South Florida leaders resist congressional district changes

Anthony ManSun | Sun Sentinel | 08/13/2015

A reconfiguration of congressional districts being sold as a way to improve representation in Broward and Palm Beach counties would actually hurt South Florida, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said Wednesday in urging a bipartisan effort to work against the proposed changes.

"There is something going on in Tallahassee right now [that] we as a community need to care about," Seiler told 140 people from the business, political and legal worlds gathered for a Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce event. "Get involved right now."

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, who used to represent coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties, said he's doing just that. He said he would travel to Tallahassee on Thursday to testify against changes proposed for the two counties.

The Legislature is meeting in a special session to redraw the state's congressional districts in response to a July 9 Florida Supreme Court ruling that the Republicans who controlled the drawing of the current boundaries did so in a way that violated the state constitution. Districts are supposed to be as compact as possible, respect existing geographic community boundaries as much as possible and not be drawn to favor political parties or incumbents.

Two districts cited by the Supreme Court are the Broward-Palm Beach county districts represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel.

Currently, they run north and south. Frankel's takes in much of coastal Broward and Palm Beach plus a swath of central Broward north of Interstate 595. Deutch's district is inland, primarily in northwest Broward and southwest Palm Beach County.

A proposed draft map from the Legislature's technical staff would create one district entirely in Palm Beach County and one with mostly Broward and some Palm Beach County.

Seiler said that's a terrible idea. He said those who think the current configuration hurts local interests are wrong. He said the coastal communities in both counties share many more interests than East Broward cities have with West Broward cities.

"We have a lot more in common with West Palm Beach than we do with Margate and Coral Springs," Seiler said.

He said there is a "commonality of issues" in the coastal district represented by Frankel, such as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach, coastal development and beach renourishment, which is important to the tourism industry.

Klein, who was in the audience and heard Seiler's remarks, represented the coastal communities in Congress and before that many of the inland western communities when he was in the Florida Senate. He said South Florida developed along the coasts, creating the kind of common interests Seiler highlighted.

Large urban counties such as those found in South Florida have much more political clout when they have a larger number of members of Congress advocating for their interests, he said. "The more members you have representing big counties, the better," he said.

Linda Cooke of HABCO Manufacturing, who has chaired two of the Chamber of Commerce's mass lobbying trips to Washington, said she'd like to keep both members of Congress representing the two counties. "I'm committed to both Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch. They have been so good to our communities," said Cooke, a registered Republican who said she is in reality more of an independent voter.

"They have done so much for our communities."

Seiler and Klein are both Democrats, but the issue isn't necessarily partisan. Both the current Deutch and Frankel districts and the proposed new districts are so strongly Democratic that it would be exceedingly difficult for a Republican to win in either.

The proposed new district map would place the West Boca residence of Deutch and the West Palm Beach residence of Frankel in the same district.

Both have said they plan to seek re-election in 2016 and that they won't run against each other in a primary. Deutch and Frankel, who both attended the Chamber of Commerce gathering at the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, said in separate interviews that it's too early to speculate on who would switch districts or whether they would move to the Broward-based district. Members of Congress aren't required to live in the districts they represent.

"We don't know," Frankel said. "We're both very focused on our current duties right now. And we're talking about an election that's a year away and we're not going to speculate until the lines are done."

Deutch said they'd "figure this out" once the maps are finalized — which could be long after the special session of the Legislature ends and the courts take up the issue. "I don't think there's any reason for us to worry about this map because it may not be the final map," he said

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