New election maps could hurt Allen West, other GOP incumbents

Published Jan. 5, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's new redistricting standards, coupled with the 10-year shift in population, have forced Republicans to do what is rarely done in politics — sacrifice incumbents — and that is not going over well with some Republicans.

The possible casualties include U.S. Rep. Allen West, whose Broward to Palm Beach-based district would become more Democratic in every map proposed by both the state House and Senate.

Broward Republicans have launched a website — "" — and are mounting a campaign to pressure legislators to revamp the maps to make them more in line with what they believe are the legal requirements of the new Fair Districts amendments. The changes they suggest would also make the district more favorable to the re-election of West, one of two black Republicans in Congress.

"I don't believe when they drew this they were adequately trying to adhere to the constitutional requirements,'' said Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Broward County Republican Party, who wrote an "open letter" to members of the House and Senate redistricting committees urging them to redraw the district.

The crux of his argument: The district arbitrarily reaches into west Broward, Democrat territory, to pick up West's home in Plantation but fails to keep compact a swath of the coast in northern Palm Beach County populated with Republicans.

West is not the only Republican to face a potentially tougher fight under the proposed maps. The districts of Republican congressmen Steve Southerland of Panama City, Sandy Adams of Orlando, Tom Rooney of Jupiter and David Rivera of Miami would continue to lean Republican but become more competitive for Democrats.

The greatest Republican losses would occur in the state House, where each of the five maps proposed by the House Redistricting Committee appear to sacrifice seven to 11 Republican seats, according to an analysis of voting performance by the Times/Herald.

Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper, St. Petersburg Rep. Jeff Brandes, Tampa Reps. James Grant and Shawn Harrison and Gainesville Rep. Keith Perry, for example, would find themselves in districts that favored Democrats Barack Obama in 2008 and Alex Sink for governor in 2010.

The Senate's proposed map shifts at least one Orlando Republican seat to Democrats, breaks apart the districts of several senators leaving because of term limits, and then creates relatively safe seats for the remaining 29 incumbents, both Republican and Democrat.

Republicans say the proposed maps are the natural consequence of the new Fair Districting standards, imposed by 63 percent of the voters in 2010 despite intense GOP opposition. The maps must also be reviewed by state and federal courts to determine whether they comply with the constitutional redistricting standards, as well as federal voting rights protections for minorities.

"Politics didn't enter into the drawing of these maps,'' said Rep. Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican who heads the House Redistricting Committee and who is scheduled to become House speaker next year.

"The Republican-led Legislature right now is not going to create an incumbent protection program for redistricting,'' he said. "The time to win seats is not during redistricting. This is the time to draw legally compliant maps."

Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, the Senate redistricting chairman and incoming Senate president, agrees. "My job is not to save Republican seats or Democratic seats. My job is to follow the law,'' he said. Both he and Weatherford said they are open to suggestions from Broward Republicans to make the district "more compliant" with the Constitution but not to protect West.

Democrats, however, aren't happy either. They say that the self-imposed losses by the GOP aren't deep enough. There are currently 81 Republicans and 39 Democrats in the state House of Representatives. In the Senate, Republicans outnumber Democrats, 29-11.

Statewide, Democrats comprise 40 percent of all registered voters, while Republicans represent 35 percent. About 20 percent have no party affiliation, with the remaining 5 percent connected to minor parties.

Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, believes the sacrificed Republican seats are part of a 10-year strategy to preserve Republican power. "If you draw 70 safe Republican seats you'll probably keep that for 10 years but if you draw 20 marginal seats, there is a greater chance you could lose all of them in a good Democratic year,'' he said.

The Senate Redistricting Committee is scheduled to vote out its maps on Wednesday, the second day of the legislative session that begins next week, and bring them to a final floor vote by Jan. 20.

News artist Darla Cameron contributed to this report.