Tia Mitchell: State Senate map proposals divide Northeast Florida in new ways

Tia Mitchell | St. Augustine Record | 10/17/2015

This week the state Legislature begins its third special session of 2015 and its fourth attempt to draw constitutionally sound House, Senate and congressional maps since 2012.

This time, the state Senate map is the focus. The process is expected to be even more contentious than the congressional redistricting session in August that ended without the House and Senate reaching agreement.

The stakes are higher because over half of the 40 senators are eligible to run for another term; they will draw the boundary lines of their own districts and a shift could affect their re-election chances. Members of the House either are hoping to run for the Senate in the near future or have friends and allies who want to run, so they are just as invested.

Senate staff has come up with six base maps that will serve as a launching point for discussion. Staff members used different methodologies when drawing the maps, coming up with three plans under each. (A seventh map has been proposed by state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, but it remains to be seen how seriously his colleagues take the proposal.)

Methodology No. 1 is to keep counties whole and to keep districts from crossing county lines as much as possible. The second methodology was to minimize the number of times any county was split into more than one district. Retaining the voting strength of minority districts is the top-tier goal that supersedes all else.

Duval County is split into two districts in all of the base maps. There is an inner-city seat that is intended to ensure African-American representation in the Legislature and is similar to the district currently represented by Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. The rest of Duval, including the Beaches, Southside and Mandarin, is joined with Nassau County, which is similar to the current seat held by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

Although the boundary lines for the inner-city district vary in the base maps, the black voting-age population is roughly the same, either 41.8 percent or 41.9 percent.

St. Johns and Clay are kept whole and combined in the same district in most of the base maps. But one proposal divides St. Johns in half, and the eastern side of the county is included in a district that also includes all of Flagler County and northern Volusia County.

Another map puts St. Johns and Flagler counties in their own district along with northern Volusia County. Meanwhile, Clay and Putnam counties are in a different district with eastern Marion County.

Baker County is included in a district consisting of rural North Florida counties in all six base maps. Putnam County is often drawn into districts with counties to its south.

By the end of this week, we should have an indication of which base map is preferred by members of the redistricting committees and where changes are being proposed. I’ll also get a better feel for any flash points when it comes to drawing the lines for Northeast Florida.

But it is never too early for you to weigh in. Here are the Northeast Florida lawmakers who serve on redistricting committees and have the most influence in the coming weeks:

■ Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, 904-278-2085, bradley.rob.web@flsenate.gov

■ Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, 904-359 2553, gibson.audrey.web@flsenate.gov

■ Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, 904-359-6090, reggie.fullwood@myfloridahouse.gov(vice chairman of redistricting committee)

■ Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, 904-278-5761, travis.cummings@myfloridahouse.gov

■ Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, 904-353- 2180, reggie.fullwood@myfloridahouse.gov

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