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Behind the Senate redistricting maps: political battles that are very personal

Personal ambitions have been kept off the record in the Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting fight, but the carefully choreographed plan could implode this week if the House committee proposes and accepts changes to the Senate map.

That would put an end to the gentleman’s agreement between the two chambers to accept each other’s redistricting maps — and set off a battle that could delay a budget accord.

“It could blow up a few things,’’ said Rep. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, who is watching the Senate maps carefully as he plans to run for Senate seat held by his mother, Larcenia Bullard.

The Senate map is an immensely personal exercise for many House members who, like Bullard, have aspirations of getting elected to the upper chamber. But the Senate map is also personal for the 40-member Senate, where 30 of the incumbents — 21 Republicans and 9 Democrats — hope to return next year. For interactive Senate map, look here.

The Senate map leaves “every Republican and every Democrat in better shape than they are today,’’ said Rep. Ron Saunders, the House Democratic leader.

Senate redistricting chairman Don Gaetz, for example, avoided being matched up with Sen. Greg Evers, a fellow Republican who also happens to live in Okaloosa County. Gaetz lives in Niceville and Evers lives in the tiny rural town of Baker.

By splitting the region horizontally across five counties instead of following the county boundary lines, the Senate gave Gaetz and Evers separate districts. Gaetz said the proposed map is irrelevant because he could move to any of the five counties in his district because the millionaire businessman owns property in each of them. “It woudn’t have affected me either way,” he said.

The districts of Republican Senate president hopefuls Jack Latvala and Andy Gardiner were also aided by the Senate map. Latvala’s Pinellas County-based district and Gardiner’s Orlando district, which is surrounded by a new Hispanic majority seat, both became more Republican.

Democrats Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood and Gwen Margolis of North Miami needed to have their districts increase in size to reach the ideal Senate district population. To do that, the Senate map consolidates blacks and Hispanic voters into surrounding districts, allowing the districts of Margolis and Sobel’s to retain many of the constitutencies they now serve.

“I’m happy,’’ Margolis said. The former Senate president and veteran of the 1992 redistricting wars said her district has changed. “It’s hard to draw an Anglo seat anymore,’’ she said.

The Senate maps are also intensely personal for two senators trying to get a relative elected. Democrat Sen. Gary Siplin is eying the newly-created congressional district in Central Florida while his wife, Victoria Siplin, has filed to run to replace him in the Orlando-based Senate seat.

Meanwhile, Dwight Bullard faces a challenge from former Democratic state Rep. James Bush III to fill the seat held by his mom and Saunders, the House Democratic leader from Key West also is eyeing the race.

At least five current and former House members are also seeking state Senate seats and House Speaker Will Weatherford’s employer, East Pasco businessman Wilt Simpson, is running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

By late Tuesday, it appeared that the House Redistricting Committee was still on track to approve the Senate map without making changes before their next meeting on Friday. But it wasn’t because the House didn’t try.

House Democrats had prepared a plan that would have helped Weatherford split his home county of Pasco east to west, instead of north to south. It would have kept Lakeland whole — instead of the plan that now splits it into four districts — and it would have created more minority opportunity districts called “coalition districts” throughout the state, Saunders said.

But the Democrats decided not to offer their proposal as an alternative to the Senate map because Gaetz told them he wouldn’t accept it, Saunders said.

“Unless you’re suicidal, why would you [anger] Don Gaetz,’’ he said. “I’m not going to butt heads with him and neither is Will [Weatherford.]’’

Gaetz said Tuesday he has been speaking with Weatherford once or twice each day since session began and now expects no tinkering with Senate maps.

“The Senate did not involve itself in the House’s business and my hope is the House will follow suit,’’ Gaetz said.

Senate Redistricting Maps for South Florida 

The Florida House will vote on whether to accept or alter the proposed Senate redistricting maps. Here's how they treat Miami Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.

District 29

Incumbent: Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale

The new district stretches from Fort Lauderdale at its southern edge to West Palm Beach to the north and links together coastal towns. Although the districts crosses county borders, Senate leaders defended the proposal as “respecting the wishes of the public for a coastal district in south Florida.” The district could be a challenge for Bogdanoff if she gets a tough opponent. The district narrowly favored Gov. Rick Scott over Democrat Alex Sink in the 2010 election but voted for Barack Obama over McCain 51 to 48 percent in 2008.

District 31

Incumbent: Jeremy Ring, D-Margate

This district is located entirely within Broward County and comprises the inland communities of Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Margate, North Lauderdale, Parkland and Tamarac. It is a very safe Democratic seat.

District 32

Open: Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach is considering

This Democrat dominated district divided up what was formerly the districts of Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, who is retiring because of term limits, and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers. Benaquisto’s current district sprawls from Wellington, where she was once on the Village Council, to Fort Myers, where she now lives. The new Democrat-dominated district links the western portions of Browarnd and Palm Beach counties and includes the cities of Sunrise, Weston and Pembroke Pines in the south to the towns of Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee and Wellington to the North. It has drawn sharp criticism from Rich, who said the configuration violates the constitutional requirement that districts be kept compact where possible. There is no incumbent but Rep. Joe Abruzzo, a West Palm Beach Democrat, is expected to run.

District 33

Incumbent: Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah

This Hispanic-majority seat includes Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Miami Springs, Miami Lakes, Virginia Gardens and most of Doral. The district includes a Hispanic voting age population of 86.9 percent and votes Republican.

District 34

Incumbent: Chris Smith, D-Hollywood

This is district follows I-95 and U.S. 1 in Palm Beach and Broward counties and is considered a minority access seat intended to favor an African American candidate. The district has a black voting age population of 55.8 percent.

District 35

Incumbent: Gwen Margolis, D-North Miami

This district links together the coastal communities of Miami-Dade County from the Broward County line to Homestead. It performs strongly Democratic.

District 36

Incumbent: Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood

This district preserves must of Sobel’s current district in south Broward County, giving the delegation the same number of districts it has today, even though the county lost population compared to other regions. The district includes the cities of Cooper City, Dania Beach, Davie, Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Miramar and Pembroke Pines. It performs reliably Democratic.

District 37

Incumbent: Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables

This district includes Allapatah, Little Havana, South Miami, West Miami and portions of Coral Gables in an Hispanic majority seat that has a 83.7 percent Hispanic voting age population. It performs strongly Republican.

District 38

Incumbent: Oscar Braynon II

This minority majority district links Miami Gardens with Opa Locka, Biscayne Park and Pembroke Park with Hollywood, Miami Beach, Hollywood, Miramar and Pembroke Pines. It has a black voting age population of 58.3 percent and performs strongly Democratic.

District 39

Incumbent: Anitere Flores, R-Miami

This western Miami-Dade district follows Tamami Trail to southwest 107th Ave. and State Road 997. It has a Hispanic voting age population of 83.3 percent and performs strongly Republican..

District 40

Open: Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami and former Rep. James Bush III are running

This giant district includes vast amounts of unpopulated agricultural land form Monroe County in the south, through the Everglades National Park and up into Hendry County. The district, currently held by Democrat Sen. Larcenia Bullard, has an African American voting age population of 35.1 percent and a Hispanic voting age population of 39.9 percent. Bullard’s son, Dwight Bullard, is running against former state Rep. James Bush III, both of Miami, to replace her.

Source: Florida Senate

For a look at all the districts go to:

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