Tom Lee says change in Congress map not meant for him

James L. Rosica | Tampa Tribune | 08/18/2015

TALLAHASSEE — With three days left in a special legislative session to redraw Florida’s congressional districts, two different maps are now on a collision course.

By a 76-35 vote, the Florida House on Tuesday passed a map that, among other things, keeps the southern half of eastern Hillsborough County in the 16th District, now held by Republican Vern Buchanan.

But the state Senate, which meets again Wednesday, is pressing forward with another version that puts all of eastern Hillsborough into the 15th District, currently held by GOP Congressman Dennis Ross.

That map, pushed by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, also happens to edge Ross out of the very seat he now holds by placing his Lakeland home outside the district.

Lee has said he only wants to keep eastern Hillsborough in one district and isn’t angling to run for the seat himself. The redrawn 15th includes Brandon.

“I’ve been a friend of Congressman Ross … since I first got into politics,” Lee told reporters. “I’ve been a big supporter and will continue to support him as long as he wants to be a member of Congress.

“Beyond that, I’ll live my political life one day at a time,” Lee added. “I have no desire to do anything but continue to serve the people of my community in the Florida Senate.”

Still, state political expert Darryl Paulson said the redrawn map would benefit Lee – should he decide to run for Congress.

“It does make it much more amenable to him, though I’m sure that’s all coincidence,” said Paulson, a retired professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

The process of redistricting is like “political musical chairs,” Paulson said, giving some people “a once in a lifetime opportunity to run for Congress.”

A majority of the state Supreme Court found that the latest redrawing of Florida’s now 27 congressional districts, required by the 2010 census, was “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents.”

The court determined the current map violated the state constitutional prohibition against gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party.

Among the court’s mandates was remaking Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s 14th District so it does not cross Tampa Bay. The working House and Senate maps confine that district to the eastern side of the bay.

By Friday, the House and Senate must pass an identical map, which has to be approved by Gov. Rick Scott, to be sent back to the court for final review.

Paulson said that for elected officials, redrawing political boundary lines can be “like

sitting for a family portrait.”

“The only thing you really care about is how you come out looking.”

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