The Game of Redistricting
State lawmakers must redraw the districts for both the state House and Senate and the U.S. Congress in time for the Nov. 6 election
The contentious and unpredictable redistricting process will be even more dramatic than usual this year as legislators try to integrate new requirements imposed by a pair of 2010 ballot amendments into an already complicated, agenda-laden process.
The line-drawing, as always, will be shaped greatly by partisan considerations — and federal requirements relating to one person/one vote and the Voting Rights Act.
In addition, the Fair Districts constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010 require that districts be, as much as possible, compact and contiguous but aim to depoliticize the process by mandating that lawmakers not favor or disfavor an incumbent or a political party in drawing the districts. The new standards also encourage lawmakers to use existing political and geographical boundaries where possible, while keeping districts as equal in population as possible.
Adding to the challenge is reapportionment. Thanks to Florida's population growth, lawmakers must carve out 27 congressional districts, instead of 25.
Several groups are pressing hard for those new districts to be drawn to favor them. The Central Florida Redistricting Council, for example, is urging lawmakers to create a Hispanic congressional district to reflect the region's fast-growing Hispanic population, while the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition is pushing for a Haitian majority district in Miami-Dade County.
Political experts say all the variables will end up creating a mess. "I expect we're going to see incumbents living in the same district. I expect we'll see incumbents written out of districts they live in," says Marian Johnson, vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Under the Fair Districts requirement, for example, it's highly unlikely that U.S. Rep. Thomas Rooney's seat, which stretches from Port St. Lucie to Punta Gorda, or the seat held by Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto that runs from Palm Beach County to Lee County will remain intact. Possibly in anticipation, Benacquisto recently began renting a home in Fort Myers — setting up a potential rivalry with Republican Rep. Trudi Williams.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, who served in the Florida House and Senate and is now a partner with Holland & Knight's public policy and regulation group, says those kind of scenarios will "create a lot of personal dynamics and deep animosity" that results in battles that spill into other legislative areas. "This becomes the all-consuming issue," says Klein, who witnessed redistricting firsthand in 2002 when he was minority leader of the Florida Senate.
The process, says everyone who knows it, has so many competing goals that it simply can't play out without a flurry of litigation.
"At the end of the day," says Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a former state legislator and congressman, "you're trying to take the politics out of politics when that is not possible."The Redistricting Game: (click the game board to enlarge)
Click to Enlarge [Illustration: Jeff Papa]