TAMPA HEARINGS HIGHLIGHT DIFFICULT MOVES IN URBAN AREAS
By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 26, 2011.......When they were beginning a series of redistricting meetings across the state back in June, the chairs of the two committees told reporters they had made one thing abundantly clear: There would be no special protection for incumbents.
"I've told them that the district you live in right now no longer exists, and that the Legislature is starting with a blank slate," said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he took things a step farther.
"I've told our senators that I don't even want to know where they live," Gaetz said. "And I've told our professional staff on the reapportionment committee, 'Do not produce any map that shows where incumbents live.'"
Some of that is based on the new reality of redrawing the state's political boundaries under the "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters last year. The standards are aimed at limiting partisan gerrymandering, and they explicitly bar making changes to districts with the intent of helping or hurting an incumbent lawmaker.
And it could have one of its more pronounced effects in the Tampa Bay area, where the redistricting road show heads next week. A dramatic shift in the population over the last decade could imperil some incumbents, forcing them to square off against fellow sitting lawmakers in the 2012 elections.
The district of each member of the Pinellas County legislative delegation is under populated -- short of the number of voters that would make an "ideal" district -- by more than 5 percent. The majority are under populated by more than 10 percent.
And while there are some shortfalls next door in Hillsborough County, there are also a couple of districts that will need to shed tens of thousands of voters in this round of redistricting.
Weatherford's district is 54.7 percent too large and will have to drop by more than 85,000 people. The seat currently held by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Parrish, is 53.8 percent too large and will have to contain about 84,000 fewer people.
A seat somewhere in Pinellas is likely to disappear or be significantly reconfigured, with much of the new seat moving to Hillsborough County.
That could play off of old rivalries in the area, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
"Both sides of the bay see it as sort of an example of how much clout they have," MacManus said. "Bragging rights about political power often create ill feeling between Pinellas and Hillsborough."
For Republicans, the easiest fix might be to draw together the two House Democrats in the county, Reps. Rick Kriseman and Darryl Rouson, both from St. Petersburg.
"If you just look at the face of it, the Republicans would like to put the two Democrats together," MacManus. "But they also have to be a little bit sensitive and attentive to the minority representation issue."
That could make drawing Kriseman and Rouson together difficult; the black voting-age population in Rouson's district, which crosses three counties, is 48 percent, meaning retrogression in the district's minority population could cause the U.S. Department of Justice to look unfavorably on a map.
Republicans will also have a tricky road to walk in redrawing the Senate lines in Pinellas, where the current districts are under populated by the equivalent of half a Senate seat. Three of those seats are held by Republicans; the other, held by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has substantial populations of black and Latino voters.
Minority concerns could also complicate mapmaking in other urban areas like Miami-Dade County, where each of the 14 state House districts that are under populated have substantial minority populations -- 47 percent or more Latino or black.
All but two of them are majority-minority, the districts that have the strong protections under the Voting Rights Act.
"The urban areas are where the tough stuff is going to take place," MacManus said.