Two South Florida senators had a brief war of words Wednesday over plans to add more Hispanics to a Senate district and the language abilities of those in the district as the Senate moves closer to finalizing its redistricting efforts.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said he will continue to push for a fourth “Hispanic seat” in Southeast Florida -- a seat now held by Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, that de la Portilla's brother has eyed for a return to the Legislature.
Diaz de la Portilla, who withdrew an amendment to create the seat from the Senate Reapportionment Committee on Wednesday, drew criticism from members of both parties, including Margolis, for planning to revive the effort when the full Senate gathers Thursday.
The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a map leadership hopes will meet the standards required by the Florida Supreme Court under the Fair Districts amendment.
While the district would be deemed minority-majority dominated by Hispanics, Diaz de la Portilla said the Fair Districts amendment isn't supposed to allow anti-incumbency protection.
“Every senator has his or her right to object and present arguments as they see fit,” Diaz de la Portilla said.
Sens. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said if the amendment was that vital they would have preferred to spend time during committee rather than debate the issue on the Senate floor as the special session is scheduled to end March 28.
After the meeting, as Diaz de la Portilla talked to reporters, Margolis said the issue continues to be pursued because Alex Diaz de la Portilla has expressed interest in returning to the Legislature.
“This amendment, if it makes a fourth seat in Dade County a protected seat, disenfranchises every Anglo,” Margolis said. “There will never be an Anglo member of the Florida Senate from Dade County if this amendment passes.”
Sen. Diaz de la Portilla responded by saying Margolis, in her second stint in the Senate, simply wants to retain her seat in an area that has language and racial minority demographics.
“Language minorities and racial majorities are what they are. You don’t have an 'Anglo' (district) for lack of a better term. Anglos are not recognized as minorities under federal law and to suggest so is kind of absurd,” Diaz de la Portilla said.
Margolis disagreed that Cubans, who make up a large portion of her district, should be considered a language minority.
“The Cubans came in 1960. Believe me, they can speak English,” Margolis said. “They prefer not to, but they do speak English. They went to school in Miami-Dade, their children go to school in Miami-Dade, they’re English-speaking people.”
Diaz de la Portilla countered that Margolis showed “a lack of sensitivity and understanding” of Cuban-Americans and South Florida, “which again is a further argument for change.”
Under the map submitted by Diaz de la Portilla, Hispanic registration would increase in Margolis' district to 66 percent from the 49 percent for the district under the map going before the Senate on Thursday.
Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who served in the Senate from 2000 through 2010, has announced his intention to run for Margolis' seat this fall.
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