Proposed Senate redistricting maps boost Hispanics
TALLAHASSEE — In the opening salvo of what could be a contentious political debate in 2012, the Florida Senate released proposed legislative and congressional maps Monday that would likely boost the number of Hispanic lawmakers.
The proposals, released after months of hearings statewide, offer the first peek into how lawmakers might balance popular demands for greater minority representation with the mandates of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts reforms that voters wrote into the state constitution last year.
The maps would likely increase the number of Hispanic state senators from three to five. A new congressional district in Central Florida would be 40 percent Hispanic, in addition to three current Hispanic-majority congressional seats. The Hispanic population grew by 57 percent in the past decade.
Meanwhile, boundaries for the state’s three black members of Congress and two state senators weren’t greatly changed. The new maps also appear likely to make more seats in Florida competitive for Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by 500,000 registered voters.
“I think it’s reflective of the testimony we had. It’s reflective of population changes,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
But the Senate map immediately drew criticism from Democrats for its favorable treatment of incumbent Republicans as well as all but eliminating the current district of Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston.
“It is clear the Florida GOP are working overtime to protect their interests ahead of the interest of the people they serve,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith, a former legislator, said in a statement.
Republicans shot back that the maps are fairer than those drawn by their predecessors.
Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Smith should have voted against the gerrymandered current maps adopted in 2002, when the Alachua lawyer was a state senator.
“He voted for one of the most gerrymandered redistricting proposals in state history 10 years ago,” Gaetz said. “We’ve gone all over the state and heard people complain about the maps he voted for. … We’re trying to clean up the mess than Sen. Smith left for us.”
And it’s certain to draw fire from Fair Districts advocates for continuing the eight-county district — meandering from Jacksonville to Orlando, with roughly 49 percent of the voters African-American — that elects veteran U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. But Republican lawmakers say the amendments’ language that minority representation is paramount trumps other standards including compactness and respecting political boundaries.
Although the maps have a long way to go before they become reality next year, they would send ripples across Florida’s political pecking order.
Florida is landing two new congressional seats in 2012 thanks to 18 percent population growth, and one of those would be a 40 percent Hispanic seat the Senate drew to include south-central Orange County, all of Osceola and a sliver of Polk that follows the Latino population there. Hispanic advocates, however, had pressed for a 46 percent Latino population.
A second new seat would be created in north-central Florida, made up of parts of Lake, Sumter and Marion counties and all of Citrus County. To accommodate the new districts, U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, would lose all of the voters in Marion and Osceola counties but would gain voters, many of them Republican, in Lake and Polk counties.
Another powerful congressman, John Mica, R-Winter Park, would be drawn out of his current seat, which stretches from just south of Jacksonville Beach to suburban Orange County. The new proposal would keep the district largely in Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns counties.
The district currently held by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, would pick up huge but mostly unpopulated swaths of Collier and Hendry counties and remain more than 70 percent Hispanic.
And the Broward district now held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, would be extended into Miami-Dade to increase its percentage of Hispanic voters — many of them Cuban-American Republicans — from 30 percent to 37 percent.
Another major change for South Florida is the Senate district currently occupied by Rich, D-Weston. The district currently stretches from south-central Broward County down into the middle of Miami-Dade County. But under the new maps, it includes the northern part of Broward and much of Palm Beach County.
Rich called it a “gerrymandered seat,” saying it would have a better chance of electing a Republican than the current district.