Orlando Senate seats shift under proposed map

Orlando Sentinel | 10/26/2015

TALLAHASSEE – Senators will begin tinkering with a proposal to redraw 40 Senate districts Friday, in a move that could drastically alter how some areas of Central Florida are represented in the chamber.

For instance, Orange County would go from being split into five districts to just three, with two wholly contained within the county. District 15 would generally run from Interstate 4 east to the county line, with State Road 528 acting as the southern border. Much of that area is currently represented by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is term-limited.

District 14 covers Orange County's northwest corner. Under current maps, most of that area was part of a district represented by Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, who is running for Congress next year.

The way Osceola County is represented in the Senate would shift as well, as it would go from being drawn into a district with a smattering of rural counties represented by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, into a district that includes southern Orange County, bounded by State Road 528 on the north.

The rest of Osceola County is represented by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who is also running for Congress next year and whose current district snakes into Orange County.

Districts in Seminole and Lake counties, however, would change little. District 11 still covers all of Seminole County, but would encompass a different portion of neighboring Volusia County. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, currently represents the district.

A district represented by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would lose part of Orange County but still include most of Lake County and part of Polk County.

Though many Central Florida senators are either term-limited or running for higher office, the redrawn map has significant implications for the partisan breakdown of the chamber and the future leadership of the Senate.

With political careers and futures at stake, frayed nerves have led to public griping about the process of redrawing the maps by nearly everyone involved.

In a meeting Thursday convened and run by legislative staffers – a highly unusual event in the protocol-heavy Capitol – the districts were assigned numbers via a software program that randomly generated the numbers.

Some Democratic senators, however, took issue with the process.

"I'm trying to understand why we're doing a random number generation before we've finalized the map," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

The numbering of the districts is important because senators typically serve four-year terms. As of now, only odd-numbered districts are slated to appear on 2016 ballots.

But in redistricting years when districts shift, all senators appear on the ballot.

Although 2016 isn't a normal redistricting year, lawmakers are currently in a special session to redraw the districts after Senate leaders admitted the prior maps violated the state's anti-gerrymandering provisions in the constitution.

According to the Associated Press, Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who was not at the meeting, conceded the renumbering of the districts means all senators would be up for election next year.

A Senate panel is scheduled to conduct a workshop on the new map Friday, with a floor vote expected next week. The House must vote on the proposal, too, before it can be passed, and the maps are still subject to review by the courts. The session is scheduled to end. Nov. 6.

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