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First senator attempts to amend proposed redistricting maps

Sarasota County would be whole again and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney would continue to represent much of southern Hillsborough County under a proposed redistrict map amended state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has proposed.

Detert becomes the first state senator to formally offer an amendment to a proposed base redistricting map that legislative staff created last week as a starting point for the 12-day special session to redraw the state's 27 Congressional Districts.

In the House, two amendments have already been filed, including one by Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth. Under Kerner's amendment, Palm Beach County's configuration would be altered from the proposed base map. Coastal areas of Palm Beach County would remain in a district represented by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach. Under the proposed base map, most of coastal Palm Beach County would shift into a district represented by U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.

Sarasota County has been one of the biggest contention points under the base map because it would split the county's population into two different districts, after being wholly in one for the last two decades. Redistricting staffers said Sarasota County's present 16th District was compact and contiguous, but they broke it up to make a neighboring congressional district more compact.

By splitting Sarasota in half and giving the southern portion to Rooney's 17th District, Rooney would no longer represent any of southern Hillsborough County. That portion of the Hillsborough would move into the 16th District, represented now by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.

But Detert said that rationale makes no sense. She said Rooney's 17th District has rural characteristics that are more akin to southeast Hillsborough than Venice and North Port, which would remain with the rest of Sarasota County under her amended map.

"We're giving it our best try to put Sarasota County back together," Detert said.

Under Detert's proposal submitted today, Rooney's district would continue to include much of southern Hillsborough County, except the tiny island of Egmont Key, which is several miles west of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, yet is still considered part of Hillborough. Egmont Key would be included into the Sarasota County-based district under the Detert plan. Currently the island is represented by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in the 14th District.

Under her plan, Buchanan's 16th District would then include all of Sarasota County and most of Manatee, except a portion that is currently represented by Rooney now.

"This is the least impactful to other counties," Detert said.

She said only two congressional districts would be changed from the base map under her plan.

Detert's plan is unique in that it actually diminishes her own chances of running for Congress again as she did in 2006. Under the proposed base map, if Rooney were to leave office, Detert would be able to leverage her history of representing Charlotte and south Sarasota County into a base of support that would give her an advantage. Those two regions would make up more than 40 percent of the new district under the base map.

That would be a stronger position for her than she was in in 2006 when she ran for Congress in a crowded GOP primary field. She won Sarasota County, but lost badly to Buchanan in Manatee County where she has little political history.
Detert acknowledged that a future run for Congress for her would likely be better in the proposed 17th District, but said what's best for Sarasota County is to remain in what is already a compact and contiguous district.