Florida Senate releases proposed redistricting maps

TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators released the first two of their proposed redistricting maps Monday, creating new Central Florida seats designed to elect Hispanics while carving up the rest of the state in a way that gives Republicans an electoral edge.

The maps of congressional and state Senate districts were drawn by the staff of the Senate Redistricting Committee and are the first glimpse at how the Republican-led Legislature is tackling new requirements imposed by voters who approved constitutional Amendments 5 and 6 in 2010.

The amendments prohibit lawmakers from protecting incumbents while requiring them to protect language and ethnic minorities, keep districts compact and recognize existing political boundaries.

A preliminary analysis by the Times/Herald found that of the 27 congressional districts, 14 would be solidly Republican, 10 would be solidly Democratic and of the three more competitive seats, two lean Republican while one leans Democrat.

Sen. Don Gaetz, chairman of the 27-member Senate Redistricting Committee, proclaimed the process by which the maps were conceived "the most open, transparent and interactive process in Florida history" and said the proposals are "fair, sensible and faithful to the law."

The congressional maps include two new seats Florida was awarded because of the state's 18 percent population growth over the last 10 years. Although the two seats appear to honor the 52 percent surge in Hispanic population, mainly in Central Florida, they don't create a new district for the second high-growth area in Southwest Florida.

That omission, and the fact that the maps perform in a way that is not likely to result in major shifts in congressional or state Senate composition, drew a swift rebuke from Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith and Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich.

"Florida Republicans have taken a state — which experts have long considered one of the most malapportioned states in the country — and worsened it,'' Smith said in a statement. "In doing so, they have chosen to thwart the will of 63 percent of Florida voters by proposing maps that are aimed at incumbent protection and partisan advantage — the very things which Florida's Constitution now prohibits."

Rich, who represents Weston but will retire because of term limits next year, watched her state Senate district go from being centered in Broward to being based in Palm Beach, a shift that she said ignores what voters asked for during public hearings last summer.

Rich wasn't the only incumbent facing term limits whose district would be consumed to make up another district that now includes a longer-serving incumbent. Senate President Mike Haridopolos' Merritt Island-based district becomes the home district of Republican Thad Altman of Viera, while Altman's former district becomes a Hispanic, Democrat-leaning seat.

"We're not supposed to be talking about political parties and incumbents, but with this map somebody must have been thinking about political parties and incumbents," Rich said.

The Times/Herald analysis also found that the congressional map includes five seats with no sitting incumbent, including a new Central Florida-based seat comprised of 40 percent Hispanic voters. A second new district, which encompasses the Republican Central Florida stronghold of The Villages, includes the home of U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns of Ocala.

The proposed map redrawing the state Senate boundaries includes 12 districts with no incumbent and 27 districts where incumbents are shifted into representing new areas. Sen. Jack Latvala, for example, was drawn out of his current South Pinellas district and moved into a district representing North Pinellas, a region Latvala previously represented when he was in the state Senate from 1994-2002.

If the Senate proposal holds, a few sitting congressmen would have to find new housing, the Times/Herald analysis found.

The map would put Democrat Alcee Hastings of Miramar in the same district as Republican David Rivera of Doral. It moves Republican Daniel Webster of Orlando into the same sprawling, eight-county minority-majority district as Democrat Corrine Brown. It also pits Republican John Mica of Winter Park against Orlando Republican Sandy Adams.

The congressional map also offers some advantages to Republicans who are not incumbents. For example, the proposed 5th congressional district north of Tampa, currently represented by Rich Nugent, a freshman Republican from Spring Hill, would become more compact. Instead of encompassing eight counties, including all of Hernando and most of Pasco, the new district would take in all of Pasco and most of Hernando, thereby favoring a Pasco County-based candidate.

The county's longest-serving legislator, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is interested in a possible congressional run in 2012 when he will be forced to leave the Legislature due to term limits.

Few expect the maps to be the final versions. State senators have until the end of this week to propose changes to the map and the state House will be proposing its own versions of the maps as well. The Senate will vote on the proposed maps Dec. 6 and the public may submit comments by contacting the committee through Facebook, calling 850-487-5757, e-mailing RedistrictFlorida@flsenate.gov, sending a Tweet to @Redistrict2012 or posting video feedback on the committee's YouTube page at www.youtube.com/SenateRedistricting.

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Darla Cameron contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.

Redistricting 2012

Your guide to the once-a-decade challenge of redistricting is at tampabay.com/redistricting.

Florida Senate releases proposed redistricting maps 11/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 28, 2011 8:38pm]

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