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Personal agendas at stake with redistricting maps

TALLAHASSEE — Personal ambitions have been kept off the record in the Legislature's once-a-decade redistricting fight, but the carefully choreographed plan could implode this week if a House committee proposes and accepts changes to the Senate map.

That would put an end to the gentleman's agreement between the two chambers to accept each other's redistricting maps — and set off a battle that could delay a budget accord.

"It could blow up a few things,'' said Rep. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, who is watching the Senate maps carefully as he plans to run for a Senate seat held by his mother, Larcenia Bullard.

The Senate map is an immensely personal exercise for many House members who, like Bullard, have aspirations of getting elected to the upper chamber. But the Senate map also is personal for the 40-member Senate, where 30 of the incumbents — 21 Republicans and 9 Democrats — hope to return next year.

The Senate map leaves "every (sitting) Republican and every (sitting) Democrat in better shape than they are today,'' said Rep. Ron Saunders, the House Democratic leader.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, for example, avoided being matched up with Sen. Greg Evers, a fellow Republican who also happens to live in Okaloosa County. Gaetz lives in Niceville and Evers lives in the tiny rural town of Baker.

By splitting the region horizontally across five counties instead of following the county boundary lines, the Senate gave Gaetz and Evers separate districts. Gaetz said the proposed map is irrelevant because he could move to any of the five counties in his district because the millionaire businessman owns property in each of them.

The districts of future Republican Senate president hopefuls Jack Latvala and Andy Gardiner were also aided by the Senate map. Latvala's Pinellas County-based district and Gardiner's Orlando district, which is surrounded by a new Hispanic majority seat, both became more Republican.

Democrats Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood and Gwen Margolis of North Miami needed to have their districts increase in size to reach the ideal Senate district population. To do that, the Senate map consolidates black and Hispanic voters into surrounding districts, allowing the districts of Margolis and Sobel to retain many of the constituencies they now serve.

"I'm happy,'' said Margolis, a former Senate president and veteran of the 1992 redistricting wars.

The Senate map is also intensely personal for two senators trying to get a relative elected. Democrat Sen. Gary Siplin is eyeing the newly created congressional district in Central Florida while his wife, Victoria Siplin, has filed to run to replace him in the Orlando-based Senate seat.

Meanwhile, Dwight Bullard faces a challenge from former Democratic state Rep. James Bush III to fill the seat held by his mom; Saunders, the House Democratic leader from Key West, also is eyeing the race.

At least five current and former House members are also seeking state Senate seats and House Speaker Will Weatherford's employer, East Pasco businessman Wilt Simpson, is running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

By late Tuesday, it appeared that the House Redistricting Committee was still on track to approve the Senate map without making changes before its next meeting on Friday. But it wasn't because the House didn't try.

House Democrats had prepared a plan that would have helped Weatherford split his home county of Pasco east to west, instead of north to south. It would have kept Lakeland whole — instead of the plan that now splits it into four districts — and it would have created more minority opportunity districts , Saunders said.

But the Democrats decided not to offer their proposal as an alternative to the Senate map because Gaetz told them he wouldn't accept it, Saunders said.

"Unless you're suicidal, why would you (anger) Don Gaetz?'' he said. "I'm not going to butt heads with him and neither is Will (Weatherford).''

Gaetz said Tuesday that he has been speaking with Weatherford once or twice each day since the session began and now expects no tinkering with Senate maps.

Senate maps for Tampa Bay region

The Florida House will vote on whether to accept or alter the proposed Senate redistricting maps. Here's how the map treats Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

District 15

Incumbent: Jim Norman, R-Tampa

This district would include North Tampa and south Pasco County, land heavy in Republican hands, leaving Norman little threat from Democrats. That would keep an ally of Senate president hopeful Jack Latvala — they share a fundraising committee — on board. The new maps cut Temple Terrace and New Tampa out of the district and pick up more of the Trinity and Zephyrhills area. The Pasco territory would be new turf for Norman if a credible challenger emerges.

District 17

Incumbent: Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

The North Pinellas district lines favor the re-election efforts of Latvala, who won a district with more Democrats in 2010. Chunks of it now are in a Pinellas-Pasco district served by Sen. Mike Fasano. The new district becomes more Republican by including the big Republican suburb of East Lake, the city of Clearwater, plus smaller cities of Dunedin and Tarpon Springs. It also is Latvala's old stomping grounds from a previous stint in the Senate, allowing him a familiar district. No one is yet challenging Latvala, a name with decades of clout in the county.

District 19

Incumbent: Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa

This map favors incumbent Joyner. It runs from Tampa southwest across Tampa Bay to reach Manatee and southern Pinellas counties, a district crafted to support minority representation. It is heavily based in Hillsborough, keeping potential challengers elsewhere at bay. For example, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, abandoned a fledgling attempt at running for Senate when the district continued to cross the water as Joyner's district now does. The district has a black voting age population of 32.7 percent and a Hispanic voting age population of 27.4 percent.

District 20

Incumbent: None (Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, and businessman Wilt Simpson are considering)

The new district would stretch from West Pasco to Hernando and Sumter counties, a swath moving from retiree havens in New Port Richey and Brooksville to more rural Sumter. But it would create a Republican-leaning district that could lead to a primary donnybrook between Legg, a sitting state House member, and Simpson, an East Pasco businessman. The result could influence who becomes the next Florida Senate president. Some Pasco officials, including incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, preferred splitting the county down the middle, which would avoid an expensive fight. But Weatherford said it's unlikely to change.

District 21

Incumbent: Ronda Storms, R-Valrico

Because of growth, this district — turf now held by Sen. Ronda Storms — essentially shrinks from its current area. It would include Valrico, Dover and Sun City Center, and remain a heavily Republican district representing suburban and rural Hillsborough County voters. Storms remains the favorite in this Republican-dominated district, minus a section of southeast Pasco and Polk County she now represents.

District 22

Incumbent: None (Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, is running)

This seat now held by Sen. Dennis Jones, who is term-limited, runs from South Tampa, across St. Petersburg and Seminole to the beaches. As it stands, only Frishe is a candidate, with some Democrats and former lawmaker Leslie Waters pulling back from challenging him. But this district could evolve into a race to watch since the district did vote 50 percent to 46 percent for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010. Some Republicans and Democrats still predict a big name will jump in after lines are settled because of Frishe's low fundraising and its potential as a battleground. If so, it would mean a challenge to an ally of Latvala in the Senate presidency race.

District 24

Incumbent: None (former Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is running)

The map calls for this district to run from Plant City southwest to Bradenton. But its population is weighted toward Bradenton and votes strongly Republican, which gives Galvano the advantage. He represents part of Hillsborough already, too. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is term-limited out of a Manatee County-based office in 2012.

David DeCamp and Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau. For a look at all the Senate districts go to tampabay.com/redistricting.

Personal agendas at stake with redistricting maps 01/24/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 8:48am]

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