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Politics

Redistricting Committee Seeks Starting Point to Redraw Congressional Seats

October 2, 2011 - 6:00pm

Florida lawmakers must decide if they want to redraw the states congressional districts from urban areas out to the agricultural communities or by moving from one end of the state to the other.

Or they may want to begin by carving out the three majority-minority districts required under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Redistricting subcommittee co-chairman John Legg, R-Port Richey, said Monday the committee must decide soon because of the potential for logistical problems that will arise no matter how the maps are drawn.

If you start on the coastal areas and move inward, you could fracture some of the central parts of the state, Legg said. I threw (this) out as a suggestion as maybe we want to do the reverse, start with the urban cores and move outward.

Residents have until Nov. 1 to submit maps on how to draw Floridas 27 congressional districts, up from the current 25.

The House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee on Monday directed its staff to begin crafting maps based on the voter-approved Fair Districts requirements and the maps already proposed by Floridians.

Subcommittee Vice Chairman Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, suggested the subcommittee focus on the majority-minority seats first, and draw them as compactly as possible.

Two of Floridas three minority-majority districts are highly racially gerrymandered: District 3, held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, ranges through Alachua, Clay, Duval, Lake, Marion, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, and Volusia counties; District 23, held by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, travels from Hollywood and North Miami west to the eastern bank of Lake Okeechobee and then northeast to Fort Pierce.

The third majority-minority seat is District 17, which includes southern Broward County and eastern Miami-Dade County. U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, holds the seat.

Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, favored building the maps from urban areas out.

Those communities are different than they were 10 years ago, maybe we should look at what we did 10 years ago and how its changed, Passidomo said.

She added that a challenge will be to determine how to comply with a common theme that arose from Floridians during the public redistricting hearings held across the state during the summer, which was to keep their communities under a single district.

The state has received 75 maps from private individuals that redraw the lines for the 25 current congressional districts and include the additional two districts that appear in 2012 because of Floridas population growth since 2000.

Often, the mapmakers sought to use the 67 county boundaries for the lines, seeking compact districts.

Some didnt consider the federal requirement of racial data when drawing the lines. Many eliminated historically black majority-minority districts.

Bob West, House Redistricting Committee policy chief, said in a number of cases the compact nature of the proposed districts doesnt eliminate what is considered excessive drive times from one end to the other.

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, said the subcommittee should wait until the lawsuit against the voter-approved Fair Districts amendment is settled.

If we havent defined the law, how can we determine if we start in the urban area or Key West or the Panhandle? Taylor said. Until I know the rules of the game, I cant say we should start at the center of the state or the Panhandle.

Legg said that while the Florida House is appealing a court ruling that upheld the Fair Districts amendment, the subcommittee and staff will follow the voter-approved anti-gerrymandering effort regardless of how vague the amendment language may be.

The voters have defined what the letter of the law is, Legg said. Now, it is up to us to kind of wrestle with those definitions.

The amendment bars lawmakers from drawing congressional and state legislative districts to favor incumbents or a political party.

Subcommittee members have been given until Nov. 14 to propose three map alternatives with the new district lines.

The Legislature must approve new lines in the 2012 session that starts in January.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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