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Florida gains a seat in Congress, as House lawmakers release their version of new political boundaries

The Republican-controlled Florida House rolled out its first efforts for the once-a-decade redistricting process to redraw political boundaries this week.

The head of the Florida Democratic party called the proposed map part of the "Florida GOP’s clear and deliberate plan to cripple democracy in the Sunshine State."

The map has to create a new congressional district because Florida’s population has grown.

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The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the House-generated map an "F" grade, saying it gives Republicans a "significant" advantage.

"It's too soon to have criticism," said state Rep. Tom Leek, R-Daytona Beach, the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. "It almost seems to me as if those criticisms were written before the maps were released."

The Democratic leader of the same committee, not surprisingly, has a very different view.

"I have to say that it does not appear to me that these maps are fair," said state Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Dania Beach. "They're very difficult to even analyze. We just don't know what was done. It's too much of a black box."

Despite his criticism of the process thus far, Geller did not blame the group's chairman, Leek. Still, Geller questioned the validity of the product of the process — the maps.

"We can insist that these maps be drawn in a constitutional fashion. And, at least at first blush, these House maps do not appear, to me, to be constitutional," he said.

The Florida constitution sets certain criteria for how politicians redraw political boundaries. The rules are the result of a 2010 amendment approved by voters called the "Fair Districts" amendment.

One of those rules bans lawmakers from drawing districts "with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent." Leek said they rejected suggestions he thought would violate that criteria.

"We had a member of the committee suggest that we before we vote on any maps, we should perform an analysis to determine the partisan breakdown of each district," Leek said.

Geller contends the new maps "should not be drastically at odds with the sentiment of the people of this state with their political will as they've expressed it through voting."

He points to the close gubernatorial elections and U.S. Senate races in recent years.

"To say 'this should be a more nonpartisan [process],' is that seeking a partisan advantage over maps that were drawn in a way that leads to a partisan outcome?" Geller said.

Among the changes in the House drafted map:

  • Three districts in central Florida, currently held by Democrats, become two districts
  • Three districts in Tampa, that lean Democratic, become two districts
  • Two seats in South Florida, which have flipped between Democrats and Republicans in recent elections, are redrawn without more Democratic neighborhoods.

"We wouldn't have that information," said Leek. "So we wouldn't have the information of whether there are more Democratic neighborhoods or not."
The state’s current congressional lines were drawn after the Florida Supreme Court threw out the Legislature’s first attempt in 2012.
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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.