News Column

Fla. Redistricting To Create New Hispanic Congressional Seat

Jan. 12, 2012

Mary Ellen Klas

Florida flag

After a bitter debate over a last-minute map produced and withdrawn by Democrats, Florida's Senate Reapportionment Committee on Wednesday voted out its proposals to redraw the political lines for the state Senate and Congress for the next 10 years.

The proposals would create a new Hispanic congressional seat in Central Florida, leave intact all of the African-American minority seats in Congress and the state Senate, and likely retain the Republican majority in both the Senate and congressional delegations.

If adopted by the full Senate next week, as expected, the bills will move to the House where legislative leaders hope they will get final resolution by the end of the month. The legislative maps will then be sent to the Florida Supreme Court, as required, and the congressional map will go to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.

The court has 30 days to approve or reject the proposal and lawmakers want a chance to rewrite it, if necessary, before the session ends March 9.

Prior to the meeting, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, submitted two alternative maps. Her proposals would slightly reduce the number of Democrats in proposed Senate and congressional districts, creating competitive Republican seats and two more Democrat-leaning districts than the GOP proposals.

But the proposals unleashed the partisan hostility that had been pent up since the process began seven months ago. Rich abruptly withdrew them, saying instead that she will resubmit them as an amendment when the full chamber votes on the measure Tuesday.

"I believe we can do a better in reconciling the Voting Rights Act and the constitutional amendments," she said, a reference to the newly adopted Fair Districts amendments that prohibit legislators from protecting incumbents or political parties when drawing maps.

The suggestion that senators would be asked to vote on a fresh map they will have only had the weekend to see drew sharp rebukes from Republicans on the committee. "I am totally discontented and unhappy with the way this has been handled to get a massive change to a map that I have no idea what it is," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach.

But it was clear that Rich didn't even have the support of her own members. Her congressional map, for example, would have done away with the seven-county stretch that now comprises the district held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and make it more compact but, in turn, reduce the percentage of black voters from 49 percent to 36 percent.

Unlike the Republican map, Rich said, the Democrats' Senate map creates a new minority access seat in Palm Beach County, which could elect another black to the Senate.

The committee voted 22-4 in favor of the Senate map, with four of the 10 Democrats opposed: Rich, Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, Oscar Braynon of Miami and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.

According to a Herald/Times analysis, the map of the 40-member Senate creates 24 Republican-leaning districts, sacrificing Republican strength in areas now held by 11 of the senators leaving because of term limits. It includes 14 Democrat-leaning districts and two districts that could be considered a toss-up. The map creates a new Hispanic access seat in Central Florida and eight of the districts have 50 percent or more minority voters.

The map could result in some of the chamber's 29 Republicans facing more competitive races in the 40-member Senate. But it is sure to preserve the Republican majority in both the Senate and congressional delegation.

The congressional map, approved by the committee 21-5, creates 15 Republican-leaning districts, 10 Democratic-leaning districts and two competitive districts. Five of the districts have 50 percent or more registered Democratic voters, including the minority majority seats now held by Democratic U.S. Reps. Brown, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson. None have 30 percent or more registered Independent voters. In six of the proposed districts, 50 percent or more of registered voters are black or Hispanic, including districts now held by U.S. Reps. David Rivera and Mario Diaz Balart, both of whom are Republicans.

Tampa Bay Times researcher Darla Cameron contributed to this report.

Source: (c) 2012 Tampa Bay Times

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