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Florida Senate’s map for Tampa Bay is drawing heat

The maps have received mixed reviews by analysts.
Senate Reapportionment Committee chairperson Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. [AP Photo | Mark Wallheiser]
Senate Reapportionment Committee chairperson Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. [AP Photo | Mark Wallheiser]
Published Jan. 12

A controversial plan to draw a Black state Senate district in Tampa Bay may become the catalyst for a lawsuit, some Democrats are warning about a redistricting map a key Florida Senate committee is scheduled to approve Thursday.

The district is part of Senate map S8046, one of two redistricting maps quietly selected by Senate Reapportionment Committee chairperson Ray Rodrigues from dozens of submitted maps this week. The maps, chosen on the first day of the legislative session, will serve as the baseline for any amendments going forward.

Rodrigues, R-Estero, said that his choices “most consistently adhere to the directives issued to staff by the full committee.”

The congressional proposal, C8040, and the Senate map, S8046, were each one of two recommendations made on Monday by the respective redistricting subcommittees, which has moved with unprecedented speed to advance the redistricting proposals.

Related: Florida Senate's new redistricting maps advance with speed, little comment

The resulting maps, SJR 100 for the congressional map and SB 102 for the Senate, have received mixed reviews by analysts, with the congressional map seen as more competitive than the state Senate plan.

Both maps are considered by independent analysts as an attempt by Senate Republicans to adhere to the Fair Districts standards of the Florida Constitution to avoid a legal challenge.

“This congressional map is one that every Democrat should be happy with,” said Matt Isbell, a redistricting expert working with the Democrat-leaning People Over Profits. “It’s a very fair map that sort of ebbs and flows with the partisan nature of the state. I really don’t see a lot of gerrymandering in it.”

The full Senate Reapportionment Committee is expected to vote out its map as early as Thursday and the bills could come for a vote of the full Senate next week.

The House is expected to follow in about two weeks, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, told reporters Tuesday.

By contrast to the congressional map, the proposed Senate map appears to protect more Republican incumbents than it does Democrats, analysis shows.

As many as four South Florida Democrats and no Republicans would be drawn into districts with another state senator and, Democrats warn, the Tampa Bay plan may be an attempt to pack Black voters into a Hillsborough district to avoid creating a more competitive seat in Pinellas County.

Tampa Bay geography comes into play

Isbell suggests that the Senate leaders’ reluctance to avoid drawing a Black-majority district that doesn’t cross Tampa Bay could provoke a lawsuit alleging that the Senate failed to protect minority voting strength by diluting Black voters by concentrating them in a single district.

“They were trying to claim you can’t draw an African-American district just in Hillsborough that performs majority Black in a primary,” Isbell said. “But I have drawn it. Nicholas Warren has drawn it. Anybody with Dave’s Redistricting app or the Florida Redistricting app could play around with this and get it there.”

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Related: State Senate accuses ACLU of Florida lawyer of violating redistricting rules

He said a so-called “functional analysis” that evaluates how voters perform in a primary would show that Black voters could be drawn into a Hillsborough district with a strong Black majority and still elect a Black candidate in a primary. The adjacent district in Pinellas would then be more competitive, he said.

“I see a narrowly-drawn lawsuit over just Tampa Bay,” Isbell said. “It would argue that they never did a functional analysis of the region and politics was the reason.”

Shuffling South Florida senators

A Times/Herald analysis of Senate data shows that the proposed Senate map creates four competitive seats in South Florida but puts Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer of Lighthouse Point and Jason Pizzo of North Miami Beach into the same solidly Democratic District 38. Also, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation is drawn into the Black-majority district that is expected to be held by Rosalind Osgood.

Osgood, the Broward County School Board chair, won the primary for Senate District 33 on Tuesday and now faces a general election contest in March. Although the proposed District 33 performs solidly Democratic, the Senate also reduced its Black voting age population by 5 percentage points.

Book, who hopes to remain as Democratic leader for two more years, could move to the neighboring Senate District 32, which includes Weston, Pembroke Pines, Cooper City and Miramar.

The proposed District 32 is nearly 46 percent Hispanic but gave Biden 62 percent of the vote in 2020, according to a breakdown by The Center for Urban Research (CUR) at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), which has created interactive maps of Florida’s proposed districts.

A Times/Herald analysis shows that the competitive districts in the proposed Senate map all lean Democratic: District 3 in North Florida that includes Tallahassee, District 9 in Central Florida’s Seminole County, District 18 in Tampa, and District 37 in Miami, which is even. That Hispanic-heavy district is expected to be sought by Sen. Ileana Garcia, a Miami Republican, and Rep. Michael Grieco, a Miami Beach Democrat.

Isbell questions whether the design of Senate Districts 5 and 8 in Alachua and Gilchrist counties were intended to avoid drawing Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Alachua into the same district as Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island.

If true, that would violate the Fair Districts standards of the Florida Constitution, which bars legislators from drawing districts to favor incumbents or political parties.

“There was one set of plans for Districts 5 and 8 that had Bradley and Perry in the same district, but the Senate happened to pick the layout that ensured Perry was not in the same district as Bradley,” Isbell said. “But for the Democrats of South Florida, a bunch of them are paired together, so it seems awfully convenient.”

Afraid of getting into legal trouble, Florida senators are not commenting on their maps.

Congress is a different picture

By contrast, the Senate’s proposed congressional map appears to be more evenly drawn.

According to an analysis by Isbell, and another by the Times/Herald, the Senate’s proposed congressional map would have allowed Floridians to elect 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats each, based on the results of the 2018 gubernatorial election. Using the 2020 presidential election results, in which Trump performed better in Hispanic communities, the state would have elected 16 Republicans to Congress and 12 Democrats.

The current breakdown is 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats with the election Tuesday of Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in District 20, succeeding the late Alcee Hastings. The results of the Census added a 28th district, which has been drawn in Central Florida.

The congressional map also creates two to three swing districts in Tampa Bay: Districts 13, 14, and 15, currently held by Democrats Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist and Republican Scott Franklin. In South Florida, the Senate map draws two competitive seats in South Florida: the current districts 26 and 27, which are now held by Republicans Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvia Salazar.

Although Republicans have a structural advantage in a competitive battleground state, the Senate’s congressional map could result in five districts that are competitive for candidates of either party, Isbell said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were two amendments to the proposed Senate map: one by Rodrigues in which he describes the purpose to make “whole municipalities” in communities with 1,000 or less voters, and another by Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Democrat from Jacksonville.

Gibson told reporters on Monday that she wanted to see the Jacksonville congressional districts revised to provide more economic diversity to the districts.

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