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Plan places 2 GOP leaders in same district

As the No. 2 and 3 Republicans in the state House, Sandra Mortham and Dennis Jones of Pinellas County already share quarters in the Capitol's GOP leadership suite.

House Democrats must think they make a good team: Now they're trying to put them in the same House district.

By veering Jones' beach district through a portion of mid-Pinellas, the new Democratic proposal for redrawing state House lines places Mortham and Jones together. That means that if the plan passes,one of them will have to quit or move and run for re-election in unfamiliar territory, probably against an entrenched Democratic incumbent.

Mortham suggested Thursday afternoon that Democrats would have drawn the district south to Sarasota to get House Republican leader Jim Lombard too, if only they could have figured out a way.

"The camaraderie after today may be very slim or none," said Mortham, a former Largo city commissioner who was elected to the House in 1986.

"It's just absolutely a sham," said Jones, a Treasure Island chiropractor.

They both criticized state Rep. Peter Rudy Wallace, a St. Petersburg Democrat, for allowing the plan to be offered. Wallace is the chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee. He said he wanted to create nine seats based in Pinellas, but he said he didn't draw the lines. Some adjustments could be made to create separate districts for all the Pinellas incumbents, Wallace said.

Jones, who has a doctor's no-nonsense manner, said he might just move into a residence he owns in St. Petersburg and run against Wallace. "My wife would love to live in Allendale," Jones said.

In all, the Democratic plan places 29 incumbents together in districts, 14 Democrats and 15 Republicans. If Republicans are unhappy with the House plan, Hispanic Republicans are incensed. The House plan creates no new Hispanic majority seats in Dade County, even though Hispanic numbers have grown rapidly since the lines last were redrawn. Hispanics have called for as many as four new seats.

The new Democratic proposal is just a first step. Still to come are Republican counterproposals, committee meetings, floor votes, battles with the Senate and endless negotiations. A public interest group, Common Cause of Florida, is waiting in the wings with its own plan, also issued Thursday. It would create fewer seats in Pinellas County and more Hispanic seats in Dade County.

As bad as it's getting, the fights over House seats likely will seem tame compared to the coming clash over the state Senate. Already, Senate Democrats have angered black legislators by creating only two districts with large percentages of black residents. House Democrats plan to unveil a plan for Senate reapportionment today that includes five districts with large percentages of black voters.

The plan, written in part by Rep. Jim Burke, D-Miami, who is black, reportedly would create political problems for some white Democratic incumbents, including Sens. Ken Jenne and Howard Forman of Broward County, and Jack Gordon of Miami Beach, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.

It also would create a black-oriented district in the area now represented by Sen. Pat Thomas, D-Quincy, who is in line to become Senate president this fall.