Florida's Redistricting News
Herald: "Political Roundup: City reaches agreement on
redistricting lawsuit." May 17, 2004
North Miami has settled its federal lawsuit against Miami-Dade County over its 2001 County Commission redistricting, which carved North Miami into four districts.
The city sued because it said redistricting ''disenfranchised'' the power of the Haitian-American vote by splitting up the city, from two to four county commissioners.
The suit accused the county of ''gerrymandering'' -- drawing irregular voting boundaries to serve a special political purpose.
North Miami, a city of about 60,00 people, has a sizable Haitian-American population and a majority Haitian-American City Council.
Under the settlement, Miami-Dade will hold workshops across the county in various languages to inform the public on impending redistricting efforts.
The county will also create a 13-member ''citizens redistricting advisory board'' to help the county figure out new districts.
Another effort to wring politics out of the legislative redistricting process is forming.
A couple of South County Democrats are helping fuel the campaign to create a bipartisan commission to handle the realignment of districts that is required every 10 years.
The panel would take over the district line redrawing process that is now in the hands of the state legislature.
State Rep. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, is leading a petition drive for a constitutional amendment that would put the bipartisan committee process into the Florida State Constitution.
In the meantime, Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and state Rep. Doug Wiles, a Democrat whose district is spread over three counties, plan to file bills calling for the bipartisan redistricting committee when the legislature convenes for its 2004 session on Tuesday.
As to the petition effort, Gannon said it needs 55,000 signatures to be placed before the Florida Supreme Court for approval as a referendum. To place the question on the ballot requires 555,000 signatures.
Just when the proposal will face voters isnít certain, she said, but ìweíre hoping to do it this year.î
Removing redistricting power from the legislature, she said, should reduce or eliminate political gerrymandering of districts and redrawing lines to benefit certain parties and candidates. Gannon said 25 states already have some sort of bipartisan input on district realignment.
In the past, other plans have fallen short of the mark in Florida. An effort in the late 1990s failed when organizers couldnít raise enough money to collect 500,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.
In 1998, a group called People Over Politics collected nearly 23,000 signatures in support of a similar initiative before disbanding. Among its supporters were Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Silver-Haired Legislature.
One backer of the latest effort, Gannon said, is U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who lost a portion of his largely black constituency in the latest round of redistricting.
One major opponent is House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, who headed the House redistricting effort from 2000 to 2002.
ìI believe the legislature is probably the best representative body you can have to do this kind of thing,î Byrd said. ìYouíre deluding yourself if you think you can take politics out of anything.î
Gannon said this is not just Republican chest pounding. The Delray legislator said Democrats were just as outrageous when that party was in power during the 1990-92 redistricting. ìBoth are inclined to partisanship and gerrymandering,î she said.
The petition actually calls for two amendments, she said, ìone for a bipartisan redistricting commission and one that establishes standards that districts must meet.
As proposed, the commission would consist of 16 appointees ñ eight chosen by the majority and minority leaders in the House and eight selected by the majority and minority leaders in the Senate. Those 16 choose the 17th. All actions require a three-fifths vote.
No member of the commission can be a state official, paid lobbyist or member of Congress, and members would have to swear not to seek office or serve as a paid lobbyist for four years after serving on the commission.
The second proposal requires districts to respect existing political and geographic boundaries, protect communities of interest and not be drawn to favor any incumbent, political party or individual.
Supporters hope to have the bipartisan panel in place in time for the next redistricting due in 2010.
Copies of the petition are available at www.fairrepresentation.com. Gannon said interested parties can email her by going on that Web site.
St. Petersburg Times
BROOKSVILLE - County Commissioner Nancy Robinson could be headed to the beach.
Under a redistricting proposal to be considered today, the coastal portion of the county now in Commissioner Mary Aiken's District 5, which includes Hernando Beach, would fall largely in Robinson's District 2.
Robinson has been a visible presence in the canal-side community for some time, particularly through her efforts to secure state and federal support for dredging the area's channel, which commercial fishermen and recreational boaters have long complained is too narrow and shallow.
"I wouldn't have any reason to argue against it," Aiken said of Robinson assuming the role of beach commissioner. "She seems to have an interest in the area."
Led by Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams, the aim of the redistricting initiative is the make the boundaries of commission and School Board seats the same. The move is expected to lower the expense of holding elections, improve cooperative planning efforts and ease the confusion some residents might experience under the present system.
For planners, it's a complex job, as each district must have roughly one-fifth of the county's population and not alter the election sequence, which has seats in odd and even number districts alternately up for grabs.
While Robinson's possible move to the coast is perhaps the most notable change under consideration, other commissioners would see their districts shifted as well. District 4 Commissioner Robert Schenck would see his reach extended across the southern half of the county, taking the bottom of Chairwoman Betty Whitehouse's District 5.
Whitehouse's district would in turn sweep eastward across the northern part of the county into a portion of what is now Commissioner Diane Rowden's District 3. Rowden in turn would capture parts of Brooksville and extend her reach southward on the coast, picking up the Pine Island/Bayport area.
Rowden said the changes were fine and pointed out that commissioners are elected countywide, not just by those living in their districts.
If the commission approves the proposal today, it must also be cleared by the School Board and be the subject of public hearings before taking effect.
"I spend a lot of time with the beach people anyway," Robinson said. "It would be a pleasure to have them in my district."
BUSHNELL About 40
Commissioners want to rectify this discrepancy by redrawing the countyís district lines for a more even split. A workshop and public meeting on the issue is scheduled for Tuesday at the county administration building in Bushnell.
The commission chose not to make the change in 2001 when the most recent census numbers were released, and could not redraw the districts last year because state statutes make it illegal to make the changes in an election year.
Two schools of thought are
dominating the commissionersí debate on how the five
One side contends that because 40 percent of the population lives in the de-velopment, 40 percent of the commission, or two commissioners, should represent them. The other side says that The Villages should be split between three commissioners, because it is growing so rapidly it soon will warrant three seats.
Commissioner Jim Roberts staunchly supports two commission districts dedicated to The Villages, saying the other three should be spread throughout the rest of the county.
ìI donít think itís fair to the other 60 percent of the county to only have 40 percent of the representation,î said Roberts, who represents the Bushnell and Croom-a-Coochie areas of the countyís south end.
Roberts said to incorporate a third district into The Villages, District 2 has been drawn with a ìvicious right hookî that takes it over the top of two other districts. ìIf you look at the map,î he said, ìyouíll see thereís no flow to it at all.î
Commissioner Joey Chandler, who represents District 2, said that he agrees with Robertsí view, that The Villages should have two commissioners, based on the census numbers.
ìI donít think itís fair for The Villages to have
Commissioner Benny Strickland said this kind of logic is flawed because it pre-supposes a divisive mentality.
ìEverybody here is a county commissioner,î he said.
ìIt doesnít matter where (a
ìYouíre going to respond to your district,î he said. ìIf you make a neighborhood of 400 people mad at you, youíre not going to get re-elected.î
Strickland, who currently represents the majority of The Villages residents, said he would have liked to have seen a map that split The Villages up relatively equally over the three districts, while also giving each of those districts an area outside of The Villages.
ìI donít know how you could split it 33, 33, 33,î he said. ìIf I thought we could do it, I would have wanted the map drawn that way.î
As the proposed map stands now, The Villages would be divided over commission districts 1, 2 and 3, with districts 1 and 3 taking about 45 percent of the development each, and the remaining 10 percent going to District 2.
Strickland said his concern is that he or another commissioner will end up in the situation he is in now. Right now Strickland has a disproportionately large number of people in his district due to The Villagesí fast growth in the past few years.
ìYou have to go by the 2000 census as far as the numbers are concerned,î Strickland said. ìYou also have to keep in mind where the growth is going to be.
ì(The Villages) is such a fast growing area. My fear is that in four to six years weíll be right back where we are now.î
County attorney Randal Thornton said census numbers are the only statistical data the commission has available to it while making these decisions. However, he said, there is nothing illegal about planning for the future in cases of redistricting.
ìThere is certainly nothing wrong with taking into
account things that you know are coming,î
It was this train of thought that lead to the map
being drawn with at least one census block being split. A tract of land
between State Road 466 and
That way, Strickland said, all the new growth would not be in one district, but shared between the two.
It is unusual for these census blocks to be split because they only show populations totals, not where people actually reside.
Commissioner Robin Cox of District 5, said that putting three commissioners into The Villages balances the amount of influence the population of that area holds. He said this is because each of the three commissioners would have constituents outside the development to be responsible for and answer to.
ìIf nobody gets 100 percent of The Villages,î he said, ìthen no commissioner gets full Villages support.î
However, Roberts contends that this argument doesnít make sense, and that putting three districts into the development would simply give the residents there the ability to elect three commissioners.
ìIf they have 60 percent (of the total population) in 2010, then they deserve three commissioners,î Roberts said.
ìOne half of (the proposed district) would like dogs, hunting and fishing and the other half would like golf, bars and restaurants,î Chandler said.
While he said that he didnít have any problem representing Villages residents, it would be unfair to anyone who had to represent the interests of such a diverse group.
ìI donít think itís right that two elections can go
by and you never get to vote on who runs your county,î
According to the census blocks visible on the proposed map, more than 3,000 people living in District 1 would be moved into District 2.
ìEverybodyís not going to be happy with anything we
However, Cox, who represents the countyís south end, said the map is more than fair and more to the point, and fulfills the legal and board-mandated criteria for a redistricting plan.
ìItís tough for anybody working on these maps to meet all the criteria,î Cox said. ìBut now that we have met the criteria, itís time to move on.î
He said that the most important thing is to keep the number of people in all the districts relatively even.
The map proposed shows the total populations in each district as follows: District 1 has 9,891 or 18.5 percent; district 2 has 10,400 or 19.5 percent; district 3 has 10,890 or 20.4 percent; district 4 has 10,849 or 20.3 percent and district 5 has 11,315 or 21.2 percent.
County attorney Randal Thornton said that as long as there is not a discrepancy of more than 3 percent between the largest and smallest district, the map should stand up to legal scrutiny. The difference between District 1, the smallest and District 5, the largest, is 2.7 percent or 1,424 people.
This, she said, is because the map, as drawn, splits 20 of her 36 precincts. To correct the problem, she said her office would have to set up new voting precincts, find building owners willing and qualified to accommodate the elections, and buy new equipment, like voting machines, to outfit the sites.
ìThis is going to make my budget soar to the moon,î Krauss said. ìI donít want to cost the county any more money than is necessary.î
She said that if the map is accepted by the commission, she will hire a consultant to come in and help her and her staff blend the precincts to come up with the most cost-effective solution.
She said that the sooner commissioners make a decision on this, the better it is for her office because her employees are working under a strict time line.
ìWeíre already in election mode,î she said.
Cox said he is anxious to get the whole process behind him, so he can start meeting the new people who have been drawn into his district.
ìI might have 50 new families and I want to get out and meet them,î he said.
Roberts said that when this issue has been voted on, there will be no hard feelings between himself and the other commissioners, because they are all just voting based on how they and their constituents feel.
ìWhen this issue is over,î he said, ìweíll put it behind us and go on to the next thing.î
Commissioner Rutter could not be reached for comment at his office in The Villages, and did not return messages left on his cell phone.
City lines split minority vote
By Kelly Brewington, Melissa Harris and Liz Gibson
February 20, 2003
Thousands of blacks and Hispanics who live in Orlando's urban core, some less than an hour's walk from City Hall, will have a huge stake but no voice in the outcome of a heated mayoral election Tuesday that may turn on the issue of race.
The reason is simple: They live in what most folks would say is the city of Orlando, but not in what the map says is the municipality of Orlando.
The former is the burgeoning, diverse populace of more than 340,000 people within six miles of downtown. The latter is the fragmented and twisted government entity shaped by decades of selective, hopscotch annexations aimed more at growing a tax base than building a community.
"People want to get involved; they want to vote," said Luis F. Gomez, 71, a Puerto Rican attorney with a practice on South Semoran Boulevard in Orlando for 20 years. "But they don't know where the city limits are. Some of them don't even live in the city. The city of Orlando has grown by leaps and bounds, but it has not grown with us, in terms of our people."
Municipal Orlando's population of 190,000 is scattered from Lockhart to the Osceola County line. But census data show that within a six-mile radius of City Hall, there are 170,000 residents who remain in unincorporated areas.
Viewed as a whole, that unincorporated community is only about 3 percent more black and Hispanic than the city itself, the data show. But taken neighborhood by neighborhood, the racial disparities with a municipality that is just more than 50 percent white grow more pronounced.
Older, poorer areas close to town have been bypassed, ignored or have resisted absorption by the city.
The 55,000 residents of the unincorporated west side, for instance, are 50 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic. The 63,000 residents of the unincorporated southwest between downtown and International Drive are 34 percent black and 29 percent Hispanic.
On the growing east side of town, in the Goldenrod Road corridor, a rapidly urbanizing area that is nearly 40 percent Hispanic remains unincorporated.
Meanwhile, voters in posh neighborhoods 15 miles from downtown, such as Lake Nona, will have a voice in the election Tuesday.
Election Day confusion
During the Feb. 4 mayoral election, would-be voters in unincorporated neighborhoods called the Supervisor of Elections Office and community groups for help with voting.
"Any time there is an Orlando mayoral race, there is always confusion," said Bill Cowles, Orange County's elections supervisor, though the Feb. 4 election caused deeper frustration because of changes since redistricting. "People have mailing addresses that say Orlando, drivers licenses that say Orlando -- a lot of people get Orlando utilities but don't live in the city."
Marytza Sanz, president of social-outreach group Latino Leadership, said many of the residents she helped were surprised to learn they do not live in the city.
"People were constantly calling me asking why they couldn't vote," she said.
Now Pete Barr Sr. and Buddy Dyer are in a dead-heat going into the runoff. The contest has been tinged by accusations that Barr has used racial slurs and counter-charges that Dyer is a "bigot" simply by virtue of being a partisan Democrat. Suddenly, the city's demographics matter more than ever to many minority residents.
"It's very unfair and it disenfranchises people," said Nelson Betancourt, an activist in east Orange County. "Most minorities are not well-connected to the government. The more powerful areas get their voices heard, but we don't."
Across town on the west side, residents said they have grown disillusioned living on the edge of ragged city-county lines.
Residents of Lake Lawne Shores, one of the few remaining unincorporated neighborhoods along Mercy Drive, say they feel orphaned, enclosed by the city-owned lakeshore to the west, city-incorporated fairgrounds to the south, industry to the north and a jumble of county and city property along Mercy Drive to the east.
Children play basketball in the streets because the nearest park is across the lake, trash lies on the curb for months because the county refuses to pick up unbundled yard waste.
"Derrick Wallace for Mayor" signs dot the neighborhood -- even though residents aren't eligible to vote in the race. Wallace, the only black candidate, placed fifth out of eight candidates in the Feb. 4 mayoral contest.
"I went to high school with Derrick," said Anthony Hargrove, 52, president of the Lake Lawne Shores Neighborhood Association. "We put the signs in the yard in case anyone who lives in the city comes through the neighborhood. Then they would know we support him."
Some argue residents along the boundaries between city and unincorporated areas are left in limbo.
"Minority voters are being disenfranchised," said county Commissioner Homer Hartage, who represents areas of west Orange County. "If the city would expand symmetrically, there would be less voter apathy and the people on the ballot would be more representative of the city's population. I'm not calling the city's annexation policy racism, but given the way it has been done, race could be a factor."
City says it tries
Census data show that lands annexed by Orlando since 1980 are 10 percent whiter than areas within the city's pre-1980 borders. Still, Orlando officials insist they have worked hard to round out the city's municipal boundaries to reflect a more diverse community. But they pointed out they can do little if most property owners and residents in a neighborhood don't want to be annexed. The city met with neighbors in Lake Lawne in early 2000 but never heard back from residents about annexation plans, said Scott Baker, the city's annexation coordinator.
"I think we've done a pretty good job on annexing minority neighborhoods that we could convince to get into the city," said City Council member Daisy Lynum, adding that Colony Cove along Mercy Drive was annexed last year, while other enclaves have refused. "When they don't want to come in, it's very difficult to make it happen."
Mayor Glenda Hood said the city has tried to work with the county to come up with a balanced annexation plan.
In 1995, a plan, which included the annexation of Tangelo Park, Holden Heights, the Mercy Drive and Ivey Lane corridors and others would have rounded out the city boundaries and made the city more racially diverse, but the county and city couldn't come to agreement.
The city has made repeated overtures to Tangelo Park, a neighborhood that is 89 percent black, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The city had a referendum scheduled for April 9, but it was canceled at the request of neighborhood leaders. Most residents in the neighborhood cannot afford the additional $100 or so in taxes per year.
Tanja Gerhartz, Orlando's director of economic development, acknowledged that in the real world of annexation decisions, demographic and social concerns often take a back seat to basic economics.
"We're not looking at who lives in houses," she said. "We're looking at the condition of the infrastructure there. How much would it cost us to provide these residents with city services? We look at the bottom line."
Caught on the edge
But for residents left at the city's doorstep, that bottom line has frustrating consequences.
Several years ago, on the east side, activist Betancourt led a group of volunteers at Good Shepherd Catholic Church off Oleander Drive within the city limits to combat a drug-infested neighborhood a few blocks away in an unincorporated area on South Semoran Boulevard.
Getting city and county entities to address the problem took months. Though conditions have improved, the experience was his first encounter with the region's convoluted boundary system.
"It was frustrating," he said. "These problems impacted the whole neighborhood. And the neighborhood cannot be defined by city and county lines."
Along portions of Mercy Drive, the shoulders of the road are in the city, while the belly of the ditches is in the county. Hargrove said the city won't pick up any of the trash in the bottom of the ditch, only the trash on the shoulders, and that the result is that no one picks it up at all.
Hargrove is trying to drum up support for a lakefront park in the neighborhood. The county owns the inland plot where Hargrove envisions basketball courts and a playground, but the city owns the approximately 60 yards adjacent to the lake.
"It leads to confusion on which way to go, who to depend on and who to not depend on," said Hargrove, a retired BellSouth technician. "We have to deal with two bureaucracies to get things accomplished."
Similar problems elsewhere
The politics of annexation and race are not unique to Orlando.
Statewide and around the nation, minority communities have suffered diminished political clout because of annexation, planning experts said.
For example, a fight has been brewing for years over the annexing of minority working-class communities in Broward County.
In 1995, Broward County commissioners decided the county would no longer provide services. It decided by 2010, municipalities would annex all county property and the county's legislative delegation would approve all annexations.
Mostly poor, minority neighborhoods have been left behind because few municipalities want to annex them.
City officials in Broward, as in Orange County, deny that any decisions are made based on race, but their results negatively effect minorities.
When annexations bypass minority enclaves, it only further hinders community building, which can emerge into political savvy and power, said Thomas Lyons, an associate professor at the University of Louisville.
"A lot of minority communities aren't empowered," he said. "They may not realize what is happening to them and they may not know what to do about it."
Besides standing to lose political clout, annexations can have economic and social repercussions.
"The city government may think they are very fiscally responsible," he said. "But that is also making a statement about the people who live in those [bypassed] areas. It's saying it is unwelcome to be low-income and live in those communities."
Kelly Brewington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6186. Melissa Harris can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6269. Liz Gibson is the Sentinel's computer database specialist.
Like prime-time television, Republican Florida is trapped in a spiral in which each year's gross has to be topped by the next year's grosser in a race to grossest. Blood on the screen last year? Then splatter viscera this year.
That's the only likely explanation for why, even before the session opens, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, picked a fight with Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville.
There are constitutional reasons why the House and Senate sing from different hymnals, even when one party dominates both. But usually, it takes an accumulation of slights and upsets to build to a grudging admission of "differences." This speaker came out swinging.
And swinging wildly. Rep. Byrd accused the Senate of having a devious plan to raise taxes, but the capital press corps didn't bite. So he took his charges home to Plant City, east of Tampa, to attack from more fawning surroundings. Urged on by the biggest PR staff in House history -- Rep. Byrd has further political ambitions -- he blurted into a TV camera, "The state Senate's plan to raise your taxes by $11 billion is the largest tax increase in Florida's history."
Wow, if true. It isn't true, of course. Rep. Byrd plucked his $11 billion figure from a list of all the things the Legislature could do to raise more money. The list was prepared to let the Senate's Finance and Tax Committee see all its options at once.
The list even was called "options." Not "choices." Examining all possibilities is what committees used to do as a matter of course before lawmakers began arriving in Tallahassee with all the answers so they could ignore questions.
Rep. Byrd's answers are "live within our means" and "cut taxes." The question he is ignoring is how the Legislature can pay for all the things the state's constitution and laws require it to do.
The speaker's trouble with Sen. King started before they took office. Sen. King said everything is on the table in the Senate. Rep. Byrd said everything is off the table in the House. Both of these leaders are, remember, Republicans.
Since that party won majorities in both chambers, Florida has seen the cool politeness between Sen. Toni Jennings and Rep. Daniel Webster, the frosty comity of Sen. Jennings and John Thrasher, and heated words between Sen. John McKay and Rep. Tom Feeney.
Much of the difference is institutional. Sen. King was a House member only four years ago, and when he was in the House, he acted like it. He shouted because he had to, to be heard over the babble of the other 119 egos. He rode some hobbyhorses and argued for bad causes because, in the end, the House system kills -- or used to kill -- hobbyhorses and buries -- or used to bury -- bad causes.
In the Senate, members pay attention to each other. There are only 40 of them, and they swim together, or the Senate sinks. A good speaker can hide useless windbags in the House, but in the Senate, a useless windbag gets in everyone's way. Senators tend to be ex-House members with legislative experience who know more than only what they heard at this morning's breakfast with a lobbyist.
Partisan legislative redistricting has turned the never-ruly House into an unruly, tax-supported copy of radio talk shows, especially under speakers who go with the flow. If the district is designed so it can't help but elect a Republican, it's likely to get one who promised no new taxes and money only for contracts with beloved private companies and what the religious right wants.
The constitution, laws, facts and common sense -- even the word options at the head of a list -- are no bars to their agenda because, by gosh, the people elected them. They have lapel pins to prove it. The people, they bluster, trump constitutions, laws, facts and common sense.
The people are a mob without those things, and on its worst days, so is the House. That's why we have a Senate.
Structurally, if the Democrats ever revive, the House will be full of members sworn to find money to pay for all of society's ills. But Democrats aren't Florida's current embarrassment. Having a governor who thinks like a House member adds to the embarrassment.
Jim King was a pretty good House brawler himself. If the speaker thinks the Senat-ized King is an easy target, he may get a shock.
"I have tried to turn the other cheek these past few weeks," said Sen. King. "But I am running out of cheeks."
Premiering March 4: All the King's Birdshot.
In the debate and fallout after last month's election results,one key factor for the Republicans' remarkable gains has been overlooked -- their success in redrawing the new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts.
That success helps explain why Republicans now control two-thirds of state legislative seats and have an even bigger majority among the state's congressional delegation, even though political allegiances in Florida are roughly divided equally between the two political parties.
The Republicans' achievement in manipulating the once-a-decade redistricting process also has created a little-noticed development: More than two-thirds of the Democrats in the state Legislature and Florida's congressional delegation now are either black or Jewish.
Another redistricting byproduct: Only one of every 10 congressional and legislative races was closely contested this year.
All of these developments have renewed calls to have an independent commission -- rather than partisan politicians -- draw the boundaries next time, in 2012, on the basis of the next set of census numbers.
Republicans had never controlled redistricting in Florida before this year because they did not gain majorities in the state House and Senate until 1996. With their newfound power, Republicans vowed to use redistricting as Democrats had done to them previously -- gerrymander the boundary lines to create a majority of districts that they would win by having the districts contain a healthy margin of more registered Republicans than Democrats.
They succeeded with a vengeance.
After the Nov. 5 elections, Republicans hold an 81-39 advantage in the 120-member House and a 26-14 advantage in the 40-member Senate.
They have an even bigger advantage among the 25-member congressional delegation -- 18-7.
These numbers would suggest that two-thirds of all Floridians are Republicans, but analysts say the two political parties are near parity.
While Republicans now control the Legislature, the governor's mansion and the three Cabinet offices, both of Florida's U.S. senators ñ Bill Nelson and Bob Graham -- are Democrats, and Florida has more registered Democrats, at 42 percent, than Republicans, at 39 percent. Plus, Al Gore and George W. Bush virtually tied in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Finally, voters on Nov. 5 approved two Democratic education initiatives: One mandates lower class sizes, while the other makes prekindergarten available for 4-year-olds.
The key for the Republicans has been redistricting, in 1992 when they cut a deal with black Democrats that strengthened blacks' numbers at the expense of the Democratic Party overall, and in 2002.
''The state is basically a very competitive two-party state,''said Tom Slade, who was chairman of the Florida Republican Party from 1993-99. ``But African Americans and Republicans have had something of an unholy alliance at the expense of white Democrats. The creation of every black Democratic district creates two Republican districts. Now, as far as the eye can see, Republicans will control both houses in Florida.''
It was the 1992 deal with blacks that allowed Republicans not only to neutralize the Democrats' expected redistricting advantage that year, but also to pave the way for the Republican legislative march of the 1990s. In 1994, they won control of the Senate. In 1996, they won the House.
HOW IT WORKED
Although Democrats controlled the map-drawing in 1992, the Republicans gained leverage by allying themselves with black Democrats. The deal between blacks and the Republicans described by Slade worked like this: The redistricting plan drew odd-shaped districts to capture all blacks in a geographic area to maximize the number of elected black lawmakers. The number of black state legislators increased from 14 to 19, and black members of Congress went from zero to three.
But packing black voters into some districts meant eliminating most of them from other districts. This also had the effect of increasing the percentage of Republicans in surrounding districts, making those seats winnable for the GOP.
The key: The black districts became overwhelmingly Democratic, while in the Republican districts, Republicans typically had only a 10 to 20 percent advantage in voter registration over Democrats.
Redistricting is such a science now -- proposed districts can be redrawn on computers in a matter of minutes to get the exact desired percentage of Hispanic voters, for example -- that the future Republican-Democratic breakdown of the Legislature and the state's congressional delegation was basically known after redistricting was completed earlier this year, or months before the public would cast any votes in November.
In fact, in June, Allan Licthman, a professor at American University in Washington, D.C., came within one seat of predicting the final election results in Florida. Based on the districts drawn by Republicans, Licthman predicted that they would win 82 state House seats (they won 81), 26 state Senate seats (they won 26) and 18 U.S. House seats (they won 18).
In other words, critics say, the politicians in Tallahassee --currently Republicans -- have more say in deciding elections than the people.
''It's terrible for democracy and un-American,'' said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public policy at Florida State University.
To be sure, Republicans say they also recruited better candidates than Democrats, have run a better grass-roots operation and have had a more popular message for voters.
''We've done much better than redistricting alone would explain,'' said Van Poole, Republican Party state chairman during the 1992 redistricting.
One result of the Republican gains is that white non-Jewish Democrats, once the backbone of the state Legislature and Congress, are a vanishing breed in Florida.
State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, said this is now a topic of concern among Democratic elected officials, since the party isnow narrowly represented in Tallahassee by legislators from their most loyal voting groups.
''This was by design of the Republican Party,'' Geller said. ``They intentionally crammed as many Democrats as they could into as few seats as possible.''
He pointed out that white non-Jewish state Senate candidates, such as former state Attorney General Bob Butterworth, lost five races that the Democrats had hoped to win and said Democrats will never compete equally with Republicans in Tallahassee until those types of candidates win races.
Of the 39 Democrats today in the state House, only 15 are not black or Jewish.
IN OTHER BODIES
Of the 14 Democrats in the state Senate, only two -- Rod Smithand Walter ''Skip'' Campbell -- are not black or Jewish.
Of the seven Democrats in the U.S. House, only two -- Jim Davis and Allen Boyd -- are not black or Jewish.
In another development after this year's redistricting, the public had little chance to vote in a contested race, as lawmakers precisely drew districts to ensure which party's candidate won.
Only 12 of the 120 House races this year were competitive, where the victor won with less than 55 percent of the vote. In sharp contrast, 29 of the 120 races were blowouts; the victor won with at least 90 percent of the vote.
Only 3 of the 20 state Senate races were competitive, while five were blowouts.
Only 2 of the 25 U.S. House races were competitive, while eight were blowouts.
''These seats are being drawn to make as many seats be as noncompetitive as possible,'' said Mike Carr, chairman of the Collier County Republican Party. ``Redistricting is designed to perpetuate power for the group in power.''
CAUSE FOR ANGER
Carr was angered that then-state Rep. Mario DÌaz-Balart, R-Miami, used his role as chairman of the House redistricting process to create a winnable congressional district for himself by extending the boundary line west across the Everglades to include part of Collier. Carr wanted Collierto be kept whole and to be grouped with Lee County to the north, which he said has more in common with Collier than with Miami.
Like DÌaz-Balart, House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, created a congressional district that he won.
Democrats did the same thing in 1992.
When Democrats held the reins, they rejected Republican requests to have an independent commission redraw the lines. Now that Republicans are in control, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot, and they have no interest in letting someone else take over redistricting.
Tom Rossin, who just finished two terms as a Democratic state senator from Palm Beach County, as well as serving as Bill McBride's running mate, said he is hearing increasing support for a petition drive to get voters to create such a commission.
The current system, he said, ''amounts to an automatic conflict of interest. Legislators, no matter what party or part of the state, try to draw safe districts for themselves'' regardless of what kind of district map it produces. ``We shouldn't split towns or counties for someone's political ambition.'' Herald database editor Tim Henderson contributed to this report
Many Florida newspapers have recently run commentaries criticizing the tendency to ''clutter up'' the Florida Constitution with amendments dealing with relatively trivial matters. The gist of the argument seems to be that the state Constitution should deal only with the generalities of government.
On this theory, particular issues -- the most recent example is the proposed constitutional amendment on school-class size -- should be left out of the Constitution, no matter how good the ideas behind a proposal.
I used to agree with this notion of constitutional purity. But that was before I understood the realities of modern lawmaking. Decades of following legislation, plus exposure to the special branch of economics known as public-choice theory, have convinced me that money and power, not wise policy, dictate what comes out of the Legislature. If it takes ''cluttering up'' the state Constitution to overcome the Legislatures unwillingness to do the right thing -- so be it.
The civics textbook model of the Legislature says that it reflects the will of the people. But public-choice theory, a more-realistic look at government, suggests that lawmakers like to get reelected and so they will first serve the interests of those who can supply them with the big campaign contributions they need to run. These contributors almost always turn out to represent special interests, those who can afford to send lobbyists to the capital to spread around the wealth.
Wise policy has little chance of becoming law in such an environment.
The civics textbook recommendation on how to deal with this sort of corruption is to vote the rascals out. But public-choice theory explains why thats not so easy. First the virtuous candidate has to raise enough money to mount a credible campaign. Even if he manages to do that without selling his soul to special interests, he still faces an uphill battle, because the district that our virtuous candidate must run in has usually been crafted in a way that favors the incumbent.
As the recent redistricting by the Florida Legislature shows, retaining power is what drawing the lines of legislative districts is all about. Individual legislators want to make their seats more secure, and the party in power wants to hold on to its collective power. So even though Florida is pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats (look at the 2000 presidential election), the Republicans have rigged the districts so that they are guaranteed an overwhelming majority in the next Legislature. They have accomplished this by creating lots of districts that are 60 percent Republican and a few that are 80 percent or more Democratic.
If the Democrats had been in power they would have done the same. The simple truth is that regardless of who is in the Legislature, money and power are pretty much all that matters.
Confronted with this reality, what are we citizens supposed to do? One thing we can do is to force wise policy on the Legislature by writing it into the state Constitution.
So if you think reducing class size is the right thing to do, vote for the constitutional amendment. If not, vote no. But forget constitutional purity -- its inconsistent with the realities of our Legislature, and no reason to vote against any proposed constitutional amendment.
Robert Batey is a professor at Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg.
In what was likely the final test in redrawing Florida's political boundaries before the fall elections, a three-judge federal panel late Tuesday approved a slightly-modified version of the state House of Representatives redistricting plan.
In doing so, the three judges handed the Republican-led Legislature the final victory in the highly-partisan, once-a-decade redistricting process and all but guarantees the fall elections will occur without delay.
Last week, the same three judges approved state Senate and congressional boundaries, but held up approval of the House map after the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that the original legislative plan had one district that discriminated against Hispanics in Collier County.
On Tuesday, the judges adopted House Speaker Tom Feeney's proposal for appeasing the Justice Department by tweaking the boundaries of three South Florida districts to ensure Collier County Hispanics remained in a Hispanic-majority district.
The court order calls for the Legislature, shortly after the 2002 election, to officially ratify the court-amended plan and have it again vetted by the courts before it stands for the next 10 years.
''This feels really good,'' said Miami attorney Miguel De Grandy, who represented the House of Representatives. ``There will be no interruption of the elections.''
In the ruling Tuesday, the justices also all but shut down Democrats' bid to force more dramatic reconfiguring of South Florida House districts before the fall election. Democrats said the GOP-crafted plan diluted the voting power of blacks in four Miami-Dade House districts. Among the specific complaints: the new boundaries of House District 108 would drop from 59 percent black registered voters to 45 percent.
Miami attorney Thomasina Williams, who represents Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez and Miami community activist Victor Curry, both Democrats, said she won't decide how to advise her clients about a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court until she sees a more complete explanation from the court than Tuesday's short 2 1/2-page order.
''It seems pretty clear to me that we showed that there is no guarantee that district will perform for black voters [as it has in the past],'' Williams said. ``But I have to see what the court says.''
Though the plaintiffs can appeal their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, legal observers say it would be unusual for the high court to grant an emergency stay when the plan has passed a three-judge panel's muster.
Tuesday's ruling came just 30 hours after the conclusion of a six-hour hearing prompted by the Department of Justice's finding. Both Democrats and Republicans had urged the judges to act in haste to avoid interrupting the elections cycle. Candidates for House districts must file to get on the ballot by July 26. Florida's primary is set for Sept. 10, with the general election Nov. 5.
Under Tuesday's court order, three South Florida districts encompassing much of Collier County and parts of Broward and Miami-Dade will be changed from the plan lawmakers passed in March.
Specifically, the southern boundary lines of House District 101, originally drawn to span the state from the southwest coast of Collier County to central Broward County, will move north and west. Its eastern boundaries would take Broward County voters from District 112, originally drawn as almost solely a Miami-Dade, Hispanic-majority district.
Under Tuesday's court order, District 112 will be stretched west across the southern part of Collier County to encompass Hispanic voters there. Also affected will be District 76. Originally drawn as a northwest Collier County district, the court order has it encompass almost all of the Collier County coast, some of which was originally part of District 101.
One lawyer called it "the speaker's fix."
ëBut House Speaker Tom Feeney's plan to redraw part of the statewide map of Florida House districts to eliminate a single objection by the U.S. Justice Department did not fix anything Monday.
Instead, a panel of three federal judges fired question after question at lawyers for both parties but issued no decision.
"The clock is ticking," House lawyer George Meros told the judges.
The federal government rejected the House map last week, concluding that it violated the Voting Rights Act by weakening the political clout of Collier County Hispanics. Feeney, worried that a special session would wreak havoc with the election calendar, proposed a quick fix.
So Feeney drew a new map and asked the federal judges to approve, hoping to avoid a rancorous legislative session.
"The speaker's fix," as Meros called it, shifts about 9,000 Collier County Hispanics to solidly Republican House District 112 in hopes of complying with the Justice Department's demand for a Collier-based Hispanic seat.
Feeney wants the court to treat the new map as an interim plan for 2002 only and allow the Legislature to make permanent changes after November. Democrats want the judges to conclude that the ability of blacks to elect black candidates in four Miami-Dade districts has been illegally diluted.
Democratic lawyer Thomasina Williams criticized Feeney's solution because it was never presented to the public or voted on by lawmakers.
Democrats offered an alternative that redraws 11 districts and converts one safe Republican seat in Miami to a tossup.
Republicans attacked that proposal, saying it unfairly shifts some blacks in Broward County to a safe Miami-Dade Hispanic seat and would force Rep. Wilbert Holloway of Opa-Locka, one of the few Democrats who supported the Republican-sponsored map, to run against a Hispanic Republican.
The judges recessed after listening to five hours of testimony, during which various maps were displayed on TV monitors and easels in the courtroom.
Because Feeney sent his new map to the court, the judges have sole jurisdiction over whether the new map complies with the Voting Rights Act. Tim Mellett, a Justice Department lawyer who attended the hearing, said a court-approved plan does not require review by his office.
The GOP, which controlled redistricting for the first time this year, hoped the legal skirmishes would be over by now.
The Justice Department and the courts have approved maps redrawing lines for Florida's 25 congressional districts and 40 state Senate seats. The House map is all that remains, with legislative candidates' qualifying less than two weeks away.
The changes offered by Feeney affect about 70,000 people in a state with 16-million residents.
"You're talking many more mosquitoes than people in the great bulk of these districts," Meros told the judges.
A panel of federal judges said Monday it will quickly redraw the Florida House of Representatives' political boundaries, taking the once-a-decade redistricting process out of the Republican-led Legislature's hands.
But in a laborious hearing that stretched over six hours and often tested the patience of Judge Gerald B. Tjoflat of Atlanta, the three judges indicated they may embrace fixes proposed by House Speaker Tom Feeney, since they would affect just three House districts' lines. Feeney made the suggestion after the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that the original legislative plan discriminates against Hispanics in Collier County.
But the panel left open the possibility that Democrats still have a shot at forcing a more dramatic reconfiguring of South Florida political districts. The judges rejected Republicans' notion that they can wait until after the November elections to deal with Democrats' 3-month-old claims that the House plan dilutes the voting power of blacks in four Miami-Dade House districts.
''I don't see how we don't address that if we are drawing our own plan,'' said U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan of Miami.
The judges, heeding pleas from both Democrats and Republicans to act with haste to avoid interrupting the elections cycle, promised to rule quickly. Candidates for House districts must file to get on the ballot by July 26. Florida's primary is set for Sept. 10, with the general election Nov. 5.
''We understand the urgency,'' Tjoflat said at one point during afternoon summations. ``The longer you take up our time now to remind us of that the less time we have to do our job.''
Both Democrats and Republicans claimed victory Monday.
''I think it went very well,'' said Thomasina Williams, who represents Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez and Miami community activist Victor Curry, both Democrats. ``The court has said it will rule [on our claim.] The speaker has been trying to avoid that all along.''
Miguel De Grandy, representing the House of Representatives, predicted the court would eventually adopt Feeney's proposed changes and throw out the Democrats' allegations in Miami-Dade districts, noting the three-judge panel had rejected similar claims last week when it upheld the GOP-designed congressional and state Senate districts.
''In the end we don't care if it's the court adopting our plan or drawing their own,'' De Grandy said. ``The goal is to prevent a radical disruption in the election.''
Should the court stray much beyond Feeney's proposal, however, DeGrandy said lawmakers could always decide to postpone the election and reconvene the Legislature to start the redistricting process anew.
Most of Monday's testimony centered on the disputed House District 101, which Justice Department officials ruled last week gave about 6,000 Hispanic voters in Collier County less clout than they had under political boundaries drawn in 1992.
The district, as drawn by lawmakers in March, would have spanned the state from the southwest coast of Collier County to central Broward County. Feeney's plan -- not approved by the Legislature but crafted by House advisors last week -- would reconfigure District 101 and two adjacent districts.
Southern boundary lines for District 101 in Collier County would move north and west, while its eastern boundaries would take Broward County voters from District 112, originally drawn as almost a sole Miami-Dade, Hispanic-majority district.
Under Feeney's plan, District 112 would be stretched west across the southern part of Collier County to encompass Hispanic voters there.
Also affected would be proposed District 76. Originally drawn as a northwest Collier County district, Feeney's revised plan calls for it to encompass almost all of the Collier County coast, some of which was originally part of District 101.
After sitting through more than eight hours of debate in a courtroom full of lawyers, three federal judges ended a long trial Thursday without hinting how they will decide lawsuits challenging new congressional and legislative districts for Florida.
U.S. District Judges Gerald Tjoflat, Robert Hinkle and Adalberto Jordan repeatedly interrupted lawyers for both sides, questioning the impact of myriad decisions about lines drawn on maps.
The judges are hearing a series of lawsuits brought by Democrats in Congress and others who contend lawmakers discriminated against blacks and used political gerrymandering to draw new districts.
It is a tug of war in a state nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and could help determine control of both Congress and the Florida Legislature.
Tjoflat appeared skeptical as he asked lawyers how Democrats could expect more in a state where Republicans have taken over the Legislature and dominate the congressional delegation, although Democrats controlled redistricting 10 years ago.
To prove political gerrymandering, Democrats would have to show that some Floridians vote as a cohesive bloc, eliminating the chances of other voters. That could be hard to do in a state with little political cohesiveness, Tjoflat suggested. North Florida Democrats, for example, often vote for Republicans, he noted.
Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of packing Democrats into a few districts to guarantee continued GOP control.
Tjoflat noted that 14 of the state's Republican members of Congress were elected in districts in which the GOP had less than 50 percent of the voter registration, while only one Republican member represents a Republican district.
Democratic lawyers Norman C. Powell and Thomasina H. Williams argued that lawmakers failed to consider differences between "single-race black voters and black Hispanics" and others who might not support a black candidate.
Terence J. Anderson of Miami, representing Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Broward County, complained that some neighborhoods were "scooped out of St. Petersburg and moved to Tampa" because they were Democrats in a district represented by Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Largo.
Hinkle asked how they can determine when lawmakers go too far. "Is it like obscenity: We know it when we see it?"
Attorneys for the Republican House, Senate and governor argued that this year's redistricting process was fair and more open than ever.
Miguel DeGrandy, a Miami lawyer and former legislator arguing for the House, noted that the Florida Supreme Court has approved legislative maps and the U.S. Department of Justice the congressional maps.
"Both parties are competitive," DeGrandy argued. "Partisan gerrymandering is not here."
No decision is expected before next week. Elections officials are anxiously awaiting a ruling so they can realign voting precincts before the Sept. 10 primary.
Challengers to Florida's congressional and legislative redistricting plans dropped some of their claims Wednesday but insisted the state should not hold any elections under the Republican-drawn lines.
Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Democrat, and the Rev. Victor Curry, a black community activist in Miami, want a three-judge federal panel to issue an injunction to halt elections until a new plan is in place.
Republicans say the challengers have not met the legal requirements for changing boundary lines adopted by the Legislature in response to the 2002 census.
Judges agreed to hear final arguments Thursday in Tallahassee after a seven-day trial earlier this month in Miami. Their options include endorsing the Republican plan, choosing from among alternatives and ordering a new one.
Attorneys on both sides outlined the strengths of their cases in 200 pages of paperwork filed this week.
Attorneys for U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Broward County Democrat, Martinez and Curry contend the Republican plan illegally loaded Democrats into six congressional seats to get more Republicans elected elsewhere.
Under Republican lines, the GOP is expected to build on its 15 congressional seats and take at least 18 of 25 seats this year.
In recent years, highly contested statewide elections, notably the 2000 presidential race, have been dead heats, and Democrats hold a slight advantage in voter registration.
Martinez and Curry also want the state to stop using write-in candidates as justification for halting open primaries.
But their attorneys dropped complaints about state Senate lines and claims of discrimination against non-Cuban Hispanics.
They also narrowed claims that the new plan unfairly minimizes the clout of black voters to the districts of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and five state House districts in Miami-Dade County.
A first-term state House Democrat testified Wednesday at a trial challenging redistricting that she had trouble getting any Republicans to help her rebuild her district after they drew it out of existence.
State Rep. Cindy Lerner, who represents part of southern Miami-Dade County, told a three-judge panel she was stood up for an appointment, got no help from House attorney Miguel De Grandy and was told by other Miami-Dade representatives that they had nothing to do with moving parts of her district into four others.
''My constituents are very upset and feeling very disenfranchised, like they've lost a voice and a vote,'' Lerner said.
She is one of the people claiming the GOP-approved plans for congressional and legislative redistricting violate federal laws against partisan and racial gerrymandering.
When the House redistricting plan came up for a final floor vote, debate was limited to three minutes per side, and Republican Bruce Kyle of Fort Myers was designated to speak against the plan, Lerner said. He ended up voting for it.
''No Democrat had any opportunity -- even one second -- to speak against the plan,'' she said. ``Originally, we were assured that whatever maps came out, it would be a lengthy process with a lot of input.''
In earlier testimony, Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University in Washington, testified that state House Democrats did a poor job of redistricting 10 years ago.
De Grandy, attorney for House Speaker Tom Feeney, called the 1992 map ''their best shot'' at preserving incumbents and Democratic control of the state House.
But the party lost 30 members over the life of the new boundaries.
''As you can see, they didn't do a very good plan,'' Lichtman said.
Asked whether Republicans were fielding better candidates since the last round of redistricting, Lichtman responded, ``Anything's possible.''
After the lines were redrawn in 1992, judges found flaws with congressional and state Senate maps produced by the Legislature and produced new ones.
Challengers also planned to call Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, Florida Republican Party chairman Al C·rdenas and Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat.
The trial over district lines drawn in response to the 2000 census results began Monday before a panel of three federal judges and is expected to finish next week.
The secretary of stateís office wants the judges to decide the case by mid-June so it can begin advance work on precinct boundaries and primaries.
Florida's Republican Legislature repeatedly promised that the redrawing of districts would be "open, fair and member-driven." But a House Democrat who testified Wednesday in a federal voting rights lawsuit said it was anything but that.
Rep. Cindy Lerner of Miami said it took her weeks just to set up a meeting with the second-most influential member of the House leadership, Rep. Johnnie Byrd of Plant City, to protect her turf. When the day came, she said, she spent an hour outside his office and never got in, while others strolled in and out.
Mapmaking Republicans weren't kind to Lerner. Her Homestead area district is gone, scattered among three districts that favor Republicans. Lerner is one of many Democrats who have sued the Legislature seeking to toss out the new map, claiming it weakens black voters' strength and was gerrymandered for partisan reasons.
In the trial's third day, Republican lawyers sharply questioned Lerner and other Democratic witnesses who cited political obstacles in proposing alternative maps. House attorney George Meros said that even the Democrats' alternative House map did not include a winnable district for Lerner and that Republicans weren't allowed to touch the Democrats' computer mouse when the other party drew the lines a decade ago.
As the three-judge panel may hear today, Lerner isn't the only one who claims her pleas went ignored.
Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, who will be called by Democrats, gave a deposition in the case Friday in which he faulted fellow Republicans for adding two more safe GOP seats in Congress instead of the four he wanted, and for leaving winnable Democratic state Senate seats in Palm Beach County, North Florida and Gainesville.
"I don't think they paid a lot of attention to me from my overall goal," Cardenas said in the deposition. "I mean, I was very disappointed at how they ended up."
In another court in nearby Fort Lauderdale, Broward Circuit Judge Robert Andrews gave Secretary of State Katherine Harris until Friday to explain why her candidacy for
Congress does not conflict with her role as a defendant in a state lawsuit seeking to throw out the congressional plan.
If Andrews drops Harris as a defendant, only Attorney General Bob Butterworth will be able to defend the plan in state court. The House and Senate were dropped as defendants earlier.
That possibility alarms Republicans, who have called Butterworth a stalking-horse for Democrats because he asked a federal court in Washington to block the U.S. Justice Department from reviewing the congressional map submitted for approval by the Legislature rather than by Butterworth himself.
"He has chosen to aid and abet the partisan grandstanding of the plaintiffs, who aim to create an electoral train wreck that will make Election 2000 look smooth by comparison," Harris said in a statement. "The judge's decision would leave the fox in charge of the proverbial henhouse."
Harris is running for one of the open seats on the new map, but she said she has a legal duty to support and defend state laws.
The Senate quickly dispatched Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Scherer to court to seek an emergency hearing on the issue, but Andrews told the lawyer to file written arguments.
-- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.
The first three black members of Congress elected in Florida since Reconstruction lose a notable chunk of their power base under a Republican redistricting plan, an expert testified Tuesday in a trial challenging the new lines.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Fort Lauderdale in particular is theoretically in danger of losing his seat based on past election patterns applied to new district lines, according to an analysis by Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University in Washington.
''No matter which test you're using, the changes are politically consequential,'' Lichtman told a panel of three federal judges weighing the constitutionality of the new lines.
Redistricting is required of state legislators every 10 years based on the latest census.
The GOP-drawn plan also dilutes the voting strength of black citizens in the districts of Democratic congresswomen Carrie Meek of Miami and Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, said Lichtman, who testified on behalf of the redistricting challengers.
Several versions of races that produced black winners under old boundaries would result in toss-ups or outright defeats for black candidates now, Lichtman said.
In contrast, Cuban-American Republicans are expected to gain a third seat under the redrawn lines.
All are in Miami-Dade County.
Miguel De Grandy, attorney for House Speaker Tom Feeney, noted the judges must balance the rights of two minority communities -- black and Hispanic residents.
The third Hispanic seat would be lost if the judges chose to bolster black voting strength, De Grandy argued.
Challengers to redistricting say Democrats, black voters and non-Cuban Hispanics were unfairly hurt by changes adopted in response to the 2000 census results giving Florida two new congressional seats.
As a rule, the first primary after redistricting is ''when things are most likely to be shaken up,'' Lichtman said.
Black voting strength also is hurt in up to eight new state House districts and two state Senate districts, he said.
The new House seats are 15, 39, 94, 103, 104, 108, 109 and 118.
The Senate seats are 1 and 18.
The newly adopted open primary system, allowing all voters to cast ballots when all candidates are from one party, also will tend to hurt black candidates if more than one enters a race, Lichtman said.
Florida is ''a pretty competitive state'' between the two major parties in statewide elections, but Lichtman said that won't be seen under the new congressional and legislative districts.
''This 50-50 state is converted into a very substantial majority of districts that advantage Republicans over Democrats,'' he said.
The trial is expected to stretch into next week.
The secretary of state's office wants the judges to decide the case by mid-June to begin advance work on precinct boundaries and primaries.
In an escalating battle with state legislators, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth on Wednesday challenged the state's congressional redistricting plan in a lawsuit filed in Washington.
Butterworth wants the District of Columbia court to appoint a three-judge panel to review the new congressional plan approved by lawmakers last month and determine whether the plan violates federal law.
A three-judge federal panel in Florida already is reviewing the same plan and on Wednesday scheduled a June 3 trial in Miami.
"We're disappointed by Butterworth's efforts to inject partisan politics into the reapportionment plan for the voters of Florida," said Senate attorney Jim Scott of Fort Lauderdale.
Butterworth, a Democrat, merely wants to delay timely elections and have Florida's 25 members of Congress "take office under a cloud," Scott said.
But Deputy Attorney General Paul Hancock said Butterworth asked for an expedited hearing, which shows he is not trying to delay approval of the plan.
Scott said a similar case involving Georgia's redistricting plan was handled by the Washington court on an expedited basis and still took six months.
Hancock suggested that the relationship between Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother the president could result in "favored treatment" of the congressional plans at the hands of the Justice Department.
Because five Florida counties, including Hillsborough, have a history of discriminating against voters, any change in election law must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Gov. Jeb Bush and legislators recently filed copies of the plan with the Justice Department, bypassing the tradition of having the state attorney general participate in the filing. Republicans say they cannot depend on Butterworth to represent them.
A decade ago, when Democrats controlled state government, Butterworth defended their redistricting plans. This year with Republicans at the helm, Butterworth has opposed the plans, contending they unfairly gerrymandered the new districts.
The Justice Department is 15 days into a 60-day period allowed for review.
Butterworth named U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as the defendant in the new lawsuit he filed, saying he would like the court to appoint a three-judge panel and expedite review to determine whether the redistricting plan damages the chances of minorities to win election.
The federal panel in Florida will rule on slightly different issues: allegations that the plan was gerrymandered to help Republicans and violates minority rights.
An additional lawsuit challenging the plan has been filed by U.S. Reps. Carrie Meek, Alcee Hastings and Corrine Brown in state court in Broward County. A hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled today before Judge Robert Lance Andrews.
A partisan legal fight over the first Republican plan of Florida legislative districts unfolded Tuesday before the state Supreme Court, which has two weeks to endorse the map for the fall elections or reject it and demand changes.
In a courtroom filled with the politically powerful, both sides argued for two hours. The same justices who felt the eyes of the world in the weeks after the disputed 2000 presidential election sounded at times as if they were reluctant to wade into another political dispute.
"Don't we have to give deference to what the legislative decision has been, which is necessarily going to be a political decision?" Justice Harry Lee Anstead inquired at one point.
Striking a different tone, Anstead asked the plan's defenders why there has been an "extraordinary outpouring of objections from places where you normally wouldn't expect that."
The Legislature's legal experts said the plan should be approved and that critics such as Attorney General Bob Butterworth failed to prove it is biased against minority voters or violates the U.S. Constitution's principle of one person, one vote. Besides, the lawyers said, redistricting remains the Legislature's province.
"That is a quintessential legislative judgment. It's not a judgment for the court to make," said Senate counsel Barry Richard.
Opponents, most of them Democrats, urged the court not to "rubber-stamp" a plan rigged for GOP political gain.
"This plan is manipulated every way possible without any explanation of the overall game plan," Deputy Attorney General Paul Hancock told the court.
The justices must rule by May 8. A three-judge panel of federal judges also is scrutinizing a plan for 25 congressional districts.
With two of their members absent, justices fired one skeptical question after another at both sides.
Anstead was the most spirited questioner. He asked House lawyer Joseph Hatchett, a former state Supreme Court justice, about complaints by Collier County residents that they are now joined with suburban west Broward voters in House District 101, stretching from Marco Island to Pembroke Pines.
Hatchett denied that Republicans drew the lines to maximize their chances in future elections. He noted that the GOP gained control of the House by fielding candidates in the districts Democrats drew a decade ago.
Anstead questioned the logic of Senate District 27, which meanders from Fort Myers to West Palm Beach. The sprawling Democratic district is partly the result of a political deal to win Democratic votes for the map.
Senate lawyer Richard said it is "virtually impossible" to create 40 Senate districts with identical populations to conform to the one-person, one-vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution without splitting communities.
Dexter Douglass, representing Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, said the map was "gerrymandered beyond belief" and should be cast aside. Thomasina Williams, on behalf of black and Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade, argued that the map diluted those groups' voting power in several legislative districts.
Two justices on the seven-member court did not participate in Tuesday's proceedings. Barbara Pariente recused herself and was replaced by 1st District Court of Appeal Judge William Van Nortwick Jr. Peggy Quince was absent due to a stomach ailment.