House redistricting panel makes first moves, fights to follow laterby John Kennedy | April 20th, 2011
The House Redistricting Committee took its first tenuous steps Wednesday in what will certainly turn into a combative, partisan fight over redrawing House, Senate and congressional district boundaries — a battle that will likely consume much of next year.
Committee chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, began Wednesday’s first hearing saying he wanted to “set the tone,” for the lengthy rewrite, which will eventually include court reviews and an army of lawyers on both the Republican and Democratic sides.
“Once we get started its going to be fast and furious and there’s going to be a lot of work involved,” Weatherford said, also adding some cautions taken from an earlier letter to lawmakers from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
“Members should refrain from discussing their personal political ambitions, their personal district preferences or the ambitions or preferences of other candidates or office-holders with the chairman, the members or the staff of the redistricting committee…I think that’s pretty clear. But I’d read it three or four times,” Weatherford added.
But already there’s been a dust-up.
When Cannon unveiled his list of Democratic appointees to the redistricting panel Tuesday, absent was incoming Democratic leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation.
Thurston and other Democrats complained, suggesting that ruling Republicans seemed intent on naming a less influential lineup for the rival party, outnumbered by two-to-one in the House.
“Their leadership is represented on the committee and we feel that our leadership should be represented, too,” Thurston said Wednesday, acknowledging that talks are underway with Cannon — through Weatherford.
Weatherford said, “I think that’s a conversation that has to take place. It’s early.”
Meanwhile, the committee heard presentations from legal and demographic advisors about the time-frame facing lawmakers and the changes that have taken place in Florida since district lines were last drawn in 2002.
Some highlights: Florida will gain two congressional seats, bringing the state’s delegation to 27 members, same as New York, which is losing two seats because of a population decline reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census.
Florida’s minority population has grown sharply in the past 10 years, the Census showed. Sixteen percent of Floridians are black, compared with 14.6 percent a decade ago, while the state’s population is 22.5 percent Hispanic compared to 16.8 percent when lawmakers last conducted redistricting.
The whitest county, then and now — Citrus, where 93 percent of residents are white, compared with 95 percent in 2000. The county with the fewest white residents, Gadsden, with 35.9 percent now compared with 38.7 percent a decade ago.
The economic health of Florida may also be reflected in the demographic findings presented Wednesday to the panel by Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
Miami-Dade has the largest percentage of residential loans in foreclosure: 18.7 percent, while counties where home loans are troubled span most of South and Central Florida.
North Florida? Not so bad, Baker reported.
“The state is essentially split in half,” Baker said.