Early observations from redistricting special session

Orlando Sentinel | Orlando Sentinel | 08/13/2015

TALLAHASSEE – The shifting lines of Florida’s congressional districts could spice up campaigns and signal the end of political careers for veterans and rising stars alike.

There are several winners and losers in the “base map” drafted by legislative staffers and under consideration from lawmakers during the special session that ends next week. Here are some observations from the first two days:

This is all about two more Democratic seats. If the base map were to be adopted as is, all of the fighting, legal maneuvering, the special sessions, the redrawing, adjusting and tinkering will be over a likely possible gain of two congressional districts for the Democrats.

The crux of the discussion over moving U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s north-south district snaking down from Jacksonville into Orlando and moving it to an east-west configuration running from Jacksonville to Tallahassee – what Democratic groups and the League of Women Voters, have suggested from the beginning – will net Democrats two more districts overall, due to changes further down the map

One of the casualties of that change would be U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, the lone bright spot for Democrats on election day last year. Her district would become much more Republican-leaning, as a chunk of Democratic supporters would be drawn into the new east-west district.

Democrats, though, would theoretically (never count out Republicans’ ability to mount an upset) pick up seats in the Tampa, Orlando and Miami metro areas, for a net gain of two. If results hold to form, Florida’s congressional delegation makeup would be 15 Republicans, 12 Democrats, instead of the current 17-10 split.

-Lake County is getting squeezed. The desire to tweak Tampa and Orlando districts in line with the Florida Supreme Court ruling led staffers to draft a base map that splits Lake County into three districts. The ruling stated that U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district couldn’t cross Tampa Bay to pick up Democratic-leaning voters in southern Pinellas County. The ripple effect from those changes, the shake-up from moving black voters that were in Brown’s district into other Central Florida districts and the requirement that all districts contain nearly 700,000 residents according to the 2010 census means Lake County is caught in the middle.

Lake County state Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yahala, took issue with the split Tuesday, but he wasn’t the only lawmakers upset about his county being divided. Democrats from Leon County and Republicans from Sarasota County are chagrined their counties’ voting power is split.

-U.S. Rep. Bill Posey is pretty much set. Despite the carnage to the districts in other portions of Florida, Brevard County remains whole and the district held by Posey, which juts into eastern Orange County and includes Indian River County as well, does not change from the current maps to the base map.

But the base map is not necessarily the final say. Lawmakers still have time to tweak the latest plan, and Senate redistricting committee chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said they won’t be “rubberstamping” the base map. But wholesale changes don’t look to be in the cards, either, since lawmakers must abide by the court ruling.

Then there’s the review by the courts in September, anyway, which could lead to more changes.

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