There's no doubt when the Florida Legislature kicks off its second special session of the year on Monday that lawmakers have the potential to bring a tsunami of changes to the state's political landscape.
Legislative staff and lawyers drew up a "base map" that has already riled some because of the way it divides Sarasota and Leon counties. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown responded by going to federal court and asking a judge to block the state from changing her district from one that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando to one that runs across the northern end of the state to west of Gadsden County. Brown asserts that changes would adversely impact minority voting rights and run afoul of federal law.
If adopted the plan could alter and end the Congressional careers of U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Dan Webster while resurrecting Charlie Crist yet again.
But there are a lot of signs that any efforts to make serious changes to this map may be quickly rebuffed by the GOP leaders in charge of the Legislature.
Take for example the rules rolled out for the session.
No lawmaker can propose just altering part of the map - they must introduce a entire new plan.
Additionally, in an effort to deal with any potential charges of partisan influence Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli will require that anyone who offers an amendment to be prepared to identify anyone who had a hand in it as well as "be able to provide a non-partisan and incumbent-neutral justification for the proposed configuration of each district, to explain in detail the results of any functional analysis performed to ensure that the ability of minorities to elect the candidates of their choice is not diminished, and to explain how the proposal satisfies all of the constitutional and statutory criteria applicable to a Congressional redistricting plan."
In other words not an easy task.
"We don’t have the know-how in terms of creating maps, we’re not map experts," said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford. "And I don’t know if anybody really knows where to begin."
Sen. Jeff Clemons added that he expects most senators to move with caution because of the proscriptive nature of the July ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. It was that ruling, which not only threw out the current congressional map, but included specific suggestions such as reconfiguring Brown's district from a North-South configuration to one that runs East to West.
Sen. Bill Galvano, the top Republican guiding the redistricting efforts in the Senate, contends that the rules were not intended to dissuade anyone from offering up changes.
"We want to make sure we have a full record and that the reasons for amendments or proposals within the map are clear, delineated and on the record,'' Galvano said.
He also said it would be wrong to assume that the "base map" won't be fully discussed and vetted. Galvano added that he expects legislators to need all 12-days that have been set aside for the session.
But the political reality is that many legislators don't have a vested interest in what happens to these congressional districts.
Yes, it's true that the new map could lead to a shrinking of the GOP advantage in the Florida delegation.
But the real showdown in the Legislature isn't during this upcoming session - it's the special session planned for late October
That session _ when lawmakers will be forced to redraw the Senate districts _ will much more wide open. To begin with: While the state Supreme Court gives great insight to how the high court thinks about some of the logic used by the Legislature for congressional districts there's still wiggle room left for the state Senate seats.
"These congressional maps are going to be a good opportunity to learn what's important in relation to drawing the Senate maps,'' Clemons said.
And as had been reported elsewhere putting all 40 seats in play during a presidential year could tip the balance of what happens in the unresolved battle between Sen. Jack Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron for the 2017-18 Senate presidency.
That could prompt the Florida House to use its leverage especially since there are rumblings that there is still a divide between the leaders of the two chambers.
It wasn't by accident that the settlement over the lawsuit against the Senate included wording that absolved the House of any wrongdoing and placed all blame on the Senate GOP leaders. There's probably no way that the House leaders would have accepted the settlement without that crucial acknowledgement.
Of course the "Fair Districts" amendment prevents drawing lines to aid incumbents or people of a particular political party. But that won't stop all 160 legislators from being able to look at the maps themselves and reach their own private conclusions about what the political fallout will mean if certain configurations are adopted.
But this ongoing federal litigation may also come into play prior to that special session.
The lawsuit filed in Pensacola aims to wipe out the amendment as it has been interpreted by the state Supreme Court because it violates free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It won't impact this special session, but if a judge issues an injunction by October that blocks state officials from relying on the Fair Districts amendment, it could really shake up that special session. (Worth noting: The lawyer who is working on this case used to be the general counsel for the Florida House.)
Justin Levitt, a Loyola University professor who tracks redistricting cases, says federal judges are usually "skeptical" about free speech claims but he also said he expects the lawsuit to be taken seriously.
And what about Brown's legal argument?
He's not sure how that will proceed. First all, he notes that Brown is asking the court to block a new congressional district that has yet to be adopted. But he adds that while the federal Voting Rights Act does aim to protect the rights of local populations to choose a representative of their choosing there can still be multiple ways to meet the goal. Right now the "base map" keeps Brown's district with a black voting age population of 45 percent - down slightly from the existing 48 percent in the district.
"The Voting Rights Act does not force Florida to choose one over the other,'' Levitt said.
So where does that mean? It means that the next 12 days are just the pre-season to the real contest - and political infighting - that may lay ahead in the fall.