The Republican-held Florida Senate released a draft Congressional redistricting map today that retains the political bent of many current districts, which is good news for state Republicans who currently outnumber Democrats 19 to 6.
But the new map is only the first step in what will be a long and contested journey to a Sunshine State Congressional map for the next decade.
But the proposed lines would endanger Rep. Allen West (R), who would see his tossup district become more Democratic. He will face either businessman Patrick Murphy or former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel in the general election.
Also, Republican Rep. Tom Rooney’s neighboring 16th district would see substantial geographic change under the new draft map while growing slightly more Democratic. This may add Rooney to the ranks of targets for Democrats in a state where the party has an edge in voter registration but not in Congressional representation.
Some vulnerable freshman Republicans, such as Rep. Daniel Webster, saw their districts shored up. Other targets for Democrats, like Rep. Steve Southerland (R), were left with slightly less favorable lines in the draft map. At least four candidates have announced bids to take on Southerland in his Panhandle district.
Florida was granted two new districts in reapportionment. One of those districts in the draft map is an Orlando-anchored seat that would be staunchly Democratic, where about 40 percent of the voting-age population would be Hispanic. It would be a majority-minority district, with a substantial number of African-American voters. The other new district would be a strongly Republican district in northern Florida.
“It’s fair to say it’s a status-quo map,” one Florida Democratic aide said. “But it’s definitely an affirmation of the strength of minority representation in the state.”
The GOP-controlled state House has yet to release a Congressional map, and even after a final map — agreed on by both chambers — is signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the new Congressional lines are likely to end up in court. A new state constitutional amendment, shorthanded as Fair Districts, prohibits drawing Congressional lines with the intent to favor or disfavor a party or incumbent.
“The draft map from the Republican legislature is partisan and inconsistent with the Fair Districts law,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Adam Hodge said. “This is the first step in a redistricting process that is far from over.”
Florida Democrats blasted the map for a similar reason.
“Today, Florida Republicans have taken a state — which experts have long considered one of the most malapportioned states in the country — and worsened it,” state Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said in a statement. “In doing so, they have chosen to thwart the will of 63-percent of Florida voters by proposing maps that are aimed at incumbent protection and partisan advantage — the very things which Florida’s Constitution now prohibits.”
Florida Republicans had a different view.
“From the onset of the redistricting process, the Florida Legislature has been committed to making this the most open, transparent and interactive redistricting process in Florida’s history,” party Chairman Lenny Curry said in a statement to Roll Call. “By following the rules outlined in the state Constitution and taking into consideration the suggestions of thousands of Floridians, Republican leaders are confident that better, fairer districts have been proposed.”
Certain counties in Florida are required to comply with Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. That means the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia must approve any map before it becomes enforceable law.