Sunday, March 18, 2018
News Roundup

Florida House and Senate give early nod to congressional map fix

TALLAHASSEE — Florida House and Senate redistricting committees gave swift approval Friday to a proposed fix to the state's flawed congressional redistricting map with a plan hatched in private by legislative leaders and staff. 

The House Redistricting Committee voted 8-5 along party lines, while Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to vote 7-0 for the proposal that makes modest changes to seven of the state's 27 congressional districts.

Despite promises of transparency, the new map was created by House and Senate redistricting staff in private meetings with redistricting committee chairmen, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, and their outside legal counsel. It was released less than 24 hours before the vote.

Corcoran told the House committee Friday that the only information used to compile the map was the voter data already available in the House's MyDistrictBuilder software and the ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

"This plan is superior to the one that was thrown out,'' he said.

But partisan feuding continued as House Democrats tried and failed to get legislators to put the drawers of the map under oath and persuade the committee to adopt an alternative map.

The alternative map, drawn by Orlando Democratic Sen. Darren Soto and his aide, would have reduced the partisan advantage in Districts 9 and 10, seats held by Republican U.S. Reps. John Mica of Orlando and Dan Webster of Winter Garden, respectively, while reducing the number of black Democrats in District 5, now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville.

Soto said the configuration would change only three districts — CD 5, 9 and 10 — and affect only Orange, Seminole and Lake counties. He said it would adhere to the intent of the state's Fair Districts law by removing partisan advantage and putting the same number of Republicans as Democrats into District 5.

Soto's plan would have kept the district strongly Democratic, but would have reduced voter support for Obama from 70.9 percent in 2012 to 63.5 percent.

But George Meros, a legal counsel for the House, said Soto's proposal was "clearly illegal" because it made the district more competitive to benefit Democrats.

The final map, expected to be approved by the full Legislature on Monday, cleans up the meandering District 5 and slightly modifies District 10. 

It also makes changes to five other surrounding districts in what Republicans say is an attempt to make them more visually appealing and compact. The changes make three of the seven affected districts slightly more competitive for Democrats; four become slightly more competitive for Republicans.

The Legislature's fix drew criticism from the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, which successfully sued to get the congressional map overturned. They warned that the repairs don't go far enough to satisfy the court's concerns and urged them to consider their proposed alternative.

"Map 9057 continues to use a minority-marginalizing relic of an era in which political gerrymandering was acceptable — now it is not,'' the groups wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders.

District 5 "packs an excessive number of African-Americans into a district marked by hooks, tentacles and appendages as it snakes through and splits every county from Jacksonville down to Orlando. By packing minorities into such a north-south district, CD 5 in Map 9057 destroys the ability to create an additional district with significant minority voting strength in Central Florida."

They offered an alternative map that creates a minority district along the east-west corridor of the top of the state and which, they said, will create the opportunity for two blacks to be elected to Congress from North and Central Florida instead of one. 

The debate continued to strain traditional Democratic alliances. NAACP leaders, who rejected the league's alternative map, told the Senate Reapportionment Committee that they want to see District 5 preserved.

Whitfield Jenkins, the former president of the Marion County NAACP, said District 5 secures the ability for African-Americans to get elected.

Beverlye Colson Neal, former executive director of the NAACP Florida Conference, said reducing the number of black voters would disenfranchise the same voters. "These voters will be placed in districts where they are outnumbered by whites," she told the committee. "African-Americans are a fragile community and the least bit of disenfranchisement will keep them away from the polls."

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, a former legislative aide to congresswoman Brown, commended the GOP proposal, which reduced the number of black voters in District 5 from 50 percent to 48 percent.

"When I look back at the numbers, it doesn't appear to be egregious," Gibson said. "I just want to make sure it continues to be a district that those constituents can have a representative of their choosing, collectively."

"It seems like you've done your homework and done it well," Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, told Galvano. 

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, gave a full-throated defense of the original map and the new proposed map. "It's an excellent proposal that we should all be supporting," he said of the new map.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] Follow @MaryEllenKlas

Hail, yeah, Michigan wins on 28-footer at buzzer to make Sweet 16

Hail, yeah, Michigan wins on 28-footer at buzzer to make Sweet 16

WICHITA, Kan. — Michigan freshman Jordan Poole drained a 28-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer after Houston squandered a chance to lock up a spot in the Sweet 16, giving the third-seeded Wolverines a heart-stopping 64-63 victory in the second round ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Leopard Slam: Final inning, two outs and Sunlake finds a way

BROOKSVILLE — Quite simply, an emotional way to end an exciting weekend of softball.One out away from losing the seventh annual Leopard Slam tourney on Saturday to two-time defending champion Springstead, Sunlake stepped up one last time.The he...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida knocked out of NCAA Tournament by Texas Tech in thriller

Florida knocked out of NCAA Tournament by Texas Tech in thriller

DALLAS — Keenan Evans keeps making big plays, extending Texas Tech's season — and his time with second-year head coach Chris Beard.They have another game with the Red Raiders headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.Evans, who...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lightning shut out in showdown against Bruins

Lightning shut out in showdown against Bruins

TAMPA — This was supposed to be the "biggest game of the year," right?In a measuring-stick matchup with the surging Bruins, the Lightning found out just how far it has to go if it has any plans of making a deep Stanley Cup run.A Boston buzz saw...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays Journal: Miller had a field day, Pruitt bounces back, Gomez speeds up

Rays Journal: Miller had a field day, Pruitt bounces back, Gomez speeds up

FORT MYERS – How often and where Brad Miller plays for the Rays – first, second or DH – is yet to be determined. Saturday was just about playing again, his first action since Feb. 23 due to residual issues from a broken toe, and eve...
Updated: 5 hours ago
FIU: Firm had meeting to discuss crack on bridge

FIU: Firm had meeting to discuss crack on bridge

MIAMI — Hours before the collapse of a 950-pound concrete pedestrian bridge at Florida International University on Thursday, the engineering company for the bridge held a meeting to discuss a crack on the structure, according to a statement from the ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Tampa Police Department searching for hit-and-run suspect

Tampa Police Department searching for hit-and-run suspect

TAMPA — The Tampa Police Department is looking for information about a driver and passenger involved in a hit-and-run accident Saturday afternoon. A man was hit by a white Honda Civic at about 12:25 p.m. Saturday in the 4000 block of W Hillsborough A...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Pasco COUNTYMan Run Over, killed after laying down on roadwayA 29-year-old New Port Richey man was run over and killed Friday night after he laid down on a Pasco County roadway. Patrick F. Fitapelli died at 8:49 p.m. on Bougenville Drive near the int...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Hundreds watch Tampa’s signature river turn green for St. Patrick’s Day

Hundreds watch Tampa’s signature river turn green for St. Patrick’s Day

TAMPA — After six years of turning the Hillsborough River a bright Kelly green for the Mayor’s River O’Green Fest, the crew charged with the task have picked up a few tricks.First, it takes about 250 pounds of biodegradable powder dye to change the r...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Updated: 8 hours ago