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Politics / Issues

Weekly Roundup: Squid Ink and Mumbo Jumbo

State capitol during the day

Nobody thought the Legislature's latest attempt at crafting new Senate districts was going to be easy.

But this week's intraparty Republican fighting at the opening of a special session --- in a year that sadly might best be characterized as the "Session That Never Ended" --- foreshadowed what could be another grim two weeks of drawing maps, chased by an equally foreboding regular session in a few months.

The contentiousness wasn't restricted to the Legislature's domain, however, even if another painful controversy did wind up inside the Capitol.

Florida A&M University President Elmira Mangum narrowly survived an attempted ouster that sharply divided alumni and students and wound up with the exit instead of the chairman of the college's board of trustees.

Meanwhile, Capitol denizens might want to think again if they are considering a pool on the outcome of what could turn into another doomed redistricting attempt.

Senate President Andy Gardiner put the daily fantasy sports industry on notice this week that he's definitely not "all in" on the online activity that's swept the nation.

YEP. REDISTRICTING

The Senate Reapportionment Committee on Friday voted along party lines to approve a Senate map proposed by Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. But there was grumbling from even some Republicans that the map might be flawed, most notably from Senate budget chief Tom Lee, a former Senate president. Before voting for the proposal, Lee called his chamber's six proposals "defiant" and accused GOP leaders of being "unnecessarily dug in" on plans that would ultimately fail to garner support from the Florida Supreme Court.

Friday's vote capped off a week of acrimony over the Senate plans.

Plunging into the debate Monday, the heretofore sharply divided House and Senate quickly hit on an area of disagreement about whether all 40 Senate seats will be up for re-election next year.

The split on the opening day of the session was an ominous sign about the three-week gathering aimed at producing a map that follows the voter-approved "Fair Districts" redistricting standards.

The new districts are needed after lawmakers signed a consent agreement with voting-rights organizations that conceded the current Senate map, drawn in 2012, would likely be found unconstitutional under the anti-gerrymandering amendments.

The concession followed court challenges to legislative and congressional maps that showed Republican political consultants used straw men to funnel maps into the redistricting process following the once-a-decade U.S. Census.

Late Wednesday, Galvano released his proposed draft of the map, as Republican discontent with a plan for whether and when members would have to run for re-election continued to brew.

The complicated dance during a special redistricting session highlighted the delicacy of the issue among lawmakers most affected by the process. It also underscored fissures within the GOP majority over a lingering battle for the Senate presidency following the 2016 elections, which continued to play out before the reapportionment committee gave approval to the plan Friday.

Meanwhile, senators clashed over efforts to come up with a random way of numbering districts without intending to favor incumbents. Because odd-numbered districts vote in presidential years, where larger turnout favors Democrats, and even-numbered districts vote in midterms with smaller and more conservative electorates, the number of a district can affect how safe a seat is for a particular party.

The Senate used a process Thursday overseen by the state auditor general to randomly select which seats would receive even numbers and which ones would get odd numbers. But Democrats complained during the unusual gathering --- which was not formally a committee meeting --- that it was too early to number the districts because it could provide lawmakers with an idea of when they would have to run.

The numbers would also decide which senators would be able to hold office for four years and who would have to run again in two years if every member of the chamber has to run for re-election in 2016 --- though that hasn't been decided.

Members of the GOP caucus, stung by repeated legal losses in redistricting cases over more than three years, said Wednesday that the Senate should consider asking the Florida Supreme Court or the Leon County judge currently overseeing the settlement what to do about the numbers.

"I just don't find any consistency in this," Lee said. "I think I've lost confidence."

FAMU RATTLED

In a dramatic three-hour meeting Thursday, members of Florida A&M's Board of Trustees made failed attempts to fire President Elmira Mangum and sparked students to march to Gov. Rick Scott's office in support of the embattled president.

Mangum narrowly survived two votes that could have led to her ouster, the latest episode in a series of public conflicts between the president and several trustees.

Discussion during the meeting centered on payments for renovations to the president's residence and four employee bonuses, which trustees Chairman Rufus Montgomery described as "irregularities and improprieties" that had not been approved by the board.

"It's a violation of state law," said Montgomery, who wound up resigning Friday.

Within hours of Thursday's votes, FAMU students marched to the Capitol, demanding justice for Mangum. About 150 congregated outside the governor's office, where their representatives met with members of Scott's staff.

"It was an act of malfeasance on the part of the FAMU Board of Trustees," said student body Vice President Justin Bruno, a junior from Orlando. "There needs to be some grounds for their insinuations. …They need to have grounds. They need to have evidence."

SENATE PRESIDENT NO FAN OF FANTASY SPORTS

Gardiner, R-Orlando, said Wednesday he is exploring what the state can do to shut down daily fantasy sports, even as federal prosecutors are probing the online industry that has drawn accusations of illegal gambling.

Gardiner has asked his lawyers to look into the games, in which players pay entry fees to draft "teams" that compete against each other for cash prizes based on the actual performance of players.

The fast-growing daily fantasy sports industry is the focus of probes by prosecutors in New York and Tampa, where the U.S. Attorney's Office recently subpoenaed the Florida-based Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

People in the industry contend that fantasy sports is not gambling because it involves games of skill, not chance, which are outlawed under most state gambling laws.

But gambling regulators in Nevada last week ordered companies like FanDuel and DraftKings to stop operating in the state after determining that online players' activity "involves wagering on the collective performance of individuals participating in sporting events." The decision prompted several online fantasy sports businesses to shut down operations in the state.

"I have asked staff to kind of start the process of researching as much as we possibly can," Gardiner, R-Orlando, told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday. "I would remind you we ran the Internet cafes out of the state of Florida because they were outlawed and they were bad. You have the Nevada Gaming Commission saying that FanDuel and DraftKings are gaming and gambling. So we have an obligation, if we're going to be consistent, that we need to look at them, and, if it is gaming, then we need to react to it."

STORY OF THE WEEK: A Senate committee advanced a map of the chamber's districts, but not without plenty of bipartisan angst.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "But all I get is squid ink when I talk to these people --- a bunch of mumbo jumbo that, 'well, this is my theory.' Well, show me in some court precedent. Show me in some legal proceeding. Stop telling me what you want the answer to be and tell me what you think it is based upon the law. And I get nothing." --- Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, expressing frustration as lawmakers tried to redraw Senate districts.