St. Petersburg Times: "Rejected redistricting reform of 1993 haunts Legislature." March
The Democrats have lost the redistricting battles, as everyone knew they would. Though they still lead in voter registration, hold both U.S. Senate seats and scored a statistical tie in the presidential race, their large disadvantages in the Legislature and Congress can only get worse under the plans that the Republicans rammed through the Legislature Friday.
Democratic presence in the 120-member state House could dwindle from 43 to 36, too few even to make the Republicans follow the rules. The GOP also nailed down both of the two new congressional seats, rigged Democrat Karen Thurman's district for a takeover, gave U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw breathing room in the district he nearly lost two years ago, and guaranteed that C. W. Bill Young's district, which Democrats might have won on his retirement, will stay Republican forever.
Democrats lost the least (if at all) in the state Senate remap. Tom Rossin, the minority leader, repaid the favor by supporting the House-Senate plan. He declared that he was acting "on pure political expediency," which would be "difficult if not impossible to defend." The reason? His home county of Palm Beach would finally have three resident senators, a gain of one.
"The only way I could accomplish that," he confessed, "was to promise to vote for the map."
The loser in that deal, Republican Debby Sanderson, sat stonefaced a few feet away. That one district is presently hers. Though her Fort Lauderdale home is still in the district, most of the voters will be in Palm Beach. What's more, most of them are Democrats who voted overwhelmingly for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. If she doesn't return next year, the 275,000 Republicans in Broward County will have no one in Tallahassee to speak for them.
Sanderson, though a very senior Republican with 20 years in Tallahassee, was expendable not only for having been the first to cross Senate President John McKay on tax reform, but also for having picked the wrong faction at the wrong time in a struggle over future Senate leadership. She was the only Republican to vote against the legislative maps as the Senate passed them 28-9. Among the eight dissenting Democrats was Richard Mitchell, of Jasper, whose district was elongated as far south as Citrus County, making it harder for him to return.
Rossin did not pretend to excuse any of this. Rather, he said it dramatizes why Florida should stop trusting the Legislature with redistricting and should give the job to an independent, nonpartisan commission.
He is right. Letting legislators redistrict themselves is like putting Bonnie and Clyde in charge of security for banks.
Rossin, who is leaving on account of term limits, said in the debate that he intends to lead an initiative campaign to create an independent redistricting commission.
That considerably surprised one Senate gallery spectator, Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause. For two years has been leading just the sort of campaign Rossin was proposing.
Rossin said later he hadn't known about the existing effort, which calls itself People Over Politics. No wonder. People Over Politics has been unable to make itself heard. It has collected only 21,000 verified signatures, a scant 4 percent of what it would need to make the ballot. It has raised only $145,000 (most of it already spent) but almost nothing since early last year, when trial lawyers and the teachers' union made up a small stake.
Initiatives, in Florida as elsewhere, need deep pockets. There have been deep pockets for liberal drug laws, high-speed rail, the Everglades, clean air, slot machines and even pregnant pigs, but there has been no George Soros or "Doc" Dockery for simple, unsexy good government. Not even the Democratic Party, with so much at stake, deigned to give a dime. That indifference is suicidal.
Rossin says he thinks he can raise enough money. He's also inclined to start from scratch, modeling his proposal on one the Senate passed nine years ago that called for the Supreme Court to appoint a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The People Over Politics petition would have the majority and minority parties in the House and Senate name the majority of members, who would choose a chairman. That has enabled critics to argue that the commissioners would be as political as those who appointed them.
"That's critical," says Rossin. "The body that handles it has to be looked on as nonpartisan as possible."
Florida has come achingly close to this reform three times before.
The Constitutional Revision Commission of 1978 proposed an independent commission, but everything it sent to the ballot failed that year in a backlash over abolition of the Cabinet and a casino gambling initiative. (Redistricting, however, came the closest to passing.)
In 1993, the Senate voted unanimously for a court-based commission but the House adopted a killer amendment at the urging of both party leaders.
The 1998 Constitution Revision Commission was poised to recommend an independent districting panel until GOP leaders including Tom Feeney, the present House speaker, twisted just enough arms, elbows and necks to turn two votes. That left the Legislature to its own sausage-making, and led to the deal Thursday that produced a congressional district invisibly labeled "Tom Feeney." An independent commission, it is safe to say, would have been under no pressure whatsoever to oblige him. Neither would it have had any particular malice for Sanderson.
The Democrats never did anything so dumb as to pass up the independent commission that the Senate, under President Andrew Crenshaw, its first modern Republican president, proposed to the House in 1993. Crenshaw, now a congressman, had bitter memories of a long, ugly redistricting battle the year before. But in the House, still held by the Democrats, Majority Leader (and speaker- designate) Peter Wallace teamed with Republican leader Sandra Mortham to derail Crenshaw's reform. They did it on a voice vote, sparing members the duty of voting against them and the embarrassment of being blamed for supporting them.
"I think I voted against it, but I think I'm sorry," said Sen. Betty Holzendorf, D-Jacksonville, who was in the 1993 House, on Friday.
If the Democrats lose the U.S. House of Representatives by one, two or three seats that they gained in Florida, that day in 1993 will be as clear a reason as any. If the Republicans win it again, by only one, two or three seats, they will owe it to Feeney for his influence over the Constitution Revision Commission five years later.
Wallace was nursing resentment over how the courts had changed his 1992 redistricting plans and failed to anticipate the Republican takeover that would make him the last Democratic speaker. Mortham's foresight was better. Both said the issue had to do only with the Legislature's rightful role in the scheme of things, but all the grownups in the chamber knew that they were were gambling on who would control the Legislature in 2002.
Mortham and Wallace exchanged high-fives on the floor when their killer amendment won.
There is no other way but an independent commission to produce districting maps that allow voters a real choice as to who represents them. As before, there will be few real contests for the Legislature or Congress. There may be a few interesting primaries, but the outcomes in November have been largely pre-ordained.
Wallace, now practicing law in St. Petersburg, might have been his party's ideal candidate upon Young's retirement. But if he ever thought of it - which he says he didn't - it's out of the question now. The new congressional plan leaves his St. Petersburg residence in Young's district, but sends most of the south St. Petersburg precincts that might vote for a Democrat into the Tampa-based district of U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. In the special lingo of redistricting, they "bleached" Young's district to "pack" Davis'. Young's present constituents are 40 percent Democratic and 40 percent Republican, with the rest scattered among independents and minor parties. The new plan makes them 43 percent Republican and only 36 percent Democratic. Presently, the population is 80.6 percent nonhispanic white. It is about to become 89.7 percent white.
The stunt closely tracks what was done 10 years ago to create a Senate district for then-Rep. James Hargett, D-Tampa. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has since made it clear that race-based gerrymandering is inherently suspect. The bleaching of Young's district is very profoundly suspect. It will be interesting to watch this issue in court.
"It's clearly designed to ensure that a St. Petersburg Democrat will not be elected," Wallace said last week.
I asked whether he had any second thoughts about 1993.
"I have," he said. "There certainly have been times when I wish we simply had taken President Crenshaw's idea and run with it."
Drawing lines that will help determine which political party controls Congress, the Florida Legislature on Friday approved a new congressional map that divides St. Petersburg into two districts and plays into the hands of three Republican state lawmakers eager to move to Washington.
The vote, along partisan lines, sets the stage for a protracted court battle between Republicans and Democrats.
For the first time, St. Petersburg will be carved into two districts. The congressional district held for three decades by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, no longer will include most of south St. Petersburg, which has a large concentration of registered Democrats. The change is intended to ensure Republican control of the redrawn district, which includes the rest of Pinellas County, after Young retires.
The portion of St. Petersburg carved out of Young's current district would be added to the Tampa-based congressional district now held by a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis.
Republicans hope the new map also will help them win new seats in Central and South Florida. They also are taking aim at a seat held by Karen Thurman, a Dunnellon Democrat.
Florida's reshaping of congressional lines has national implications. Democrats need to gain just six seats to take control of the U.S. House.
The reshaping of political boundaries is required every decade by the Constitution to reflect new census figures. Florida will gain two U.S. House seats, increasing its total to 25. But redrawing the districts is a cutthroat process controlled by the party in power. Friday's 25-14 Senate vote reflected those divisions: Every Republican but one voted for the map; all but one Democrat voted against it. The House passed the map several hours later, 76-41.
The Legislature also passed a final map of state House and Senate districts, designed to strengthen Republican control.
Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, urged lawmakers to approve the plan because the alternative would be a lot worse. "Postponing it isn't acceptable," Byrd said. "We must do it now. If we are unable to agree, the courts will take over the process."
Both plans must withstand scrutiny by state and federal courts.
The congressional redistricting logjam broke when senators drew a suburban Orlando district for Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, who has spent months stockpiling money for a campaign. What lawmakers call "Feeney's seat" emerged Thursday just as the House got serious about the Senate's top priority, tax reform.
"We did try to approach this from a standpoint of what is best for the people of Florida, and keeping communities of interest together," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, head of the Senate's congressional redistricting subcommittee. Latvala said another goal was protecting incumbents, which he said voters emphasized at public hearings.
Latvala said the plan protects areas with similar characteristics and helps minorities. Two more districts include majorities of black and Hispanic voters: Davis' new Tampa-based district and a new district in Miami-Dade and Collier counties aimed at satisfying the congressional ambitions of state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.
Senate Democrats reminded Republicans that Florida was evenly divided in the 2000 presidential election but no one would know it from the congressional plan, derided as "political gerrymandering" by Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach.
"This map is dictated solely by partisan politics, not the best interests of the people of the state of Florida," said Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac. "The final version of this congressional map is the result of a deal that was made in a closed room that was designed not to benefit all Floridians, but only one Floridian."
He was talking about Feeney, though he never mentioned his name.
The Democrats' criticism of partisan intent ignored recent history.
As Republicans pointed out, Democrats were partisan a decade ago when they they were in control. The congressional map was tossed out by a federal court that ultimately drew districts, but it helped some ambitious Democratic legislators get seats in Congress.
In 1992, Senate President Gwen Margolis of Miami-Dade demanded a congressional seat, just as Feeney is now, but lost the election. The leaders of the congressional reapportionment panels, Thurman and Rep. Peter Deutsch of Broward, won congressional seats and are still in the House a decade later.
Now it's the Republicans' turn, and they hope to increase their 15-8 advantage in the Florida congressional delegation to 18-7.
They hope to do that by winning a new seat in Central Florida with Feeney and in South Florida with Diaz-Balart, and a third seat held by Thurman.
Thurman's seat has been redrawn to help Republican Ginny Brown- Waite of Brooksville by taking in large parts of Hernando and Pasco counties that are in Brown-Waite's state Senate district. The district also loses Thurman's Democratic base in Alachua County, including the precincts surrounding the University of Florida. The district is evenly split along party lines in registration, but it votes Republican.
Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, mocked the map, inviting senators to join a make-believe betting pool to see how quickly the courts would reject it as unfair. "Five days is the longest any federal court upholds this map," Smith predicted.
The congressional plan (HB 1993) still must be approved by Gov. Jeb Bush, and the U.S. Justice Department will review for compliance with voting rights provisions in five counties, including Hillsborough. Democratic lawyers already have filed a lawsuit.
Times staff writers Lucy Morgan and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.
New U.S. Congress districts
Here is how Florida members of Congress, or the leading candidates for open seats, correspond to district numbers:
1 Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla
Source: Florida Senate
Things got ugly, as they often do with redistricting. But senators agreed Friday on a new map of Senate districts designed to tighten the Republicans' grip for years to come.
A reapportionment map, set for Senate passage next week, gives Republicans a political advantage in 26 of 40 seats, one more than the GOP now holds. The map keeps existing minority-access seats for blacks and Hispanics, a crucial requirement if the map is to win approval from the courts and the federal government.
The map maintains the status quo for seats in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, with districts reconfigured to reflect growth. Pasco County could get its first hometown senator, but Hernando County likely will have a senator who lives 50 miles away, in Polk County.
As head of the Senate subcommittee on legislative reapportionment, Sen. John Laurent, R-Bartow, took care of his home county at the expense of Hernando, which likely will no longer have a hometown senator. Even though Polk's population of 484,000 qualifies it for barely more than one Senate seat, it gets two. "I did want Polk to have two resident-based senators," Laurent said.
With Brooksville's term-limited Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite running for Congress, Republicans tailored the new District 15 to meet the ambitions of Rep. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.
Another departing senator, Republican Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor, wanted to create a Pasco-based Senate seat. The new District 11 gives Republicans a 21,000-vote advantage in voter registration. Two likely candidates are Rep. Larry Crow of Palm Harbor and Mike Fasano of New Port Richey. Latvala has hinted at a possible return in 2004 and does not want Fasano to take his place.
That new district also mirrors the state, with its voters evenly divided between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. Fasano is more conservative than Crow.
"I think it's a winnable seat for a mainstream Republican candidate," Latvala said, grinning and repeating the word "mainstream" for emphasis.
The map still must win passage in both houses, then withstand scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and a likely lawsuit by the Democrats. The minority party has decided it stands a better chance of getting a more favorable map from a Florida Supreme Court with a majority of Democratic appointees than from a Republican Legislature.
The map drew biting criticism from a key Republican. Sen. Daniel Webster, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, called the map "wrong" because it failed to protect Senate incumbents - a point cited by many people at hearings held across the state.
Most endangered is Sen. Debby Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale, an ally of Webster's. Her political base is in Broward, but her new district is now centered in Palm Beach County. That gives a big edge to a Palm Beach candidate.
Sanderson did not get along with Senate President John McKay even before she came out against his tax reform proposal, but McKay called it "a little bit of a stretch" to connect the two.
Even though Democrats will attack the map in court, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Rossin of Royal Palm Beach said he'll vote for it for parochial reasons. Republicans appeased the term-limited Rossin by keeping his district safely Democratic, and gave Palm Beach three locally based seats, including Sanderson's.
The Senate map and demographic information is online at www.leg.state.fl.us. Follow the links to redistricting plans and look for plan No. S34S0031.
Times staff writers Sandra Amrhein and Lucy Morgan and researcher Deirdre Morrow contributed to this report.
Targeting Thurman and Boyd
Florida's GOP-led House approved a new House map last week that could offer a much-needed boost to Republican redistricting efforts. The map, which still must be considered by the state Senate, creates two new GOP-leaning seats and draws more competitive districts for a pair of House Democrats.
Specifically, Republicans in the state House increased their chances of ousting Reps. Karen Thurman (D) and Allen Boyd (D), whose adjacent swing districts stretch across the northern neck of the state's Gulf Coast. State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite (R) has already announced her intention to challenge Thurman, and state Comptroller Bob Milligan (R) is being recruited to run against Boyd. As redrawn in the GOP plan, both districts, with college-town voters removed, would have gone to President Bush by wide margins.
Still, neither Democratic incumbent would go down without a fight. Boyd was elected to a third term in 2000 with 72 percent, while Thurman won her fifth term that year with 64 percent.
Thurman discounted the significance of the state House plan, noting, for example, that it essentially drew a majority-minority district for Rep. Corrine Brown (D) that resembles one that was rejected by courts during the 1990s. "I don't know what their attempt was, but there may be no more than one or two people in the entire delegation who think this is even credible," she said.
Thurman added that the plan, which throws several Members into the same districts, should not sit well with Rep. Porter Goss (R), who threatened to retire unless his Sarasota-based district was preserved. The state House plan would extend his district across the state to Dade County.
The state House map also includes two new districts, apparently configured for two Republicans who were heavily involved in the remap: state House Speaker Tom Feeney and state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the chairman of the chamber's redistricting panel. Diaz-Balart may run to join his brother, Lincoln, in the House.
Still, the map has not pleased all House Republicans. Rep. Bill Young (R) said he was upset with the dramatic reconfiguration of his Gulf Coast district, and Rep. Mark Foley (R) refused to rule out a primary challenge to Rep. Clay Shaw, whose Fort Lauderdale-based seat would take in a considerable portion of Foley's GOP base under the plan.
The state House map eliminates a big chunk of south St. Petersburg from Young's district and gives him constituents from the entire length of Pinellas County and into west Pasco County. In an interview with the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Young, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the state House map is "not consistent with what I think redistricting should be about."
"I thought the district should be as compact as possible and maintain city and county boundaries as much as possible," said Young, who added that he would feel "very strange and uncomfortable" losing a large bloc of his constituents.
Republican legislators defended their decision to protect Shaw, who won an 11th term in 2000 by 599 votes. Shaw "is a senior member of our delegation," observed GOP state Rep. Diaz-Balart. "It is in the best interest of our state to maintain seniority and clout in the House."
All of these machinations may amount to little, however, if the state Senate does not follow suit. Indeed, the upper chamber has indicated it does not intend to create districts for Feeney or Diaz-Balart.
U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young wanted a nice compact congressional district so he could seek re-election among the constituents who have grown accustomed to his name and face the past 31 years.
But the GOP-dominated Florida House has given the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee a district that eliminates a big chunk of south St. Petersburg and gives him constituents from the entire length of Pinellas County and into west Pasco County.
"It is not consistent with what I think redistricting should be about," Young said Wednesday after House Republicans adopted new plans for the state's 25 congressional districts. "I thought the district should be as compact as possible and maintain city and county boundaries as much as possible."
Young said he would feel "very strange and uncomfortable" losing the people he has represented for so many years. But he would also be getting back an area that was previously in his congressional district and his state Senate district in the 1960s.
Young may yet get his wish because the maps approved Wednesday have not gone to the Senate, and ultimately must be approved by the federal courts. Unlike some other members of Florida's congressional delegation, Young said he doesn't plan to hire a lobbyist or do anything but wait to see what happens.
"Having gone through this process as a state senator, I believe in the end the Legislature will create a responsible and fair district," Young said. "Whatever they do in St. Petersburg can affect something in Orlando. It's very difficult to make it fit. Since I've been here, I've been very careful not to inject myself in what they do."
Under the House plan, the southern tip of Young's district in south St. Petersburg would be tied to a Tampa-centered district currently served by U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa.
"I think it is important to keep communities together," Davis said Wednesday night. "But I intend to run from whatever district they draw and I'll work to bring people together."
U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, would lose some of his North Pinellas district under the House plan and pick up voters in central Pasco and northwest Hillsborough County. He could not be reached for comment.
No one expected Republicans in the state legislature to make life easy for Democrats this year, but U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, could have problems if the House map prevails.
Under the plan, Stearns and U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, would both live in Stearns' district. That could pose problems for Thurman too, but much of the newly created District 6 includes area she once represented in the state Senate.
Thurman currently serves District 5, but the House shifted her residence into Stearns' district and gave her an area that includes Marion, Alachua, Bradford, Clay and Duval counties. Both of the new districts have more registered Democrats than Republicans but have a history of voting for Republicans.
Thurman says she'll take her chances with the courts that have to review the final plan.
Thurman could easily run for either district, but if she runs against Stearns that would leave her old district open for candidates like Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, who plans to run for Congress.
Wednesday, House Republicans overrode objections from Democrats and overwhelmingly endorsed plans for redrawing the lines for House, Senate and congressional districts.
Republicans repeatedly described the process that led to the plans as "open, fair, legal and member driven," but Democrats denounced the way the maps were designed as "partisan and unfair."
Neighborhoods and communities were inappropriately divided to meet political concerns, the Democrats charged.
The House particularly penalized inner-city residents with no access to the Internet, complained Rep. Fredricka Wilson, D-Miami. Many live in communities where schools and libraries are not wired for computer access to the maps and statistics lawmakers relied on, she said.
Minority Leader Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, introduced the war in Afghanistan into the debate, criticizing those who engaged in partisan politics while young men were dying on the battlefield.
"We don't send men and women in battle to fight so one party can gain an advantage," Frankel complained. "We've just witnessed a partisan political grab by the majority party. It is self-interest, not public interest."
Several Democrats urged GOP leaders to continue working on the maps.
Members from both parties carefully read their objections and praise from scripts, laying the groundwork for lawsuits. In addition, the congressional plan must win approval in federal court and the legislative plan will be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.
Despite the partisan bitterness, a handful of Democrats defected to the Republican side when votes were taken. The congressional plan was approved by a 76-36 vote that included approval from 2 Democrats. The legislative maps were approved by a margin of 86-32 with the help of 10 Democrats who crossed party lines.
The maps will now await action by the Senate, which spent the day tangled up over Senate President John McKay's budget and tax proposal. McKay says redistricting plans in the Senate are "on hold."
Sounding more like witnesses testifying at a trial, members of the House Tuesday tentatively approved a series of redistricting maps for legislative and congressional districts.
The plan approved for congressional seats gives Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young a district that divides St. Petersburg, running up the western half of Pinellas County to include southwest Pasco County. U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, would get a district centered in Tampa, reaching across Tampa Bay to take in some voters in southern parts of St. Petersburg.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, would get a district that includes much of Pasco County, northeast Pinellas and part of Hillsborough.
U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, would get a district that runs from Dixie County down through Hernando County, taking in east Pasco and east Hillsborough.
Pinellas and Hillsborough would continue sharing two state Senate seats.
With a court reporter taking notes and three Republican lawyers seated on the floor, GOP members fenced with Democrats, who asked question after question about districts drawn by Republicans.
The Republican majority rejected a request from Democrats who wanted to have their own lawyers on the floor. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami recalled a similar day a decade ago when Democrats ran the House.
"We made that same request 10 years ago and it was denied," Diaz-Balart said. "We weren't allowed to have our partisan counsel. These are the same attorneys who are suing the House and it would be highly unusual to permit attorneys who are suing us to be on the floor."
Attorneys for House Democrats sued in federal court in Miami to have a judge take over redistricting. Former Rep. Miguel DeGrandy, the attorney for House Republicans, said he is seeking to have the suit moved to federal court in Tallahassee.
Every Democratic amendment was voted down. The House is expected to approve all three plans today -- one each for the state House, state Senate and U.S. House.
Redistricting is tied up in the struggle between the two chambers over the Senate's controversial plan to overhaul taxes. The Senate's redistricting plans are "on hold" for now, said Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton.
If the House and Senate fail to agree on maps, House Speaker Tom Feeney said the House is prepared to take its plans to court and say, "it's the only legislative product available."
"If the Senate fails to do its constitutional duty, we think the courts would give our plans some deference," said Feeney, R-Oviedo. "But it's not the way the process is supposed to work."
Elections are not about ballots; they're about districts, stupid! So, after Florida Republicans get away with redrawing district lines primarily to benefit them during this legislative session, Democrats can vote at all of those new, multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art touch-screen machines until they are blue in the face, compliments of Katherine Harris, but their votes won't be worth a whit. They will remain a marginal party, even though they are more than half the registered voters in the state.
Redistricting, which is mandated after the Census every 10 years to make districts reasonably equal in population, is used by the party in power as a smokescreen for consolidating its lock on Congress and the Florida Legislature. This year, Republicans are out to further destroy their political opposition and feather their own nests. In cards, "stacking the deck" is called cheating; in horseracing, trying to rig the winner is patently illegal; but in politics, openly drawing district lines to favor a party or a candidate is just business as usual.
Selfishly, state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, has used his official position as chair of congressional redistricting to engineer a district from which he could be elected to Congress, where he plans to join his brother. U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, has paid lobbyist Van Poole $10,000 to see to it that his district is redrawn in his favor. Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, has had the chutzpah to campaign for a nonexistent congressional seat, which he anticipated would be tailor-made for him by the end of this legislative session. The list goes on and on.
At the same time they are carving out districts for themselves, Republicans have proposed any number of obvious ploys to decimate their opposition -- like collapsing two Democrat districts into one, so one incumbent knocks a colleague out, and tweaking borders to add Republican voters to Democrat strongholds.
Shame on Florida! As recently as four years ago, we blew a chance to put an end to all this self-serving folderol. In 1998, our Constitutional Revision Commission voted to include the creation of an independent redistricting commission in a package of constitutional reforms that ultimately passed. Immediately after the commission vote, however, an unholy alliance of Republican Party leaders and African-American and Latino elected officials pressured commission members to reverse their vote. Two members caved in, removing the measure from the November 1998 ballot and killing all hope for reform.
Since the 1998 debacle, a bipartisan coalition of civic groups has tried to give Florida voters another chance to approve a constitutional amendment that would establish a bipartisan redistricting commission to replace the partisan Florida Legislature and represent the public interest. Its members would have to sign an oath not to run for the Legislature or lobby for the four years following their service. It would do away with districts that look like Rorschach tests and octopuses.
Unfortunately, the proposed amendment will not be on the November ballot. So, Common Cause Florida, the League of Women Voters and whoever else wants to demand an end to gerrymandering will immediately have to start aggressively collecting signatures for 2004. If Machiavellian manipulation of your votes outrages you, now is the time to do something about redistricting. Contact Common Cause Florida at 1-800-771-4769; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.peopleoverpolitics.com. (For a recent, sad history of redistricting in Florida go to www.emilyslist.org; click on "Redistricting," then "Florida," then "Redistricting Chronicle.")
No matter how smug politicians may be, their plans can backfire. Former Senate President Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, held the Legislature hostage until she got the congressional district from which she felt comfortable running, but lost the general election. The partisan maps that Republicans draw will certainly be challenged in court and may be voided.
But, no matter what happens in the end, we should never have to go through the rigamarole of a process openly used to undercut the value of our votes. Elected officials of both parties should be protecting us, not manipulating us to their advantage. It's all about our fundamental rights, stupid!
It's unclear whether Florida redistricting will force Rep. Karen Thurman (D) to run against a well-funded state Senator, a Republican who's already said she'll challenge the incumbent. And no one knows whether state legislators will draw an Orlando district for state House Speaker Tom Feeney (R), who raised more than $400,000 last year for a House bid.
But one thing redistricting insiders confidently predict is that state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) will run to join his brother, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R), in the House from a new South Florida district, a GOP stronghold adjacent to his older brother's Miami-based seat.
Two key factors are working in the younger Diaz-Balart's favor. South Florida's population exploded in the 1990s, virtually forcing the state to add a seat to his family's native region. Perhaps more important, Diaz-Balart chairs the committee that handles Congressional redistricting, which this week passed three maps that created majority-Hispanic districts in which he could run. Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.)chaired that committee in 1992, when he drew himself a House seat.
"My goal is to draw a legal plan. But if we get a plan that happens to have a district that looks interesting to me, then yes, I would be interested,"said Diaz-Balart, who has thwarted Democratic efforts to draw a heavily black district instead in Central Florida. "My brother is one of the individuals Iadmire most in the world. Serving with him again would be a great experience."
If he runs and wins, Diaz-Balart would join a small but growing group of siblings who have served together in Congress. Currently, only Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) are Congressional siblings. But attorney Linda Sanchez (D) is running this year to join her sister, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), in the House.
At one time related to Cuban President Fidel Castro by marriage, the Diaz-Balart family's roots in Cuban politics run deep: Their grandfather and uncle were members of the Cuban House of Representatives, and the brothers' father served as the majority leader of the body in the 1950s.
A skilled politician who has served in the Legislature for 13 years, the younger Diaz-Balart is trying to avoid appearing as if he's taking advantage of his perch atop the state House redistricting committee. "If you have a personal agenda, you're going to lose," he said. "I'm not going to do that. Am Iinterested?The answer is yes. But let's just see where the chips fall."
Florida redistricting, a GOP-controlled process that House Republicans are relying on to produce three new seats, began in earnest this month, and Republicans hope to finalize a map by early March. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.)said the GOPcould pick up a fourth seat if state Comptroller Bob Milligan, a retired Marine Corps general, decides to challenge Rep. Allen Boyd (D) in a new Tallahassee-based district. Florida gained two House seats in reapportionment.
Already, however, intraparty rumblings are surfacing between the chambers over which term-limited Republican lawmaker should benefit most under the new map.
A plan winding through the state Senate also draws a seat for Diaz-Balart. But unlike the state House maps, it would throw Thurman into a GOP-leaning district on the Gulf Coast with state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite (R). In what insiders say is a Senate ploy to gain House support for an unrelated tax bill approved by the Senate, the plan pointedly ignores Feeney's bid for a seat near Orlando. The state House committee, whose members Feeney appointed, approved maps that create a GOP district for him by shifting nearby Rep.RicKeller (R) out of east Orange County and into Lake and Polk counties.
Keller's new district would be more reliably Republican than the current 8th district.
"What may hold this process up is not redistricting related,"said Lincoln Diaz-Balart. "The Senate president, his priorities are not in redistricting."
Feeney and Brown-Waite, who serves on that chamber's redistricting panel, said they believe they'll both find districts from which to launch Congressional careers. "I have not seen a plan or put one together that has a comfortable seat for both Tom Feeney and Ginny Brown-Waite, the state Senate president pro tempore, but I'm pretty confident that can be accomplished,"Feeney said Tuesday.
Other top Republicans are less sure. "Basically, [Republicans] have to choose who they want to send to Washington, Ginny Brown-Waite or Tom Feeney,"said a state GOPofficial who's following redistricting closely."We could do both, but anyone who's looked at the numbers knows it stretches us too thin in Central Florida."
Elsewhere, every bill under consideration would accomplish the top GOPpriority of shoring up Rep. Clay Shaw, Florida's most vulnerable House Republican, who won an 11th term in 2000 by just 599 votes.
Al Gore, who beat President Bush 58 percent to 39 percent in Shaw's current Fort Lauderdale-based district, would have prevailed by a much smaller, 7-point margin under the state House plan.Gore would have beaten Bush by 9 points in Shaw's new district, as drawn by the state Senate.
State Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart couldn't stop smiling Monday after a House committee he heads recommended three similar proposals that would create a congressional seat where he lives.
The Miami Republican even responded to a question about "his" seat before catching himself. Democrats, however, let it be known they think they're getting robbed in the redistricting process, which is creating two new congressional seats in the state.
"I'm interested in fairness," said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, who was in the audience to watch Monday's committee votes. "Look at the registration, look at the growth."
The Republican proposal now moves to the full House committee as early as next week.
While Democrats still have a slight advantage in registered voters in Florida, they have no power in Tallahassee, where Republicans control the executive and legislative branches.
"Nothing has changed," said Brown, one of three black members in Florida's congressional delegation. "It seems to me African-Americans are the low man on the totem pole here."
But the Legislature must produce a plan that meets some significant legal standards and the House has retained Joseph W. Hatchett to help them do that. Hatchett was Florida's first black Supreme Court justice and a member of the three-judge panel that drew the congressional boundaries 10 years ago.
The Republican-designed plans moved ahead in Monday's final congressional committee meeting. The lone Democratic proposal faltered after little discussion.
The Democratic proposal by Rep. Matthew Meadows of Lauderhill would have taken away the third majority Hispanic district in South Florida where Diaz-Balart lives and instead created a minority-access district in the greater Orlando area with significant Hispanic and black populations.
But that proposal was defeated after some cajoling from Diaz-Balart.
"If you look at the numbers, there are three Hispanic majority seats in southern Florida," Diaz-Balart said. "I put that district where the greatest rate of growth has been."
Diaz-Balart, who hopes to join brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart in Washington, said that's the way things work in America.
"It's a Democratic process and in a Democratic process you've got to get the votes," he said.
The other new seat in the House plan is likely to end up somewhere between Gainesville and Orlando and include Oviedo, the hometown of House Speaker Tom Feeney.
Feeney doesn't have anything carved out for him in the Senate proposal, but that is seen as a bargaining chip to get House support on Senate President John McKay's tax reform proposal.
"There is a lot of give-and-take in the redistricting process," Feeney said. "It's a lot like the budget, you've got to do a little bit of horse trading."
A federal fund-raising report filed in Washington showed Feeney raised $402,286 in the last six months of 2001 for a possible congressional bid later this year.
The House proposals are also designed to shore up the Republican bases for longtime incumbents Michael Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Clay Shaw Jr. of Fort Lauderdale.
The Senate plan drawn by Sen. Jack Latvala does vary from the House version. Once both chambers finalize their respective plans, they'll work out the differences in conference. If they fail to come up with a plan that meets legal considerations, the courts could again determine Florida's congressional boundaries as they did in 1992.
Calling Miami-Dade's new redistricting plan ''racial gerrymandering,'' North Miami officials filed suit in U.S. District Court on Monday to challenge the county's decision to carve up the city among four commission districts.
The city is asking a Miami federal judge to block the September commission elections until the county can create new boundaries more acceptable and equitable to North Miami's 60,000 residents.
''You really have to give [the county] a kick in the head to make them realize something's wrong. That's the reason we had to go to court,'' North Miami Mayor Josaphat Celestin said Monday night, adding that city officials have been trying for months to resolve the dispute amicably.
In its suit, the city bluntly charges: ``The redistricting plan, on its face, has no rational explanation other than to separate voters on the basis of racial origin.''
County Attorney Robert Ginsburg said Monday night that he has not seen the lawsuit, but added he has full confidence that the county's boundaries will be upheld in court.
''The County Commission worked long and hard for approximately a year to develop the districts they selected,'' Ginsburg said.
The suit accuses the county of ''gerrymandering'' -- a term applied to drawing irregular voting boundaries to serve a special political purpose.
Celestin and other North Miami officials say the boundaries -- adjusted last fall to reflect population shifts in the 2000 Census -- will weaken the city's clout at County Hall -- and the influence of Haitian Americans in particular.
North Miami is about 55 percent black, according to census figures. Haitian Americans comprise a large voting bloc, helping to elect the first Haitian-American mayor last year.
Norman C. Powell, the attorney representing North Miami, told The Herald that the county split up the city four ways in order to fill ethnic shortages in some commission districts. Powell said redistricting should not be based solely on race.
Currently, the city is served by Commissioner Dorrin D. Rolle and Commission Chairwoman Gwen Margolis, both of whom supported the new redistricting plan.
Rolle said the division of North Miami was necessary to maintain racial balance on the commission, which is comprised of seven Hispanics, four African Americans and two white non-Hispanics.
''There was absolutely no other way, according to the consultants we had,'' Rolle said recently. ``And we hired three of them.''
Rolle and Margolis say the redistricting plan guarantees three predominantly black districts.
During the past decade, the Hispanic population in Miami-Dade has continued to surge, particularly in the western suburbs. At the same time, population in the county's eastern, majority-black districts has grown much slower.
In some cases, those districts actually lost population.
By law the districts must be roughly equal in size.
Each new district will include about 173,000 residents.
Because of that, Rolle said, the boundaries of the majority-black districts had to be extended. Rolle, who is black, said if they had extended anywhere but North Miami, they would have added Hispanic residents.
The city's lawsuit could also cause a headache for Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor David Leahy. He is in the process of formulating new voting precincts.
''I can't draw precinct lines until I know what all the districts are,'' Leahy said.
Voting along party lines, a Republican-dominated House redistricting committee moved forward a plan that Democrats say would diffuse Broward's strength by linking small parts of the county with larger chunks of Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and other counties.
The committee turned down a Democratic proposal that would have left Broward's state House districts relatively unchanged, except for boundary shifts to accommodate growth.
Committee members told Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania Beach, that his plan didn't seek enough consensus outside of South Florida in his effort to maintain the status quo in Broward.
''It was clear after awhile there were changes throughout the entire state,'' said Ryan's fellow Broward legislator, Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Lauderdale.
Ryan had 32 Democratic cosponsors on his amendment, but acknowledged that the Friday deadline to file it made it difficult to discuss it with many Republicans.
Also, Ryan's assurances that legislators could be reelected based on the lines he drew didn't sway any of the Republican committee members, including his fellow South Florida legislators.
''No member needs to be concerned about being reelected in this map,'' Ryan said.
Not so, argued Rep. Manuel Prieguez, R-Miami, who got his first look at Ryan's proposal when he chatted with Ryan briefly before the meeting. During the meeting, Prieguez realized his home wasn't part of his district in Ryan's amended map.
''You took out my base,'' Prieguez said. ``You took out all of Little Havana.''
The map approved Monday makes few changes to two minority districts currently held by Rep. Matt Meadows, D-Lauderhill, and Rep. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Too many changes to those districts would disturb court mandates requiring certain seats to be drawn so that minorities can be elected from them.
Other parts of Broward County were already expecting to see dramatic changes because of growth in Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Weston.
For example, Rep. Nan Rich, D-Weston, has the most populous House district in the state with 231,542 people. Her district must be redrawn to lose about 99,000 people.
But other districts are markedly different.
Ryan's proposed district under the Republican plan lumps him in the same Hollywood district as Rep. Ken Gottlieb, D-Miramar, forcing the men to run against each other or move if they want to continue to serve in the Legislature.
Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would be running in a seat that shifts her to the western side of Hollywood and includes Century Village in Pembroke Pines.
And a whole new district takes in a small part of Sunrise near Sawgrass Mills mall and the National Car Rental Center, and then stretches along Alligator Alley to Naples.
That would likely be a Republican district, in line with the party's aim to gain districts statewide and in Broward.
Currently, Mack is the only Republican among the 12 House members who represent Broward. Five of the county's six senators are Democrats.
Ryan said that although his proposal died Monday, elements of it may materialize in the map as it moves to a second committee before coming to a full House vote.
The map is likely to see dozens of changes before and after a vote, Mack and Ryan agreed.
''It still is a work in progress,'' Mack said.
''It's early, early in the process,'' Ryan said.
Broward County was once a titan in Tallahassee with tremendous power in the Florida House under a succession of Democratic leaders.
Many committees were ruled by Broward representatives. Tom Gustafson, House speaker in 1989-90, came from Fort Lauderdale. Goodies rained down on Broward, from construction money for Interstate 595 and Tri-Rail to the downtown Fort Lauderdale campus of Florida Atlantic University.
Then in 1996, Republicans took over.
Legislators from Broward, the most heavily Democratic delegation in Florida, went from control of the House to the doghouse. Money for Broward projects grew scarce, and legislators saw their pet bills die.
As much as Broward's influence in the Legislature has shrunk, it is about to dwindle further. Local House members -- all but one of them Democrats -- think the GOP will use the House redistricting process to punish Broward for being so heavily Democratic and for its partisan role in the presidential recount of 2000.
"Their goal in redistricting is to dilute Broward County's strength so much that we have no power in the future House," said state Rep. Stacy Ritter, the Coral Springs Democrat who heads the 18-member Broward Legislative Delegation.
The redrawing of state House and Senate districts is done every 10 years to reflect the new census figures.
Broward also has lost considerable power in the Senate since the Republicans took over the majority. Because each Senate district is three times the size of a House district, however, less gerrymandering can be done.
"We're all fairly safe," said state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hollywood, about Broward's five Democratic and one Republican senator. "They don't have as much ability to play around in the Senate because of the numbers."
So it is in the House, which is considered more partisan, that Broward legislators expect trouble.
The 120-member House is not being expanded. Its members are just being shifted around.
The greatest growth has been along the coasts of South and Central Florida and in the Orlando area, where House members are being added. The rural farming sections of North Florida are losing members.
Ten years ago, Republicans contend that Democrats stacked the deck against them, especially in Broward, by gerrymandering districts to grab condominiums loaded with Democratic voters. Broward has 11 Democratic House members and one Republican.
"If the D's continue to complain, we can do to them what they did to us 10 years ago. We could redistrict them out of everything all the way to Tallahassee," said state Rep. Bill Andrews, R-Delray Beach.
Broward's lone Republican is more conciliatory.
State Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Lauderdale is getting pleas for help from distressed Democratic colleagues.
"When [Democratic] members come to me and say they are dissatisfied with the plan, I urge them to file amendments to change it," Mack said.
House Redistricting Chair Randy Ball, R-Titusville, swears he is dedicated to being fair. After seeing early work by Ball's House Redistricting Council, Broward House members are unconvinced
The potential for damage to Broward's Democratic presence in the House is evident in the Republicans' math:
Broward is represented by 12 House members, all of whom who live in Broward, although some of their districts sprawl into other counties. The House plan would have Broward represented by 17 House members, but if members are elected from the counties that have the largest population in each district, only eight would live in Broward. Huge hunks of Broward are sliced off and shifted to districts anchored in other counties.
The plan places the heavily Democratic Bonaventure condominium complex, western Pembroke Pines and a slice of western Sunrise in a House seat connected to Collier County. Because most voters would be Collier County Republicans, this district would have a good chance of being held by the GOP after the next election.
Two representatives for huge chunks of southwestern Broward would most likely be western Miami-Dade Republicans, probably Hispanics.
A slice of southeast Broward probably would be represented by someone from Aventura. Parkland likely would be represented by a House member living west of Boca Raton.
Democratic state Reps. Ken Gottlieb of Hollywood and Tim Ryan of Dania Beach are shoved into the same district, forced to compete for re-election.
"The Republicans in the House are disenfranchising residents in Broward County," charged Mitch Ceasar, the county's Democratic chairman. "I want them to tell me what Bonaventure condominiums have in common with Collier County, except they are both in Florida."
George LeMieux, Broward Republican chairman, said the voters who have really been disfranchised for the past 10 years are Republicans.
"We currently have 270,000 Republicans in Broward and only one [Republican] House member. That's what's not fair," LeMieux said.
LeMieux said his goal is to make more House districts in Broward "competitive to allow a Republican a chance of winning."
The process has a long way to go, and elements of the redistricting will no doubt change. The House Redistricting Council meets Monday to consider amendments.
Although they may make concessions, Republicans will get their way in redistricting because they have a 77-43 margin in the House.
State Rep. Mark Weissman, D-Parkland, sees his district shifted north. He is thinking of filing an amendment to change it but doesn't have much hope.
"In the end, Republicans have the votes," Weissman said. "They can do what they want."
A state Senate committee on Friday approved the first redistricting plan of the 2002 Legislature, creating 25 districts for Florida's U.S. House seats.
The GOP-crafted plan helps the Congressional ambitions of Republican Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville at the expense of a Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman of Dunnellon.
It also leaves intact three districts created in 1992 that sent blacks to Congress from Florida for the first time since Reconstruction. The plan was approved one day after Florida's three black House members sued to get a judge the draw the lines instead of legislators.
As expected, the plan doesn't help House Speaker Tom Feeney in his bid for a new Congressional seat he wants drawn in the Orlando area.
"It's early yet," Feeney said. "But that doesn't surprise me."
Senate President John McKay is expected to use Feeney's congressional ambitions as a bargaining tool to win approval of his controversial plan to overhaul the state sales tax.
Friday's vote is the beginning of a long process in which myriad personal and partisan battles will be waged over redistricting, which Republicans control for the first time in more than 100 years. The GOP hopes to increase its hold on political power while Democrats hope to regain some.
The plan includes two new Congressional seats, the result of population growth in the 1990s. Neither district -- one is in Central Florida, the other in South Florida -- includes an incumbent member of Congress.
Party registration in the new districts is closely divided, but voters in both went for George W. Bush in 2000, which suggests Republican candidates would fare well.
The plan, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, extends the current district of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, north to Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater and redraws the district now served by U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, to include areas of West Pasco and Northwest Hillsborough County that were in his district 10 years ago.
U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, would get a district essentially the same as the one he now represents. U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, would get the Sun City Center area now represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, R-Bradenton.
The new Central Florida district appears almost tailor-made for Brown-Waite because it includes much of the area she now serves in the state Senate.
But Thurman would be the most adversely affected. The new map takes Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties out of her district. The new lines would begin in the northern tip of Citrus at the Gulf of Mexico and stretch northeast across the state to the northern tip of Nassau County at the Atlantic Ocean.
Thurman's current district has 174,007 Democrat and 119,230 Republicans, while the proposed district would have 201,202 Democrats and 103,658 Republicans. But George W. Bush got 54 percent of the vote in the proposed district. In her current district, Al Gore won by 10,000 votes.
Adding to her problems, Thurman would lose counties where she has campaigned for 10 years and gain counties that don't know her.
Democrats didn't like it one bit, but Latvala had his own complaint: They didn't take him up on his offer to submit alternatives.
"This map reflects a lot of what we heard at public hearings," Latvala said.
The bill passed 11-3, with Sens. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach, and Walter G. "Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, voting with the Republicans. Sens. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach; Daryl Jones, D-Miami; and Les Miller, D-Tampa, opposed the plan.
Although U.S. Reps. Carrie Meek, D-Miami; Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have already gone to court to block redistricting, Latvala defended the plan.
The districts, each with about 639,000 people, are compact and preserve coastal areas with common interests, including one in the Fort Myers-Naples area long requested by residents, Latvala said.
Political scholars in Florida predict a contentious year for redistricting, with multiple lawsuits before the dust settles.
They completed a 600-page encyclopedia on redistricting that focuses on the 1992 redistricting battle, which stretched on for several years in state and federal courtrooms.
The book, Mapping Florida's Political Landscape, is available from the Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University for $75. It was edited by Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
With changing racial and ethnic balances, MacManus predicted that redistricting will be particularly fractious among blacks and Hispanics struggling to gain control of minority access districts. The number of black voters has declined while the number of Hispanic voters has escalated.
MacManus said the state also could see some "election 2000 fallout" in some lawsuits because some voters remain bitter over the outcome.
She also predicted that some black lawmakers will join forces with Republicans as they did in 1992 because Democrats are trying to persuade black legislators to accept districts with fewer minorities in an effort to put more Democratic voters in neighboring districts to elect Democrats.
"It will be interesting to see if blacks buy that argument," MacManus said. "I think you will see a split because this is self-survival politics. If you are a black lawmaker and see no hope the Democrats will take either chamber back, what do you do?"
Unfazed by two lawsuits seeking to derail the redistricting process, a Senate subcommittee Friday approved a congressional redistricting map that would strengthen the Republican foothold on U.S. House seats and protect most of Florida's incumbent members of Congress.
While the Republican chairman of the panel defended the map as a "work in progress" to reflect recommendations of citizen input, not partisan gamesmanship, Democratic legislators complained bitterly that South Florida, in particular, is being carved up to bolster the GOP's slim 221-210 advantage over Democrats in Congress.
The plan gives South Florida, which now has eight congressional districts, another representative in Washington. It inserts a sprawling district that stretches from Key West to north of Lake Okeechobee in Highlands County. A second new district would be tucked into the Tampa Bay area.
Florida is gaining the two congressional districts this year to reflect the growth of 3 million residents over the past decade.
Democrats said the plan, which was altered Friday just before the vote, would likely stretch the Republicans' 15-8 partisan advantage in Florida's congressional delegation to a split of at least 18 Republicans and 7 Democrats.
Marking the year's first major vote on redistricting, the panel approved the plan on an 11-3 vote, with several South Florida Democrats in opposition. But since the plan doesn't include a seat crafted especially for House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, it is likely just a scratchpad for how the state's new congressional map could ultimately look.
It does, however, reveal key ingredients that Senate Republicans hope to include in a final plan. Chief among their goals are two Gulf Coast districts tailored to reward a pair of Senate Republicans -- Ginny Brown-Waite of Spring Hill and Burt Saunders of Venice.
State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Palm Harbor Republican who is chairman of the committee that crafted the plan, angrily dismissed criticism raised in a pair of lawsuits filed Thursday in South Florida that accuse Republicans of being secretive and unfair about how they are drawing districts.
The lawsuits are the first redistricting challenges this year in Florida. The state's three black members of the U.S. House asked the state court to take over responsibility for drawing new maps, arguing that a Republican-dominated Legislature would not draw boundaries fair to minority residents. The mayor of Hialeah and other South Florida Democratic activists asked a federal court to order a new round of public hearings and information published in Spanish and Creole.
Latvala called the lawsuits' accusations "surprising and perplexing" because, despite several opportunities, Democrats in the Legislature have not made written objections or filed any alternative maps.
But after the meeting, several Democrats argued that the process didn't allow alternative maps to be crafted in time for Friday's vote. Besides, they said, there was no need to rush the plan out in the first week of session.
"We need to take time and do it right," said Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. "There's no reason why this had to get out of here this fast."
The House has moved considerably more slowly, publishing its first serious congressional redistricting map Thursday. Unlike the Senate plan, it creates congressional districts that seem suitable for two key state House members looking to run for Congress: Feeney and state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the Miami Republican in charge of the House congressional redistricting committee.
The newly unveiled House plan and the Senate's congressional plan that advanced Friday both preserve the three minority access districts now represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Carrie Meek of Miami and Corrine Brown of Jacksonville -- the members who filed suit over redistricting Thursday.
But Democrats said the two new seats were drawn explicitly to help Republicans.
The effect for South Florida, according to Klein and Sen. Skip Campbell of Tamarac, is an awkward-looking set of House districts that could leave area residents more confused than ever about who represents them in Congress. In particular, Campbell criticized a district that would stretch from the Keys to Highlands County, with one-third of its population in Miami-Dade County.
"What in God's creation do folks in Dade County have in common with the people up in Highlands County?" Campbell asked.
Under the plan, Broward County would be divided into six congressional districts, one more than currently, in an apparent effort to dilute Democratic strength by pulling in Republican areas of other counties. Palm Beach County would retain four districts, but Klein said they would be "gerrymandered" to help Republicans, such as U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale.
Klein said the changes could sharply affect some incumbent Democrats who would have to run in new territory. For instance, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Lauderhill, would be in a district stretching from western Broward to the Atlantic Coast.
"I'm not sure I see a community of interest there," Klein said. "I'm not sure there is a community of interest with west Broward and the beach area."
Republican state Sen. Debby Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale, and state Sen. Ron Silver, a North Miami Beach Democrat who has frequently sided with Republicans on key political issues, contradicted Klein's argument. They said that because many former coastal residents have moved to the western part of Broward County, there are strong ties within such a district.
Florida's three black Democratic members of Congress and Miramar Vice Mayor Sallie Stephens are asking a state court to draw the lines for Florida's 25 congressional districts, saying they don't trust the Republican-dominated Legislature to do the job fairly.
In papers filed in Broward Circuit Court on Thursday, they expressed doubts the Legislature will guarantee continued minority representation as it tackles the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional and legislative district lines.
In a separate lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez and Miami black activist Victor T. Curry -- both Democrats -- asked for an injunction to stop the process of redrawing Congressional as well as legislative districts.
Complaining that previous hearings excluded much of the public because most were scheduled during the workday and were conducted in English, the suit asks the federal court to force state legislators to hold a new round of hearings in the evening. They also want the state to publish information about the redistricting process and maps in Spanish and Creole.
Hearings were not immediately scheduled on either lawsuit. The suits name Gov. Jeb Bush, Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Secretary of State Katherine Harris as defendants.
The actions, coming on only the third day of the legislative session, came as a surprise to House and Senate leaders. The Legislature began its annual session two months earlier than normal to give itself extra time to draw the new political maps. Committees in both chambers are preparing to vote out new House, Senate and congressional redistricting plans within the next week.
The lawsuits question whether racial and ethnic minorities will get a fair shake in those plans.
"The whole country knows that Florida is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but Republicans are currently over-represented in Florida's congressional delegation," said U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar. "Now, the Republican National Committee says they want even more seats from Florida. I'm very worried that Republican gains would come by disenfranchising Florida's minority voters."
The state's congressional delegation has 15 Republicans and 8 Democrats.
Stephens, who lives in Hastings' congressional district, joined in the lawsuit along with U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Carrie Meek of Miami.
"All I want is a level playing field. I don't think that's asking too much," Stephens said.
New district boundaries are automatically reviewed by the courts -- Congressional districts by the federal courts and state legislative districts by the Florida Supreme Court. But the courts had a much larger role during the last redistricting.
In 1992, a three-judge federal panel drew Florida's congressional boundaries after a lawsuit was filed and the Legislature gave up. The state House and Senate districts were retooled by the state Supreme Court because of a legal challenge over minority districts.
Hastings, Meek and Brown in 1992 became the first blacks elected to Congress from Florida since shortly after the Civil War. Their congressional districts were purposely drawn with black majorities.
"This lawsuit should send a clear message to the Florida Legislature: we will fight for a congressional plan that is fair both racially and politically," said Brown. "We are very troubled by comments from Republicans in Washington that they will attempt to draw a gerrymander in Florida to make up for their failures in redistricting in other states."
Brown's district was redrawn by Florida's Legislature in 1996 after a court challenge, cutting the district's black population from 55 percent to 40 percent. Hastings district is about 55 percent black and Meek's about 60 percent.
Because the state gained 3 million new residents in the past decade, Florida will get two new congressional seats, going from 23 to 25. Some GOP leaders hope one of the new districts will favor election of another Hispanic Republican from Miami. The state now has two Hispanic members of Congress from Miami-Dade -- Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
Republicans concede they hope to gain three to five of Florida's congressional seats, which could help them retain a majority in the U.S. House.
Martinez, the Hialeah mayor and a Democrat, said he filed the lawsuit out of concern that Hialeah, the state's fifth most-populous city with more than 240,000 residents, could be splintered into multiple congressional districts, diminishing its residents' political clout.
"The Republicans are saying that they are going to be fair and that they have had a very transparent statewide process when that is a total farce," Martinez said. "That's especially obvious in the [state] House where they have not wanted to reveal their redistricting plan, not even to their own members."
Republican legislative leaders and party strategists said they weren't surprised by the lawsuits, only that they were filed in the first week of the 2002 legislative session. Some Republicans noted that the GOP made a similar legal move 10 years ago, filing lawsuits in federal court on the opening day of the 1992 Legislature, the last time districts were redrawn.
House Speaker Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican who's interested in running for Congress, disputed suggestions that Republican leaders aren't interested in creating districts fair to all Floridians or accepting input from Democrats and other groups.
"We have bent over backwards to have an open and fair process with exemplary public participation and opportunity for the minority party to be a part of the process," said Kim Stone, Feeney's spokeswoman. "We welcome [Democrats] into the process. Believe me, we don't want to screw this up anymore than they want us to."
Legislative Democrats said they had no role in the lawsuits. Hastings said IMPAC 2000, an arm of the national Democratic Party, approached him about filing one of the lawsuits.
State House Minority Leader Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said she thinks the lawsuits are filed "prematurely" since most legislators are only beginning to delve into the redistricting process. The first committee votes on congressional redistricting could take place today in the Senate.
Frankel said the lawsuits may only strain relations between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.
"These lawsuits should not be construed as a signal that the Democrats don't desire being engaged in the political process," Frankel said. We feel that we're still early in the process. And we [state House Democrats] sure didn't feel compelled to be involved in litigation right now."
Angry black activists charged Tuesday that Broward County commissioners railroaded through a redistricting plan that bowed to condominium residents but ignored African-Americans.
Activists spoke out shortly after commissioners approved the plan that adjusts what neighborhoods they will represent as a result of population changes. About two dozen poured out of the meeting after the vote and faced down three commissioners in a Government Center hallway.
Surrounding the commissioners, the activists demanded to know why their idea to create a second commission district with a black majority was ignored. The plan would have allowed a better chance to place two blacks, instead of the current one, on the nine-member commission.
Commissioners countered that the activists had missed a deadline to submit their own proposal and had not expressed their concerns at previous hearings on the issue. They also said the plan activists advocate would not pass legal muster.
The group was led by Bill McCormick, president of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP chapter, who aimed his anger initially at Commissioner Ben Graber.
"This process was fixed. It was determined before we got here today. Our voices mean nothing," McCormick told Graber.
McCormick pointed out that the commission adjusted its redistricting for Century Village of Pembroke Pines, after condominium residents complained about a plan that would have divided the community among two commissioners.
"We never heard these complaints before," Graber answered McCormick. "Why did you wait until the last minute to complain?"
McCormick blamed the NAACP's delay on faulty county software, which prevented them from completing their plan on time. County Administrator Roger Desjarlais said there was nothing wrong with the county's redistricting software program.
Graber debated the activists alone for 15 minutes. He then was joined by Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, the only black member, and Commission Chair Lori Parrish.
The two other commissioners agreed with Graber that the NAACP waited until the last minute to submit their redistricting plan.
"You never talked to me," Eggelletion said. "I never got your [plan] until the process was nearly at an end."
McCormick said his group would consider going to court, but Eggelletion said there was no legal ground to appeal the plan approved by commissioners.
"This plan is legally defensible, and that is what you've got to look at," Eggelletion told the activists in the hallway. "This plan guarantees not Joe Eggelletion, but a future African-American, can be elected in Broward County."
Commissioners have been considering a redistricting plan for at least six months and have conducted at least four public hearings. The NAACP plan was presented late last week, almost two weeks after the deadline commissioners set.
Eggelletion, the commission's expert on redistricting because of his work as a state legislator, told activists that their idea to create two black districts in Broward was illegal under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. One of the districts stretched from Deerfield Beach to Plantation, a long, narrow district aimed at capturing black voters. The court has held that gerrymandering for racial purposes is illegal.
The new plan creates for the first time a District 4 with more Republicans than Democrats, which makes easier the re-election of Commissioner Jim Scott. Scott, a Republican, was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush a year ago after the incumbent Commissioner Scott Cowan was convicted of election law violations.
It also creates two heavily Hispanic districts in southwest Broward. Districts 5 is 28 percent Hispanic, while District 8 will be 32 percent Hispanic.
Eggelletion's new District 9 is about 60 percent black.
The plan takes effect with the September primary.
Florida politics is about to get very personal.
The once-a-decade task of redrawing state legislative- and congressional-district boundaries is certain to consume Florida lawmakers for much of the 2002 legislative session, which opens Tuesday.
It's a job expected to raise tempers, fuel ambitions and just get plain ugly, since each stab at mapmaking carries enormous political implications.
Redistricting will affect the careers of most of the 160 members of the Legislature, along with Florida's 23 incumbent members of Congress.
Once it's done -- in time for this fall's elections -- Florida will have carved out districts for 120 House members, 40 senators and 25 members of Congress. The state is getting two additional congressional seats because of population growth since 1990.
District boundaries for most state House and Senate seats also are certain to change dramatically. And if history is a guide, some political careers will be launched, while others could be ruined.
"Everything is going to be interlaced with reapportionment," said Senate Reapportionment Chairman Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, a veteran of redistricting battles of the 1980s and 1990s. "The budget, the Senate president's push for tax reform -- it'll all figure into the end game on redistricting."
Another huge factor going into redistricting is the political aspirations of House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, who has raised some $200,000 for his congressional exploratory committee.
Publicly, Feeney is taking a "whatever happens, happens," attitude toward the prospect of a new congressional district being carved that would encompass much of his current political base in Orange and Seminole counties.
But he's the only one, so far, to act so blasÈ. The Senate already is giving hints it's ready to play hardball with Feeney's future.
"Let's just say that the Senate right now feels that a new congressional district ought to be created in west Central Florida, rather than east Central Florida," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, chair of the Senate's congressional redistricting committee.
As expected, the Senate's early attempts at congressional mapmaking do nothing to help Feeney. It's all part of the brinkmanship that senators may use to pressure Feeney into pushing through a reluctant House the ambitious plan by Senate President John McKay to overhaul Florida's tax system.
McKay is looking to eliminate billions of dollars in sales tax exemptions granted to powerful industries and professional services -- a move that would allow Florida's sales tax to drop from 6 percent to 4.5 percent.
McKay needs approval of three-fifths of the Senate and House to get the measure on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment.
Senate approval of McKay's ballot measure should happen, perhaps as early as the opening days of the legislative session.
But getting the conservative House on board is another matter. Feeney, like Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, is cool to the politically volatile idea, which is already drawing hostility from much of the state's business community.
If you're John McKay, how do you get it done? One way may be to hold hostage the congressional district maps -- and perhaps even all legislative boundaries -- until Feeney cries "uncle."
The fact that early Senate maps dampen Feeney's congressional hopes may be an ominous sign for any chance of legislative harmony.
But that's nothing new. In 1992, the Florida Legislature spent much of the year at war with itself before eventually approving new House and Senate boundaries.
Three federal judges drew the congressional lines after lawmakers deadlocked. Even so, legal contests lingered through much of the decade.
Ten years ago, the ambitions of legislators angling for favorable districts or higher office also constantly intruded. Then-Senate President Gwen Margolis, a North Miami Beach Democrat, insisted on getting a winnable congressional district.
Lawmakers drew and redrew maps for months before eventually turning over the tangled process to the federal courts.
Republicans, outnumbered by Democrats in the House and Senate, worked feverishly throughout the 1992 session to have the matter thrown to a federal bench dominated by Republican presidential appointees.
Margolis eventually ran against U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, in a court-drawn district. She lost.
Fast-forward to 2002, and at least four legislators are considering running for Congress, including Feeney and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who chairs the House congressional redistricting panel.
Republicans now control both chambers of the Legislature. And Democrats, this time around, see the courts as their best bet for getting districts drawn to their liking.
"There are several things different today than in 1992," said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist who is co-authoring a book on Florida redistricting. "But it almost always gets mean."
With plenty of wild cards in play, even Republican members of Congress are hiring lobbyists to watch fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
Among them is U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, who has hired Tallahassee door-opener Jon Johnson to work GOP lawmakers.
"Jon will be our eyes and ears in Tallahassee," said Jason Miller, Keller's chief-of-staff. "But Speaker Feeney has made assurances to us that our district will improve in terms of Republican registration. That's one of the benefits of controlling the crayons."
Keller, a freshman lawmaker narrowly elected in 2000, must shed a sizable 143,102 voters from his Orange County-based district, due to rising population in the Orlando area. His new district is certain to look quite different.
Similarly, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, must lose 82,844 residents from his district. Mica shares a political base that corresponds with Feeney's, but the five-term congressman said he is not worried about becoming a rival of the speaker.
Mica also has no plans to hire a lobbyist to track his interests in Tallahassee.
"I've encouraged Tom to run," Mica said. "There is plenty of room for two more Republican congressional districts to be created in Florida, one in the Orlando area and the other in South Florida."
Drawing districts that allow for adequate minority representation in the House, Senate and congressional delegations is again expected to prove challenging, given Florida's complex racial mix and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that said boundaries cannot be drawn solely based on race.
Ten years ago, the newly crafted districts led to the first black lawmakers being elected to Congress from Florida in 116 years, with U.S. Reps. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Alcee Hastings, D-Fort Lauderdale, all winning seats in the 23-member delegation.
U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, also joined U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, becoming the second Cuban-American sent to Washington from Florida. Blacks and Hispanics also made significant gains in the state House and Senate.
The 2000 census shows Florida's population has grown by 3 million -- to 15 million people statewide. Much of that growth has occurred in the Interstate 4 corridor, from Tampa through Orlando to Jacksonville. The Fort Myers area and far western Miami-Dade County also have grown tremendously.
Such growth means some Florida lawmakers and members of Congress are representing many more residents than others. Bringing the state back into balance is why new districts must be drawn.
When completed, new congressional maps will place 639,295 people in each district, compared to 562,519 after the 1990 census. State Senate districts will grow from 322,448 residents to 399,559. House districts will hold 133,186 people, up from 107,816 a decade ago.
Even as Republicans dominate state government, Democrats see redistricting as critical to their hope of someday regaining control of the Florida Legislature, lost to the GOP in 1996 for the first time in 122 years.
Central Florida could prove a battleground in this effort.
Orange County, long a Republican stronghold, turned in 2000 to having for the first time more registered Democratic voters than Republicans, largely on the strength of a large Hispanic influx.
The most recent census shows that about 180,000 Hispanics moved into the region in recent years, changing the demographics of several legislative and congressional districts.
For now, though, Hispanic political muscle is hampered by the decade-old district boundaries that have kept the region's legislative delegation solidly Republican.
Of the 10 state House seats serving Orange, for example, nine are in Republican hands. The exception is Rep. Gary Siplin, a black Democrat from Orlando.
GOP lawmakers are intent on drawing lines that will help elect their partisans to the Legislature and Congress. And Central Florida blacks and Hispanics may be helped most by Republican lawmakers intent on concentrating minority voters in a few districts, leaving neighboring districts with a majority of white Republican voters.
The Florida Democratic Party lost control of the state House and Senate over the past decade, in part, because such district-packing occurred the last time political lines were drawn.
Now, Democratic leaders are quietly urging minority leaders to go along with a new strategy that slightly reduces the percentages of blacks and Hispanics in districts, to bolster party strength in neighboring areas.
Still, that creates some strange political crosswinds -- particularly in Central Florida. There, Hispanic leaders are pushing lawmakers to create at least one Orlando-area seat in the House and Senate with enough Hispanic voters to elect one of their own. A congressional district also could be drawn that is heavily Hispanic, they say.
Similarly, Central Florida black leaders don't want to alter sharply the nine-county congressional district held by Brown, who was one of the pioneer black lawmakers elected from Florida.
"It's a balancing act in how we draw these districts," said Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, a member of the Senate's Reapportionment Committee. "But the Democrats' future may be depending on them."
Their numbers have grown steadily in South Florida throughout the years, but now the challenge for Hispanics is to get election districts that will put more of them in office.
New Census figures show that though 16.7 percent of Broward County's population is Hispanic, none of its 18 state senators and representatives is Hispanic.
In Palm Beach County, which has one Hispanic legislator out of 16, 12.4 percent of the population is Hispanic.
"I see African-American legislators before me, but I see no Hispanics," Georgette Sosa Douglass, of Fort Lauderdale's Hispanic Republican Alliance, told legislators at a redistricting forum earlier this year.
That may be difficult to change. With the exception of Cubans in Miami-Dade County, many South Florida Hispanics say they have a long way to go to become a formidable political force.
Every 10 years, with the new census figures, lines for elective office at all levels are redrawn to make the districts as equal in population as possible. It's also an opportunity to create districts that could boost minorities into office.
Yet Hispanics are guarded about their chances for drastic change as legislators redraw state legislative and congressional districts in 2002, admitting they lack the unity and the organization to bring about immediate change. Rather, they see it as evolution.
The strongest force is in Miami-Dade. It has the largest Hispanic population -- 57.3 percent, or 1.29 million people. Thirteen of its 27 state legislators are Hispanic, all Cuban-Americans.
Statewide, Hispanics are 16.8 percent of the population.
"You have to admire the way Cubans got to where they are," said Rhadames Peguero, president of the League of Latin American Voters in Miami. "They worked hard for this. They understand the system."
Hispanics have won seats elsewhere. Palm Beach County has a Hispanic state legislator, Democratic Rep. Susan Bucher. Broward County has had several Cuban-Americans in local elective office, including former sheriff Nick Navarro, Weston City Commissioner Barbara Herrera-Hill, and Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin.
But local Hispanics want more than an occasional win. They want high voter registration, high voter turnout. They want to strike fear in candidates, forcing them to cater to Hispanic issues lest they lose the Hispanic vote.
Broward Hispanic groups only recently resolved to work together, forming the Broward Hispanic Leadership Roundtable.
"It's no secret we've had our problems coming together," said Alex Arreaza, president of the Broward Hispanic Bar. "We're tired of everyone saying we're not united, that we can't get it together. We can."
For now, local leaders in Palm Beach County acknowledge that, like in Broward, a Hispanic-dominated statehouse or Congressional district is unlikely -- by political calculus, if not raw numbers.
Palm Beach County's Hispanic population totals about 141,000. A state House district totals about 133,000, and a state Senate district about 400,000. But also similar to Broward, the Hispanic community is fairly dispersed throughout the county -- and, leaders say, somewhat disconnected from politics.
Legally, map-drawers cannot pack districts with people of a particular race or ethnicity. The maps must be approved by the state Legislature, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Justice Department.
The fact remains that while Hispanics are from many backgrounds and many have a tradition of voting Democrat, Republicans are in charge of redistricting.
To avoid the chances of creating a district with a strong Democratic registration for instance, legislative Republicans could take southwest Broward County -- the area most rich with Hispanics -- and add a wedge of northern Miami-Dade County, where Republican-voting Cuban-Americans are plentiful.
"That's what they want," said Linda Albert, president of the Latin American Democratic Club. "We don't have very many Republicans in Broward County. The only way for them to get elected is to unite us with Hialeah."
Henry SaldaÒa, president of Palm Beach County's year-and-one-half old Latino Leadership Institute, is pressing state legislators to protect the seat of Bucher, a Lantana Democrat of Mexican descent.
She is the only Palm Beach County Hispanic in state office and represents the county's most heavily Hispanic statehouse or congressional district.
"Right now, it's pretty much a coincidence" that her ethnicity reflects that of more than a quarter of her constituents, Bucher said. "But we'd like to make sure that 10 years from now, it's on purpose."
The Institute, together with local Haitian and Jewish leaders, mapped its own proposed districts for school board and West Palm Beach City Commission districts. Although the city commission did not adopt the group's exact suggestion exactly, it did end up with a Hispanic-majority district on the city's south end.
Another group of Hispanics has formed a political action committee, HISPAC, to work on voter registration and, potentially, recruit and back Hispanic candidates.
"Silence is not golden in politics," explains HISPAC Chairman Manuel Farach. "If you're not standing up and being counted, then people are going to think that you don't care, or your issues are not important."
Broward's largest Hispanic groups are Puerto Ricans, who are 20.2 percent of the Hispanic population, and Cubans, with 18.7 percent. Other large Hispanic immigrant groups include Argentinians, Colombians and Peruvians, particularly in south Broward.
Their greatest concentrations are in Weston, which is 30.2 percent Hispanic, according to the Census; Pembroke Pines, at 28.2 percent; and Miramar, at 29.4 percent. The Census also found strong concentrations of Hispanics in Hollywood and Hallandale.
Alvaro F. Fernandez, Florida director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said all Hispanics are lumped together, even though they have unique cultures and concerns.
Fernandez said the reason Hispanics have gained congressional representation in Miami-Dade County and not other counties is because the Hispanic community had the population necessary in Miami-Dade. That could change with the latest redistricting effort. Miami-Dade looks like it will gain another Hispanic-majority congressional district, one that could include parts of Broward.
"There has been tremendous growth in Southwest Broward County," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out."
Yet with redistricting looming, concerned Hispanics say they are not doing much more than talking about it. Many showed up at redistricting hearings in the fall. The idea is new to many Hispanic groups, who haven't been heavily involved in elections and politics -- much less redistricting -- in the past.
"Is it an organized, overarching effort? I don't believe we're pursuing it in that fashion," said Carlos Reyes, a Republican activist and chairman of the South Broward Hospital District. "But it's still evolving. As you start seeing some of [the Legislature's] preliminary maps, I think we'll see some leadership from the Hispanic organizations."
Jose "Pepe" Lopez, a Cuban active for many years in Broward, said Hispanics don't want to file lawsuits or be too aggressive about redistricting. In the end, he said, a good candidate can win in the existing system.
"Do your work, you'll get elected," said Lopez. "Trying to create a Hispanic district that cannot be created will probably create more bad blood than anything else."
And there is other work to do in all three counties: As important as the percentage of Hispanics in a district, said Lopez and others, is the percentage of those who vote. Among Hispanics, that can be low.
"Hispanics have not shown a tradition of voting yet in Broward County. If they will, certainly those who wish to get elected would have to pay attention," said Dan Lewis, a Fort Lauderdale political consultant. "If I were counseling a person and they wanted to get the Hispanic vote, I'd say, `That's good, can you turn them out?' And that's going to be the issue."
The author of the leading proposal to redraw state Senate political boundaries said Friday that he was ``obeying the wishes of people all across Florida'' when he crafted a redistricting map that places only one seat wholly in Palm Beach County.
But several Palm Beach County business and political leaders who attended a redistricting hearing in Tallahassee to voice concerns over how the state's third-largest county is being subdivided said they aren't so sure that Sen. John Laurent, R-Bartow, got their message.
"We believe that, based on our population, that we should have at least three Senate seats, not any fewer, with at least a majority of their population based in our county," said Todd Bonlarron, director of legislative affairs for Palm Beach County government.
"I'm not sure if that's what we're going to get by the look of things now."
Local Democrats and Republicans have struck a rare partisan accord over the politically contentious issue of redrawing legislative boundaries. Their message is that Laurent's proposal isn't acceptable or fair.
With more than 250 Treasure Coast residents having sent protest letters this week to the Capitol over the early proposal, Laurent announced Friday that he has penned a revised redistricting map aimed, in part, at alleviating concerns that Palm Beach's political stature was being diminished.
Laurent's revised redistricting map puts six Senate districts in the County, the same number as there are presently, instead of his originally proposed seven Palm Beach seats.
But only one of those districts, which is currently held by Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, has all of its population in the county, and only one other district has more than half of its population in Palm Beach. The four other districts have roughly one third or less of their population in the county, with some sprawling from the east coast to gulf coast of Florida across rural Hendry County.
"I really attempted not to have any coast-to-coast districts," Laurent said. "I just haven't been able to create a plan without at least one."
Alfred Zucaro Jr., a West Palm Beach city commissioner and potential candidate for a state legislative seat this fall, said Laurent's revamped plan is "less offensive" than the first, "but it is still difficult for us to accept."
The biggest change between the two versions, Laurent acknowledged, is that the new one takes out what was seen as one of the most egregious aspects of his original idea. That was the creation of a seat that would stretch from Polk County in the center of the state, and would be designed with the intent of helping elect Rep. Paula Dockery, an influential House Republican, to the Senate.
With 1.1 million residents already, and predictions of vast growth ahead, Klein said he thinks legislators need to aim for giving Palm Beach County four resident senators. That's only fair, he said, considering that currently Miami-Dade has six, Broward has five and Hillsborough County has three.
"We need more resident senators who know the issues and who can represent the unique interests of the county," Klein said.
Laurent said that avoiding coast-to-coast districts, or giving Palm Beach more resident senators, is "nearly impossible" if senators intend to keep a minority-access Senate seat and another coastal, and heavily Republican, district. The minority access seat is now held by Sen. Mandy Dawson, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, while the coastal seat is representated by Sen. Debby Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale.
"Unfortunately, there are going to be counties that have to be split like this if you are going to come anywhere near meeting the legal requirement of one person, one vote," Laurent said.
Laurent and other GOP Senate leaders noted that currently Marion County, in north-central Florida, is divided into at least eight state House districts and four Senate seats despite a modest, and mostly rural, population.
"This is like a balloon," Laurent said, "when you push in one place, it pulls folks in other places."
All the worst elements of politics are surfacing in Tallahassee as the Legislature prepares for its dual tasks of redrawing congressional and legislative districts and holding the regular legislative session to craft next year's budget in the face of a recession.
Alas, every 10 years the task of redistricting brings out the ugly side of partisanship to protect the political parties. It also stirs the ambitions of self-serving lawmakers intent on ensuring their own re-elections or creating a sure-win run for Congress. To make matters more complicated, it's an election year for the governor and other state offices, and -- for the first time -- many veteran lawmakers must yield to term limits. Given all this potential for mischief, it's no surprise that the Senate's first version of the proposed redistricting map stirred up plenty of controversy among House and Senate members.
The Senate map even managed to add fuel to the continuing dispute between House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay. It neglected to create a congressional district in which Mr. Feeney hopes to run.
If the House and Senate leaderships are no longer bothering to hide their feud, and every lawmaker will be busy protecting his or her chances of getting either re-elected or winning another office through the redistricting process, what chance do Floridians have of getting their concerns taken care of during the session?
Very little, if the mood in Tallahassee doesn't change soon. What should come first, of course, are the interests of Floridians: the quality of education, availability of affordable health care, and controlling the growth that is robbing the state of its resources and livability. It's a good time to remind your state representatives exactly of whom they are supposed to be serving in Tallahassee.
The political future of House Speaker Tom Feeney came into sharper focus Friday as the centerpiece of Florida's once-a-decade struggle to redraw congressional district lines.
Feeney, R-Oviedo, hopes to run for Congress this year in what is expected to be a new seat in Central Florida. Feeney, whose post as speaker makes him one of the state's most powerful elected officials, already has raised some $200,000 for an exploratory campaign.
But Feeney's path to Washington must first go through the Florida Senate. And, as expected, the Senate's first attempt at congressional mapmaking does nothing to help the speaker.
For any doubters, the move also makes it crystal clear that Feeney's future will be enmeshed in bargaining between the House and Senate on a host of issues, including key budget decisions and tax reform -- the latter a topic pushed by Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, but so far received coolly by Feeney and the House.
"Well, let's just say that the Senate right now feels that a new congressional district ought to be created in west Central Florida rather than east Central Florida," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, chairman of the Senate's congressional redistricting subcommittee.
Latvala this week unveiled two congressional plans, the first done by the Senate. They create two new Republicans seats, one in South Florida and the other northeast of Tampa.
The South Florida seat is widely seen as created for Latvala's House counterpart, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who is looking to join his brother, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in Congress.
The Central Florida seat carved by the Senate is envisioned for Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, who, like Latvala, is a close ally of McKay.
Not a big surprise
The snub of Feeney was no surprise to Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, chairman of the Senate's Reapportionment Committee and a veteran of earlier redistricting fights in the 1980s and 1990s.
"That's kind of a given, isn't it," Webster said. "Given the political landscape, you don't give the other guy what he wants right away."
No surprise, either, is that the first pair of House congressional plans prepared last month both create that Orlando-area district most observers think could be a launching pad for Feeney's congressional career.
Feeney shrugged off the early volleying between the House and Senate, which will begin in earnest once the Legislature convenes Jan. 22. Legislative committees will begin examining the maps Monday.
"I've been saying for some time that you shouldn't pay much attention to the first two maps filed, but you might want to pay attention to the last two maps filed," Feeney said.
States must re-draw boundaries for state House, Senate and congressional districts every 10 years to reflect the population shifts revealed by the most recent census.
Because of Florida's rising population, it has gained two new seats in the U.S. House, expanding the state's delegation to 25 members.
For now, it's up to state lawmakers to decide where these seats go. But a decade ago, a sharply divided Florida Legislature was unable to agree on new congressional lines, which were ultimately drawn by a federal court.
Feeney and other legislative leaders say they want to avoid that prospect this time. But Feeney's future is certain to trigger firefights.
A House congressional plan crafted by Rep. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, gives Feeney a favorable new district that includes parts of Orange, Seminole and Brevard counties. But in so doing, boundaries for seats now held by incumbent U.S. Reps. John Mica, R-Winter Park, Dave Weldon, R-Melbourne, and Ric Keller, R-Orlando, would be altered significantly.
Democrats stand to lose
Democrats, too, are angry about the early boundaries for Central Florida drawn by Republicans, who control both the House and Senate.
Doug Head, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, said Republicans failed to take into consideration the dramatic population gains made by Hispanics in Central Florida, who are gaining little political clout because most vote Democratic.
Hispanic neighborhoods in Orange and Osceola counties have been scattered among several congressional districts, diluting the community's strength, he said. Head said it is possible to create an Orlando-area congressional district that would have a 30 percent Hispanic population.
A congressional redistricting plan that protects incumbents and squeezes new GOP-dominated districts into South Florida and Tampa Bay was made public this week and immediately drew criticism as a missed opportunity for minorities.
While the plan is only a first step in a lengthy process of redrawing congressional and legislative districts, the early flak it has encountered shows the contentious nature of redistricting, which often pits members of the same party against one another.
The author of the map defended it as fair and said it is probably immune to court challenge -- a historic byproduct of redistricting. But sharp criticism emerged over how it would affect South Florida politics and political opportunities for racial minorities.
It also raised eyebrows because it doesn't include a seat drawn for House Speaker Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican who hopes to run for Congress without facing an incumbent.
The plan is to be discussed in legislative committees next week.
On Friday, several Democratic officials and activists in South Florida's black community charged that the plan shortchanges fast-growing Hispanic and black neighborhoods. They said it would splinter Broward County districts and weaken minority representation, apparently to improve re-election chances for U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, a Fort Lauderdale Republican whose district includes some Democratic strongholds in Miami-Dade.
The proposal would put Republican-heavy, coastal stretches of Palm Beach County into Shaw's district while lopping off the Miami-Dade portion.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor and chairman of the Senate's congressional redistricting subcommittee, proposed two maps, each with a new Republican-leaning South Florida seat that would spread across the Everglades toward the Gulf Coast.
Both versions include much of western Broward and western Miami-Dade counties and all of Monroe.
One version would include much of conservative Collier, Lee and Hendry counties, and is viewed as benefiting Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples. The other includes more Hispanic voters and only a part of Collier. It is widely seen as created for Latvala's House counterpart, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican and chairman of the House congressional redistricting subcommittee, who is looking to join his brother, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, in Congress.
The new Tampa Bay district would benefit another Republican, state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite.
U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, attacked the plan as "clearly weird and illegal."
Deutsch said the plan "splits west Broward by sending me east and Clay Shaw west. That's weird. There is no policy justification nor populations of common interest that would require this. It is clearly a crass attempt to protect and preserve Clay Shaw."
Frankie Thomas, a longtime black Democratic leader from Fort Lauderdale, predicted the plan would face enormous opposition in Broward's minority community.
"They are going to have a fight on their hands," he said.
Broward Democratic Party Chairman Mitch Ceasar said, "Democrats, minorities and the middle class" will be disenfranchised if the plan becomes law.
But Shaw and Republican supporters were enthusiastic. Shaw acknowledged that it is an "incumbent protection" plan that would benefit him, along with Deutsch, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, and other incumbents.
GOP officials said protecting incumbents is a legitimate goal as legislators redraw political maps because Congressional power often goes to those with seniority. But Ben Wilcox, of Common Cause of Florida, a government watchdog group, said incumbent protection "is precisely what's wrong with the redistricting process."
The fight over redrawing congressional districts in Florida has barely begun, and it's already personal.
The first major plan released Thursday by the Florida Senate conspicuously fails to include a U.S. congressional seat for House Speaker Tom Feeney, the surest sign yet that the rivalry between Feeney and Senate President John McKay will play out in the emotional debate over district lines.
ìOh, really?î chuckled state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, who drafted the plan as chairman of the Senate committee redrawing U.S. congressional boundaries, when asked about the lack of a Feeney seat. Feeney has already begun raising money to run for Congress.
Thanks to a population boom measured in the 2000 Census, Florida was granted two additional congressional seats, expanding the state's U.S. House delegation from 23 to 25.
The Senate plan is the first major step in a months-long process of redrawing boundaries for both U.S. congressional and state legislative districts, a practice conducted every 10 years in legislatures across the country. It is traditionally the most politically volatile and emotional activity lawmakers face, balancing their own careers with pressures from party leaders, members of Congress and lobbyists.
Senators will discuss the maps in committee meetings next week. Once the regular session convenes Jan. 22, the House and Senate will negotiate compromises by no later than July. Legal disputes could wind up giving the final say over districts to the courts.
Published Thursday on the Legislature's website, www.leg.state.fl.us, the congressional plan would draw new Republican seats in South Florida and north of Tampa Bay. It does not include a new GOP district in the northeast Orlando suburbs, where Feeney has been raising money for a congressional campaign.
ìThere's no two ways around putting a new seat in South Florida, when you look at where the population growth is,î Latvalla said.
The Senate offered two proposals on the new South Florida district, which would spread across the Everglades toward the Gulf Coast. Both include much of western Miami-Dade and Broward counties and all of Monroe. One version, more GOP-dominant, would include much of more-conservative Collier, Lee and Hendry counties, while the other version, heavier with Hispanic voters, would include only a part of Collier.
The seat would be drawn to favor either state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the Miami Republican who heads the congressional redistricting committee in the House, or state Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples.
Meanwhile, the new district near Tampa Bay would be drawn for another Republican, state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville.
Feeney has said he believes the rate of growth in Central Florida justifies a seat hand-crafted for himself. On Thursday, his spokeswoman, Kim Stone, said the speaker was not daunted by the Senate salvo.
ìIt's early in the process,î she said. ìThe speaker has said all along that if there is a seat in the Orlando area and there is support for him, he would certainly be interested in a run. But for now, being the speaker is his top priority.î
Feeney and McKay, both Republicans, have been at odds since they took over their chambers in late 2000, when the speaker wanted to dive into Florida's disputed presidential election by naming electors for George W. Bush, while McKay preached patience.
Most recently, a standoff between the two leaders over how to fix a state budget shortfall put Gov. Jeb Bush in the position of calling two special legislative sessions to find consensus within his own party. At the time, McKay called Feeney immature and Feeney described himself as a fire hydrant and the Senate as a dog. The Senate's decision to exclude a Feeney seat is a renewed signal that tensions remain.
In a process in which every issue is connected as a series of bargaining ploys and exchanges of favors, Feeney's congressional seat is in the mix. Most participants agree that McKay might hold out on Feeney's seat as an exchange for the Senate president's top priority: his proposal to eliminate billions of dollars in sales tax breaks enjoyed by businesses and to cut the overall tax from six cents to four.
Feeney has been one of the McKay plan's critics, along with the business community and some of Gov. Bush's top political advisors.
Latvala said there was ìsome degree of subjectivityî about whether a new Central Florida district would be drawn on the west coast near Tampa or in Feeney's region, and that ìthe Senate chooses to do it on the west side.î
Overall, Senate drafters said their congressional plan protects Florida's 15 Republican and eight Democratic incumbents. It would not weaken South Florida Democrats, as some have feared, or shift constituents from districts in which minorities make up the majority of voters.
Nevertheless, the plan drew some criticism Thursday from a key Democrat, who suggested that Florida's near-even party registration statewide should prompt legislators to balance the congressional delegation.
ìThat just tells me that the representation in the state is not equitable,î said state Sen. Ron Klein, D-West Palm Beach. ìAt a minimum, there should be a new Democratic seat in South Florida.î
The Senate committee's proposal for new districts for state senators would make a few key changes. The district currently represented by Sen. Tom Rossin of Royal Palm Beach, the Senate Democratic leader, would be spread across the state toward the Gulf Coast, and turned into a potential Republican seat. Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale, would enjoy a more compact district.
In Orlando, a new seat would contain substantial numbers of Democratic-leaning Hispanics and blacks, meaning it could elect a minority to the Senate.
Klein, though, would be the only senator left living in Palm Beach County. Though six other senators would represent at least portions of the county -- possibly four Republicans and three Democrats -- none of them would live in Palm Beach. Klein is upset because Palm Beach is the third most populous county in Florida and deserves better representation. ìIt's just outrageous,î Klein said.
If Florida legislators don't already have enough to do in 2002, they're faced with redrawing the state's new political map for the next 10 years.
Buffeted by an uncertain economy and falling tax collections, lawmakers will have to deal with the laborious, highly politicized process of setting district boundaries for next fall's elections.
ìIt's high stakes political gamesmanship,î said George Meier, House staff director on reapportionment in 1992. ìIt's very emotional, very personal for individual members.î
The Legislature is required to redraw its own House and Senate districts and Florida's congressional districts every 10 years after the census to make up for shifts in population and give every person equal representation. Ideally, each district should have the same number of people.
ìWe've had such distinct population shifts that nobody's district is going to be identical,î said George Waas, who monitors reapportionment on behalf of Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
The state's population grew 23.5 percent during the 1990s, with several counties doubling in size, giving Florida two more congressional seats for the next decade. The state had 15.9 million residents in the 2000 census.
As Florida's influence in Washington grows along with its population, the money flowing into the state from national political parties also increases - especially with control of the U.S. House at stake.
ìAll we can hope for is fairness,î said state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe. ìRepublicans already have it about as good as they can, especially in a state that has 300,000 to 500,000 more Democrats registered.î
The GOP enjoys a 77-43 majority in the House, 25-15 in the Senate and a 15-8 advantage in the Florida delegation to the U.S. House.
Reapportionment is disruptive at best and likely to be more confusing than ever this time with more than half of the state House made up of first-term lawmakers.
The Legislature is starting six weeks earlier than usual to give lawmakers enough time to reach agreement. Several members of Congress have hired lobbyists to watch over any political shenanigans as they come up with the new districts.
Tallahassee lobbyist Pete Dunbar, a former state legislator and general counsel to former Gov. Bob Martinez, thinks Republicans could pick up as many as four congressional seats next November.
ìThe fast-growing areas of Florida are Republican areas,î said Dunbar, adding that term limits and the alliance of black Democrats with Republican leaders in the remapping process will make it easier for the GOP to have its way.
Two Republican lawmakers looking to carve out a congressional district are House Speaker Tom Feeney of Oviedo and state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who wants to join his brother, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, in Congress.
Republicans are trying design a district they can use to persuade popular Comptroller Bob Milligan to run. However, the former three-star Marine lieutenant general could also get into a GOP primary for the state's new chief financial officer's job.
Ten years ago, the courts settled the congressional redistricting fight after Senate President Gwen Margolis' attempt to carve herself a South Florida seat paralyzed the Legislature.
On the state level, term limits will intensify the process since that law restricts lawmakers to eight years in the same office.
îNow you've got a lot of House members who are not concerned about their House district, but a Senate seat they might want to run for,î said Meier said, now a consultant on reapportionment.
Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, and Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, are responsible for monitoring the Legislature's efforts, which could well be driven by the leadership with many new lawmakers distracted by the state's budget problems. The process is bound to be unfriendly, unwieldy and possibly unworkable.
ìI'm into that old pork-chop bill where
one or two people at the top pull out a map at the last minute,î Byrd
said. ìThere are three kinds of players: The kind that make things happen,
the kind that watch things happen and the kind of wonder what happened.
The members that want to participate can.î