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State gains 2 House seats

BETTER THAN EXPECTED: "We are thrilled," a state official says of picking up one more seat than had been projected.

Florida will add two members to its congressional delegation, an echo of the state's booming population outlined in Census 2000 figures released Thursday.

Based on interim projections, the state had been expected to pick up one seat. But Florida's growth of 23.5 percent, combined with seat losses in northern and midwestern states, add up to 25 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"We are thrilled," said Scott McPherson, hired by Gov. Jeb Bush to increase participation in the count. "We're cautiously tickled pink. You can definitely say it exceeded our expectations."

Bellwether population estimates would put the new districts in South Florida and a north-central area anchored by Orlando, but those determinations will hinge on political decisions and upcoming census numbers that will pinpoint the growth.

The delivery of the national head count to President Clinton on Thursday is mandated by the Constitution to fairly apportion the 435 seats in the U.S. House. Along with political power, the count could bring Florida "several hundred-million dollars" of new federal aid over the next decade, McPherson estimated.

"Most of us believe that Florida has traditionally been undercounted in the census," said Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo. "When you start out a 10-year census loop undercounted and you're a high-growth state like we are, it's a double whammy. You're not getting your fair share of federal funds for things like transportation, health care and local government grants. It was important this year that we had a good count."

In the months to come, the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature will begin redrawing the state's congressional district lines, a process rooted in demographics but governed by politics.

On Thursday, speculation around the state centered on how district boundaries might be reconfigured, where the new seats might go, and who would win and who would lose.

State Sen. Jack Latvala said that based on previous population projections, it appeared likely that the new congressional seats would be in southwest and north-central Florida.

The population increase projected in southwest Florida includes parts of Charlotte, Lee, Palm Beach, Martin and Broward counties, he said. The north-central band of expected growth begins at Brooksville in Hernando County and moves across Orange, Seminole, Volusia and St. Johns counties, said Latvala, who had been on the Senate's reapportionment committee during the past term. Senate committee assignments have not yet been made.

Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, said the process will begin in earnest later this year with the next wave of census numbers. The House and Senate reapportionment committees, he said, each will hold hearings around the state.

"Where these seats are usually has to do with where the population growth is, as well as where there are legislative leaders who want to run for Congress," Latvala said.

Traditionally, he said, district lines are redrawn to help incumbents retain their bases of power.

Feeney has appointed Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart to head the committee looking at congressional districts. The actual redrawing of boundaries won't come until 2002, when Florida gets its final numbers, Feeney said.

"Every single district will be affected and changed," said Feeney, whose district is in an area that could gain a seat.

It is those members of Congress who are likely to come calling on those who hold power in the Florida Legislature.

"We'll see more of them in the next year than we have in the previous eight," said John McKay, state Senate president.

Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat and state House minority leader, was resigned to the political nature of redistricting and the lack of power her party had in steering what would be a Republican-dominated process.

"When you draw, you can be creative as you want to be," Frankel said. "These things will all be drawn in back rooms. Of course, they're going to try to do dastardly deeds."

She said she thought Republicans would tinker with the districts of congressional Democrats, including Peter Deutsch, Corrine Brown, Jim Davis, Karen Thurman and Alcee Hastings.

"They'll mess with all of them," she said.

Florida's population of 15,982,378 is 3-million more than the parallel number released a decade ago. The state is the third-fastest growing, based on raw numbers, in the country.

Scott Cody, a University of Florida demographer, said his projections were close to the numbers released by the Census Bureau on Thursday _ within 2 percent _ so he was not bowled over by the growth. Cody said the increase he did not account for may have to do with seasonal residents.

During the Census Bureau's counting, the state put together a campaign urging winter residents to count themselves as Floridians if they considered themselves as such.

"Some of it depends upon how they answered their Census forms," Cody said. "You just never know how people are going to answer. It may be that people are staying longer than they used to and they now count themselves as residents."

Florida's gain of two seats was as much a surprise nationally as was the loss of one representative each by Indiana and Michigan.

"It is kind of intriguing that Florida was able to get that second seat," said Kim Brace, president of Election Data Services, a Washington D.C., consulting firm that analyzed the census numbers and what they mean for congressional representation.

The mathematical formula used to assign congressional seats to states is a complicated one that takes into account the Constitution mandate that each state will have at least one seat in the U.S. House. According to Brace's analysis, Florida received the second seat with 212,934 people to spare, missing a third by 439,179 people.

McPherson, the state's point person for the census, said that before the governor declared victory, the state would look closely at the numbers to be released in March.

"We're going to be looking at the effect of these numbers on different minority groups and municipalities," McPherson said. "But certainly these preliminary numbers are nothing but good news for Florida."

_ Times staff writer Julie Hauserman contributed to this report.

U.S. Population

281,421,906

13.2 percent increase over 248,709,873 in 1990

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