House passes new congressional districts

Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel | 08/19/2015

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida House voted 76 to 35 Tuesday in favor of new congressional districts that would significantly alter districts throughout Florida, including reshaping seats in Central Florida.

A majority of Democrats voted against the map, disappointed with the process of map drawing, in which three legislative staffers drew new lines to comply with a Florida Supreme Court order throwing out the prior districts.

Most Republicans voted in favor of the new maps, but a vocal minority blasted the court’s opinion as a breach of the separation of powers. Some argued it was the court, not the Legislature, that violated the constitution.

But other Republicans, though upset with the court’s decision, said they were bound by the strictures of the opinion

“The truth is we are here in a remedial process,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, chairman of the House redistricting committee.

Two Central Florida members, Reps. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, and Victor Torres, D-Orlando, bemoaned the dilution of the Hispanic vote in Congressional District 9. In the original map passed by lawmakers in 2012, the Hispanic voting age population makes up 41 percent of the district. In the version passed Tuesday, the Hispanic portion of the vote drops to 32 percent.

“This map ensures that the Hispanic vote will be rendedered all but meaningless,” said Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs.

See how the districts change from the 2012 version to the base map passed by the House here.

Although CD 10 was drawn as an Hispanic voter access district, voters there elected non-Hispanic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, last November. He is running for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

In its decision, the court found that GOP consultants used proxies to submit maps that favored the Republican Party by packing black voters into Congressional District 5, which snakes down from Jacksonville into Orlando. Instead, the court ordered an east-west configuration for that district, which would run from Tallahassee to Jacksonville in the maps passed Tuesday by the House.

The base map drawn by staffers pulled much of CD 5, currently held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, into Congressional District 10, currently held by U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando.

Webster and Brown both slammed the new maps before lawmakers last week. Webster said the changes to his district would make it “impossible” for him or any other Republican to win. Brown fears the changes will dilute the black vote and resutl in a loss of a black member of Congress in Florida’s delegation.

Brown is suing in federal court to stop the new maps from being enacted, saying the black vote dilution in her district violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The House is now poised to a clash with the Senate, where a different congressional district map is advancing. In the Senate version, Congressional District 10 is pushed back into Lake County, giving up more Hispanic voters in Orange County.

Several lawmakers in both parties noted it is near impossible to abide by Fair Districts by “proving a negative” that they haven’t intended to draw maps to favor incumbents or parties.

“When the Democrats were in control we did the same thing. The fact of the matter is whoever is in control of the maps is over the years going to try to favor their incumbents,” said Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa.

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