Florida's gerrymandered districts ensure re-election

Scott Maxwell | Orlando Sentinel | 06/26/2011

When it comes to politicians gaming the system, pictures present the clearest picture.

The congressional districts that slice apart Central Florida look as if they were drawn by a blindfolded toddler. In reality, these districts were drawn with painstaking — and nefarious — precision.

Small towns were sliced into two, three, even four pieces by politicians who hand-selected the voters most likely to help them and their buddies win and keep offices.

Check out the map of Winter Park. This small city has four different congressional districts.

Why? Because Republican politicians don't want black Democrats in their districts. Nor do the liberals want rural conservatives. So the politicians form unholy alliances. And it works.

In 2004, after the last time the Florida Legislature drew new lines, not a single legislative or congressional incumbent in the entire state lost a bid for re-election.

Here's how they do it:

District 3: Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville

Republicans love to hate Brown. In reality, she is their political savior. Why? Because even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Central Florida, GOP legislators stockpiled so many Dems in Brown's district that they were able to give Republicans the advantage in all five of the other local districts.

When the dust cleared in 2002, Democrats had a whopping 40-point advantage in Brown's district so that Republicans could have two- to seven-point advantages in the other five.

It wasn't easy. To find that many Democrats, Brown's district had to slither more than 200 miles through nine counties. It's so narrow at one point ('A' on the map) that the only thing it encompasses is a bridge.

District 7: John Mica, R-Winter Park

Around here, Mica is known as "the Republican from Winter Park." In reality, the bulk of Mica's district covers St. Johns and Flagler counties.

In fact, about the only part of Mica's district that includes Winter Park is the part that includes his home.

Mica's district starts 127 miles north in Ponte Vedra Beach and then snakes southward to just barely include his home ('B' on the map).

District 8: Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden

The joke here is that this district is still called "The Orlando District." It used to be just that — a district held for years by Bill McCollum that Orange County primarily called its own.

But then Orange County became increasingly Democratic. So to gobble up more Republicans, district-drawers had to look north.

t now takes two hours to drive from the Osceola portion of the "Orlando District" to its northern tip nearOcala ('C' on the map).

District 24: Sandy Adams, R-Orlando

The birth of this district made national news in 2002 — and not just because of a bizarre appendage that allows it to extend from the Brevard coast to the Lake County line.

No, it made news because the Florida Legislature drew the district right around the home of then-House Speaker Tom Feeney. They said it was a coincidence. Of course it was.

Still, legislators couldn't quite find Feeney all the GOP voters they wanted using only the coastal counties. So they stretched the district all the way across Orange to encompass Republicans aroundApopka.

To do that, they had to draw the district so narrowly through Winter Park that the primary residents between Aloma and Palmer avenues ('D' on the map) are the gators and herons that inhabit Lake Osceola.

Want more? Speak out?

If you want more information — including part one of this two-part series — check out the Taking Names blog atOrlandoSentinel.com/takingnames.

That's also where you can find info about how to get involved and speak out, including contact information for local lawmakers.

smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141

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