Florida's two additional congressional seats will come at an opportune time. The state already will be gaining influence next year in Washington with veteran lawmakers rising to chair influential House committees. In 2012, presidential candidates should be focused here as the state's electoral votes grow to 29 and Tampa hosts the Republican National Convention. A constitutional amendment approved by voters last month also should ensure that the districts are drawn more compactly and fairly, resulting in a delegation that more accurately reflects the state's centrist politics.
As expected, U.S. Census data released Tuesday confirmed Florida's population growth will increase its number of U.S. House seats from 25 to 27. That will be the same total as New York, which lost two congressional seats. The Sunshine State, whose population grew by nearly 3 million since 2000 to 18.8 million residents, remains the nation's fourth-largest. But in recent years it has hardly had the fourth most powerful congressional delegation.
Florida traditionally sends more tax money to the federal government than it gets in return. It also should wield more influence in congressional debates on issues of particular importance to the state, including Social Security, health care reform, space exploration and job creation. Florida is one of just eight states gaining seats, and two more congressional seats can only be helpful in raising the state's profile in those discussions, particularly as Rust Belt states are losing seats.
This state has figured prominently in recent presidential elections, and the new Census numbers ensure that trend continues. Florida remains the largest swing state, with California and New York reliably backing Democrats and Texas considered safely Republican. It's no accident that Republicans, the tea party movement and national networks already are planning major presidential debates for Florida in fall 2011.
The initial speculation is that the two new U.S. House districts will be carved out in the Orlando area and South Florida. But the redistricting constitutional amendment changes the rules, banning state legislators from drawing districts to favor incumbents or political parties and requiring the districts to be compact. If the Legislature follows the intent of the amendments, Floridians will benefit from both additional House districts and a congressional delegation that better reflects the swing state.