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New Senate redistricting plan draws congressman out of district

With one line on a map, state Sen. Tom Lee threw the political futures of two members of Congress into uncertainty.

Though Lee insists his move was done without political intention, Lee passed an amendment to the senate’s congressional redistricting plan that would put one boundary of US Rep. Dennis Ross’s 15th Congressional district on the north side of Lake Mariam Drive in Lakeland.

The problem?

Ross, a Republican, lives on the south side of the very street that Lee chose as the boundary of the district. From just over the white brick fence in Ross’s front yard, he would be able to see his Congressional district, but he wouldn’t be living in it. Instead, Ross, first elected in 2010 would technically be living in U.S. Rep.Tom Rooney’s 17th Congressional District, which stretches through rural central Florida to include areas around Lake Okeechobee. If Ross wanted to vote for himself in 2016 and not face Rooney in a primary, he’d either have to move across the street or hope that Rooney, first elected in 2008, would not seek re-election or he would move to a new district again, like he did in 2012 to comply with the original redistricting maps.

The coincidence of Ross’s home being on the wrong side of the street was not lost on Ross’s chief of staff Anthony Foti. He let it be known that the Legislature should reject the Lee plan and stick with a base redistricting plan that the Florida House favors, which would keep Ross living in the 15th Congressional district.

“The base map approved by the House leaves politics on the sidelines and abides by the Supreme Court's directives to draw fair and equal districts,” Foti said. “The Senate should put politics aside and adopt the House map.”

Lee, a Brandon Republican, went out of his way praise Ross, saying he’s been friends with the Ross family going back into the 1990s and is not trying to push Ross out of Congress so Lee himself could someday run for the new district. The way Lee drew the district would make a candidate coming out of eastern Hillsborough County a big favorite for the seat in the future. More than 75 percent of the 15th District would be eastern Hillsborough.

“I’ve been big supporters of theirs, and will continue to support them throughout his political career as long as he wants to be a member of Congress,” Lee said of Ross. “Beyond that I live my political life one day at a time. I live in the present. And I have no desire to do anything but continue to serve the people of my community in the Florida Senate.”

Lee’s plan is far from a certainty. It was passed out of the Florida Senate’s redistricting committee on Monday and heads to the full Senate for a vote on Wednesday. The House, however, was poised to pass a redistricting map on Tuesday that doesn’t include the Lee changes. Eventually to pass a redistricting plan, both House and Senate maps will have to be identical.

If the House plan passes, at least 150,000 residents living south of Riverview in south Hillsborough County would be shifted into a new congressional district to the south. They would lose Rooney and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who represent that area now, and shift to having U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who holds the 16th Congressional District.