The state House released its first maps of proposed new Congressional and House districts Tuesday and at first glance, the proposals appear to maximize minority voting rights at the expense of incumbent lawmakers. One of five state House maps creates 10 House districts that would pit Republicans against each other, seven districts where two incumbent Democrats would face each other, and four others that would pit a sitting Republican against a sitting Democrat.
Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the panel's chairman, said the maps were created by staff members based on public input at 26 hearings around the state, and were drawn without regard to where incumbents live. Rather, he said, the goal was to follow federal and state law, reflect public input and keep counties and cities intact as fully as possible. The House maps are all online.
One result is a St. Petersburg-based seat, a new District 69, where three members live: Republicans Larry Ahern and Jim Frishe and Democrat Rick Kriseman. (Frishe is running for a Senate seat next fall). In South Florida, the House maps would pit Democrats Joe Gibbons and Evan Jenne against each other in one Broward seat; Democrats Eileen Schwartz and Perry Thurston against each other in another; and in Miami-Dade, three black lawmakers would be in the same minority-access seat. They are Reps. Daphne Campbell, John Patrick Julien and Barbara Watson.
Weatherford says the result proves the House is drawing maps without favoring a party or an incumbent, as Amendments 5 and 6 to the state Constitution require. "We do this once a decade," Weatherford said. "It has to be done right. It has to be done legally. It has to be done transparently."
Few seriously consider the maps to be the final product. Reapportionment plans must be reviewed by courts for legal sufficiency. "Put away the Maalox and the Pepto Bismol," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "These are not the maps. These maps are just fodder for discussion and for creating angst."
-- Steve Bousquet