? This is preposterous, in that this is just a matter of style, not substance,” said Democratic state Rep. Dwight Dudley, in an interview with National Journal. (The answer to his rhetorical question: four special sessions, as of October.)
Dudley has sponsored a bill that would create an independent commission modeled after California’s: The state auditor would pick up to 60 potential commissioners and then allow the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate to narrow the field down using vetoes. He also cosponsored an independent-commission bill that he now says doesn’t go far enough in keeping the commissioners independent of the legislature.
Even though Republicans control Florida’s House, Senate, and governorship, Dudley has high hopes that he can pass legislation creating an independent commission with bipartisan support. As lawmakers convened for the legislature’s second special session, the Herald reported, Republican state Sen. Tom Lee exclaimed in frustration, “Bring me a redistricting commission or something, for goodness sakes. Bring me something that works!”
More importantly, Republican state Rep. Richard Corcoran, who has been designated the speaker of the House for the 2016-18 session, told the Herald he is “completely open” to considering legislation creating an independent redistricting commission.
(Corcoran, Lee, and several other Republican legislators who have expressed at least hesitant support for a commission did not respond to requests for comment.)
Dudley acknowledged that Republicans could support some sort of redistricting Trojan horse—an ostensibly independent commission that actually gives legislators some sort of influence. In that case, it might be necessary to push for a ballot measure creating the commission.
“We don’t want a make-believe independent commission,” he said. “We want the real thing. We want as far independent as we can possibly design.”
An independent commission, however, is not the only way Florida can escape its current convoluted system. Republican consultant Rick Wilson said the 2017 Constitution Revision Commission is at least a “relevant” possible solution, although Republicans haven’t yet made plans to undo the 2010 Fair Districts Amendments.
“The other side will litigate the hell out of it, of course,” Wilson said. “But there is a way to get home on that to replace the slanted, D.C.-developed [state constitutional amendments] 5 and 6 with something more reflective of the will of the people in Florida.”
It’s not as simple as Republican legislators looking to preserve the party’s power rather than allowing for independent redistricting, Wilson said. It’s that the current ban on gerrymandering in Florida puts more power into the hands of unelected judges whom Republicans consider just as partisan. Three of the seven justices were appointed by former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and four were appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, a moderate Republican who has since become a Democrat.