House panels Monday narrowed the roster of proposed redistricting plans for Congress and the state House, – settling on new maps that proponents say help keep more cities and counties together within individual district boundaries.
In the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, three proposed maps were approved on 10-4 votes, with Democrats locked in opposition. The House earlier unveiled seven proposed congressional plans and five ways to redraw state House districts.
A separate panel Monday also reduced to three the number of House plans slated for later review by the full House Redistricting Committee.
Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, who led opponents to the congressional proposals, said lawmakers should take the proposed plans on the road for another round of public hearings — similar to those conducted through the summer when no maps were available for review.
Another critic of the plans, Jim Roach, a Cape Coral businessman and Democratic candidate for Congress, also argued that the plans should be rejected because they tend to pack Democratic registered voters into districts.
Roach’s analysis of the proposals for 27 congressional districts — up from the state’s current 25 districts, because of population gains in the 2010 Census — showed that as many as 14 proposed districts are Republican leaning, in terms of registered voters. The plans create a maximum of 11 districts that are Democratic leaning, Roach said.
Democrats currently command a more than 500,000-voter advantage over Republicans in Florida.
But 19 of the state’s 25 members of Congress are Republicans — a disparity Democrats attribute to gerrymandering in the last redistricting go-around in 2002.
Roach said that in the proposed 11 districts where Democratic voters dominate, they outnumber Republicans by more than 20 percent — an overwhelming advantage that reduces the party’s overall strength and ability to compete in neighboring districts.
“That’s packing,” Roach said.
Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, co-chairman of the subcommittee, countered saying the proposed maps were drawn without consideration of voter registraion totals. Legg said voter-approved Amendments 5 and 6 to the state constitution require that lawmakers draw boundaries without consideration of political party or incumbents.
Legg said lawmakers and staff members steered clear of such data when crafting the maps.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, also said Taylor’s call for more public hearings would likely only prompt accusations that ruling Republicans were seeking to delay redistricting. Another road show also could threaten the likelihood of getting new boundaries approved in time for candidate qualifying in June, Plakon said.
“It’s probably impractical to do,” Plakon said.
The three proposals approved Monday were scheduled to go before the full House Redistricting Committee later this month.
In Palm Beach County, the plans are identical. The most dramatic changes being made reduce the eight-county district now served U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, to four counties, including northern Palm Beach County. The Broward-Palm Beach county district held by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, loses a key, Republican-dominated portion of the county’s north coastline to Rooney.
West’s district becomes more Broward-oriented and gains more registered Democrats, likely making his 2012 re-election bid tougher.
The three state House proposals all create a new, Hispanic-oriented district in Palm Beach County, centered in the Lake Worth-Palm Springs area.
To create the district, many of the voters are moved from the district currently served by Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. Clemens last month announced that he expected to run for a still-to-be-determined Senate seat in Palm Beach County, saying he was frustrated by how voters in his District 89 were being scattered into other districts under House plans.