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New political maps chalk up Tampa Bay winners, losers

Moving signs. Scuttled ambitions. Bolstered political careers.

The once-a-decade redistricting process has dashed the plans of some Tampa Bay lawmakers, and caused others to move their politicking to new neighborhoods to stay in power.

A few stand an even better chance to win, if the maps proposed by Florida lawmakers withstand court scrutiny.

"From my perspective I can tell you there are a half-dozen seats in Tampa Bay that I hate because they are going to be harder to win as a Republican than a month ago," Anthony Pedicini, a Republican consultant on legislative races, said of the effects of new Fair District restrictions on gerrymandering maps. "That never would have happened 10 years ago."

A look at some local winners and losers:

Loser: State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey

Fasano's ambitions to run for Congress appear shot. Pasco voters would make up two-thirds of the new 12th Congressional District, which ordinarily would benefit the popular, longtime lawmaker. But Fasano's problem isn't voter demographics. (The district is solidly Republican.) The new map includes the home of an incumbent whose name is gold around these parts: Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. Bilirakis' father, Mike Bilirakis, spent more than two decades in Washington, representing large portions of Pasco for much of that time.

Bilirakis plans to run for re-election, and Fasano said he doesn't plan to challenge him. Fasano also won't run for a district outside Pasco. Absent that, Fasano is eyeing a return to the state House in an open West Pasco district. He would work with powerful future House Speakers Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel and Richard Corcoran of Trinity.

Winner: Senators seeking re-election

Sens. Jack Latvala, Arthenia Joyner and Jim Norman received lots of re-election help from the mapmakers. Latvala moves from a mid and southern Pinellas district to his old haunts (Senate District 17) from his past stint in the Senate, north Pinellas.

Joyner would continue to enjoy a heavily Democratic district (Senate 19) crossing Tampa Bay.

Norman kept a largely suburban, Republican district (Senate 15) with more Pasco voters, who might not remember investigations when he was a Hillsborough county commissioner.

A well-financed potential challenger, northeast Pasco egg farmer Wilton Simpson, landed in another district (Senate 11) to run for state Senate against Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey.

Loser: U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Brooksville

The freshman congressman leaves a frying pan for the fire. Nugent avoided being drawn into a Pasco-centered map that could have paved the way for a challenge from Fasano.

Fasano was angry in 2010 when the former Hernando sheriff qualified at the last minute to replace Ginny Brown-Waite, who announced a surprise retirement. But the new map puts Nugent in the same district (11th Congressional District) as 12-term incumbent Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, who has $2.4 million on hand. Nugent's re-election effort, which has only $165,000 on hand, is left to wait on whether Stearns runs against him or moves north, where many of the voters in Stearns' current district reside.

That could turn Nugent into a redistricting winner. If not, he faces an uphill battle against a longtime member of Congress.

Loser: state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview

It's not a total loss. But relative to the safety other Hillsborough lawmakers could enjoy, the second-term House member's district changes politically — to her detriment.

She won elections in 2008 and 2010 with solidly Republican, suburban voters. Her new district (House 59) includes more Democrats — such as more residents from the Progress Village area — than Republicans.

Consider that voters there narrowly voted for Gov. Rick Scott in 2010, but even more narrowly supported President Barack Obama in 2008.

Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, face Democratic-performing districts, but they have reputations for being less strictly conservative. Burgin is among lawmakers with bills restricting abortion this year.

Winner: Realtors

Thanks to redistricting, some members will move to keep seats in the Legislature.

Republican Reps. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, and James Grant, R-Tampa, intend to do just that.

Ahern, who represents a west Pinellas district, intends to downsize and move to a smaller house in a new district (House 66, which happens to include a chunk of his old seat). The new maps put him in the same district as Rep. Rick Kriseman, a Democrat who may run instead for St. Petersburg mayor in 2013, and Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, who is running for state Senate District 22.

Grant and Rep. Shawn Harrison would land in the same north Hillsborough district. But Grant intends to find a place to live in a new district (House 64) due west (without an incumbent but with part of his current one). It runs from Citrus Park and Town 'N Country to Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and East Lake.

Their good fortune: They will be in districts that are solidly Republican. All told, at least 38 House members find themselves in districts with other incumbents.

Times news artist Darla Cameron contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DeCampTimes.

New political maps chalk up Tampa Bay winners, losers 02/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 4, 2012 10:42pm]
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