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Districts take strange shape to get support

The shape of things to come is, well, strange, at least judging from the latest reapportionment maps.

House leaders put forward their newest proposal for congressional districts Monday, in hopes of appeasing unhappy black and Hispanic lawmakers. But in creating the new plan, mapmakers have drawn more of the odd-looking shapes that have marked reapportionment this year.

In Dade County, one black-oriented district runs about 25 miles down U.S. 1, often at widths of no more than 150 feet.

Elsewhere in south Florida, another black-oriented district picks up chunks of Fort Lauderdale, sweeps through largely rural portions of western Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, then drops back into urban parts of eastern Palm Beach County.

Snaking between those two districts is a third that appears designed for a white incumbent, U.S. Rep. Larry Smith of Broward County.

"It's a fairly good plan. It may not be the best," said state Rep. Peter Rudy Wallace, D-St. Petersburg.

In all, the Democratic leadership's plan contains three black-oriented seats, including one that runs from Jacksonville to Gainesville. It also contains two majority Hispanic seats. That's a gain of a full seat for each of the two minority groups over previous Democratic leadership plans.

Democratic leaders hope the increases are enough to undo a coalition that has threatened to emerge among black and Hispanic lawmakers in the House. By Monday evening, some minority members said it appears likely that it will be enough to undo that coalition. The House has scheduled a floor vote on congressional reapportionment on Wednesday.

House Democratic leaders also have appealed to black members to remain loyal to the party, and warned them not to put too much trust in Hispanic and Anglo Republicans.

In addition, some black Democrats and Hispanic Republicans want to maintain good relations with stateRep. Bo Johnson, the white Democrat who is in line to become speaker of the House in the fall. For example, state Rep. Willie Logan, D-Opa-locka, the chairman of the black legislative caucus, has helped lead the charge for maximum representation for blacks. But Logan also reportedly has ambitions to become speaker himself someday. To do that, he would likely need support from Democrats.

House Hispanic and black members met to discuss reapportionment on Friday and again on Monday at unannounced meetings. Hispanic members also met privately on Thursday evening at the home of a lobbyist. House Speaker T.K. Wetherell and Johnson attended two of the meetings.

Johnson defended the private meetings as a routine part of the legislative business.

"There's not a night goes by that legislators don't get together," Johnson said. "I think it's healthy."

Other lawmakers said they sensed that the meetings could cause a perception problem. But they said they don't plan to stop the private get-togethers, which they said are allowed under the rules.

"This is a new phenomenon that we haven't quite gotten a handle on," Logan said.