Critical votes approaching in redistricting process

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With critical votes approaching in the once-a-decade redistricting process, House lawmakers listened Thursday to a series of presentations on a variety of maps that could form the basis for future districts in their own chamber and Congress, reports Brandon Larrabee.

But few questions were asked, and those that were largely avoided any mention of politics or incumbency, what appears to be the latest in a series of overt steps to convey at the least the message that lawmakers are following the “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters last year.

Those amendments, aimed at cutting back on gerrymandering to help political parties and incumbents in the line-drawing process, have so far hovered over every committee meeting about crafting the lines. And legislative leaders say they have sent a clear message to the members of the panels now trying to decide how to reshape Florida’s political future.

“We’re blessed in one regard, and that is that our members are very aware of the amendments that took place last year,” said Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican who chairs the subcommittee redrawing House districts. ” … Ten years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, there was a certain liberty in designing seats that does not exist anymore.”

Dorworth’s committee studied five maps for House districts, all of which would slightly cut back on the number of seats that were carried by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2010, though those districts would remain a strong majority of the seats in the Florida House. But the maps would also draw together several incumbents, including Republicans.

“That means that many of us are not going to live in the seats we had before and just because you feel like you should, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to be the case,” Dorworth said.

All of the House maps would also create additional seats with a good chance of electing minority candidates. For example, one House map would also create three new minority seats by carving out an “access” district in Orange County with a black voting-age population of more than 40 percent; a Palm Beach County seat with a Hispanic majority; and the division of what used to be a single Hispanic majority seat in Osceola and Orange counties.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, said members aren’t necessarily being overly cautious about discussing the maps.

“Members are just trying to speak along [with] what’s in the constitution of the state of Florida,” Bernard said, adding that members weren’t “scared or afraid.”

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.