Politics
8:43 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Anti-Gerrymandering Amendment Kicks Off Game Of Musical Districts

Next Tuesday's primary will be the first election since redistricting under anti-gerrymandering rules changed all of the political maps. The process made, changed or destroyed some political careers in the Florida Legislature, and not every one is sure the redistricting process accomplished its goals.

In Tallahassee, the parties in power (Republicans for years) have gotten used to designing political districts in order to preserve their majority year after year. When voters approved the Fair Districts amendments, and prohibited gerrymandering, the change hit the Florida Legislature like an earthquake, particularly in the House. Several members found themselves drawn into the same districts as other incumbents. Rather than run against each other, some left the Legislature. Others packed up and decided to try their luck in different districts.

Democrat John Patrick Julien, formerly of District 104, is now seeking re-election in District 107, and so is the District 103  incumbent, Democrat Barbara Watson.

“Unfortunately, in my race, neither one of us could move so here we are,” said Julien. “It's always difficult to run against a friend and a colleague, but truth be told, it’s one of those things where you're having a competition, you have athletes that, uh, compete against friends. Sometimes you have athletes in the case of the Williams sisters that compete against family members.”

Julien has kept his relationship with Watson cordial, and the feeling appears to be mutual. But Watson does not like the situation. Their district is in and around the mostly African American city of Miami Gardens, an area which once had two black representatives.

“You definitely will be eliminating one of those faces,” Watson said. “Our numbers are now even being dwindled small, to a lesser degree. We're going to lose one of us.”

A DIFFERENT STORY

In South Dade, it is a bit of a different story. Jose Felix Diaz and Ana Rivas Logan, both  Republican incumbents, are also in the same district, 116. Diaz says their mutual friends don't know how to act, organizations are giving them useless joint endorsements, or not endorsing either of them at all. Meanwhile, because they have to keep pointing out how they differ from each other, the campaign has turned harshly negative.

“It's been quite interesting to interact,” said Diaz. “We see each other often. We're typically at the same events. And, what used to be a cordial relationship has soured, and, uh, unfortunately it's not what it used to be.”

Logan did not return calls to her district office by our deadline.

In Broward County, Democrat Evan Jenne was drawn into the same district as his friend,  Joseph A. "Joe" Gibbons. He figured the Republicans who ran the redistricting committee might be messing with him because of his work as Democratic whip.

“I killed a lot of stuff that, uh, Republican leadership wanted to see passed. And I had blood on my hands,” Jenne said.

But rather than run against his friend Gibbons, Jenne left the Legislature. He then launched a campaign for a county commission seat, thought twice about it, then dropped out. He says he'll return to private life in November and begin planning his return to the Legislature.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Analyst Peter Schorsch, who writes the influential blogs Inside the Lines and Saint Peters Blog, said all the personal and political upheaval is unlikely to bring a lot of change to Republican-dominated Florida House.

“Looking at the maps right now, and the polling that I've seen, you know, there's a chance the house Republicans may actually extend their majority.”

Schorsch said that's because of voter behavior, not district lines. He thinks the money spent on developing the gerrymandering rules and presenting them to the voters could have been spent on recruiting more and better candidates.