Florida (+2 Seats)
Redistricting Authority: Republicans
Ideal New District Population: 696,345
Current Partisan Breakdown: 19 R, 6 D
2012 Cook Redistricting Forecast: 20 R, 7 D
Call 2012 the “snowbird election.” Next year, for the first time in history, Florida will elect just as many members of Congress as New York.
In 2002, when Florida also gained two House seats, Republican legislators were able to draw two new districts that favored their party: the 24th CD in the Orlando area — briefly held by Democrats between from 2008 to 2010, but now home to Republican freshman Rep. Sandy Adams — and the predominantly Cuban-American 25th CD in the Miami area, currently home to embattled new GOP Rep. David Rivera.
After defeating four Democratic incumbents in 2010, Republicans now have a monstrous 19-to-6 edge in the state’s congressional delegation, and they will no doubt try to add two more seats to their column in 2012. However, there’s a major new wrinkle: The “Fair Districts Florida” amendments to the state Constitution that passed last fall (the one bright spot for Florida Democrats in an otherwise dismal election) could tie Republicans’ hands. Law forbids state legislators from drawing districts that “favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party” and requires them to draw districts that are “compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”
Outside of California, Florida has become the largest laboratory to test a major “good government” redistricting reform this cycle.
Of course, even before detailed Census data has found its way to Tallahassee, the battle over implementation of the “Fair Districts” measures has devolved into a bitter legal food fight. In late December, outgoing GOP Gov. Charlie Crist sent an official request for Voting Rights Act “preclearance” of the reforms to the Department of Justice to pave the way for enactment. When Gov. Rick Scott took over in January, the Republican quietly withdrew the state’s request for preclearance without explanation — a not-so-subtle obstruction tactic that has earned heaps of editorial-board scorn.
What’s more, Democratic 3rd CD Rep. Corrine Brown and Republican 25th CD Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have jointly filed suit in federal court to block the amendments. The strange bedfellows argue that the compactness requirements would adversely affect their minority-majority districts. In Brown’s case, it is impossible to draw an African-American majority 3rd CD without splitting numerous counties to link black neighborhoods in Jacksonville and Orlando as the current plan does. Diaz-Balart could theoretically thrive in a compact, predominantly Cuban-American 25th CD, but he knows other Republicans benefit from the packing of Democrats into minority-majority districts.
Even if enacted, the “Fair Districts” measures are almost guaranteed to generate a quandary over just what exactly constitutes “compact” and “making use” of existing boundaries. But any “neutral” redrawing of districts would almost certainly guarantee Democrats more opportunities in the state. The question is whether Republicans can find a clever way to draw districts that abides by these new standards and conforms to their own political interests.
One way Republicans might be able to skirt the rules is by citing the requirement to preserve minority-majority voting districts. The “Fair Districts” standards state that “districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.” As such, courts will probably not mandate the “unpacking” of the grotesquely shaped black majority 3rd and 23rd CDs. Republicans are all too happy to preserve oddly shaped districts for African-American Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings (FL-23) and Brown (FL-03), and thereby keep Democratic voters away from the GOP-represented districts of Jacksonville-area Rep. Ander Crenshaw, Orlando-area Reps. Dan Webster (FL-08) and Sandy Adams (FL-24), and Palm Beach-area Rep. Allen West (FL-22).
Republicans hold all five of the districts that have grown the fastest in the past decade: Rep. Rich Nugent‘s 5th CD in north central Florida (where the population jumped 45 percent); Rep. Connie Mack‘s 14th CD along the southwest coast (30 percent); Rivera’s 25th CD stretching from the Miami area to the Gulf Coast (29 percent); Rep. Cliff Stearns‘ 6th CD in northern Florida (27 percent); and Rep. John Mica‘s 7th CD along the northern Atlantic coast (26 percent).
Look for Republicans to add a new GOP-friendly seat in north central Florida, taking in huge inland retirement communities (think The Villages) between Ocala and Orlando that help explain the area’s skyrocketing population. Such a district might leave Nugent (the former Hernando County sheriff) with a district along the Gulf Coast north of Tampa Bay, and move Stearns north into solidly Republican rural counties. It would also be easy for Republicans to create a new seat in the fast-growing Naples-Ft. Myers-Sarasota corridor along the southwest Gulf Coast. This new seat could incorporate Gulf Coast voters currently (and somewhat awkwardly) represented by Gold Coast GOP Reps. Tom Rooney (16th CD) and Rivera (25th CD), along with voters from the overpopulated Gulf Coast districts of GOP Reps. Vern Buchanan and Connie Mack.
Elsewhere in the state, it wouldn’t be very difficult for Republicans to draw compact, reasonably safe districts for all other incumbents. For example, growth in the Pensacola-based 1st CD will almost certainly cause new 2nd CD GOP Rep. Steve Southerland to take on the rest of Panama City (Bay County), his hometown. And no matter the ethical troubles of Rivera, Republicans will certainly draw three predominantly Cuban-American districts in south Florida. Some Democrats say growth in the state’s non-Cuban Hispanic population will necessitate the creation of a new Hispanic-majority district including parts of Orlando, but Census estimates suggest this is unlikely.
But there are places where Democrats could gain opportunities if districts are made more compact.
- In the last redistricting, Republicans drew the 22nd CD to be a crazy quilt of the most Republican precincts they could find between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, with the intention of protecting longtime GOP Rep. Clay Shaw. Shaw lost in 2006 anyway, but Republicans regained this senior-heavy seat in 2010 when West defeated Democrat Ron Klein in a nasty, multimillion-dollar contest. So while it is a marginal seat by national standards, any regularization of the 22nd CD’s boundaries would result in a much friendlier seat for Democrats if only because the current district is “maxed out” on Republican voters. Democratic operatives say West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel is angling for a ticket to Washington and would cream West in a compact Palm Beach County district.
- Also in 2002, Republicans shored up 21-term GOP Rep. Bill Young (10th CD) by splitting the city of St. Petersburg, forcing the Tampa-based 11th CD (now represented by Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor) across Tampa Bay to take in most of St. Petersburg’s black neighborhoods. If court-ordered enforcement of “Fair Districts” forces Republicans to reunite the city of St. Petersburg, the 10th CD would become much more Democratic than it is now. And although Young could probably still win it easily, it would be very difficult for another Republican to hold it when Young (who is 80) decides to retire.
No matter what Republicans decide to do, Democrats will likely challenge their map in court for failing to reflect the close partisan balance of the state. The problem for both parties is that the criteria spelled out in Florida’s ballot amendments is highly subjective and open to interpretation. One factor working in Democrats’ favor is that Florida has taken steps to open the process to public input. The Florida House is in the process of rolling out a web-based redistricting application that the public can use to draw maps for the consideration of the Legislature.
Of course, Florida Republicans are likely to enact their own submission, but if a voter-submitted plan does a better job of meeting the criteria spelled out in “Fair Districts,” it’s possible the Florida Supreme Court could overturn the legislature’s redistricting plan as the result of a lawsuit. And, Democrats who remember the 2000 Bush v. Gore saga know they are likelier to get a much fairer shake from the state’s judges than the state’s legislators.
While Republicans may be able to draw themselves two new districts, Democrats should end up with at least one good opportunity to make a play for a Republican seat. A map that creates 21 GOP districts to six Democratic ones would be the GOP’s best case scenario, but a 20-7 breakdown may be more likely. Democratic strategists claim any fair court-imposed map that completely unravels the GOP’s current gerrymandering would give them 10 to 15 seats in which they could compete, but that’s far from assured. Below is our imagination of how Republicans might redraw the state to “conform” to Amendments 5 and 6:
(Credit: Dave Bradlee’s Redistricting App)
(Credit: Dave Bradlee’s Redistricting App)