Florida House approves new map for congressional districts

Author: Associate Press
MGN Online

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The Republican-controlled Florida House approved new congressional districts that would upend the state’s political landscape following a sharp debate Tuesday during which legislators quoted everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Bob Dylan.

The House vote of 76-35 sets up a potential clash with the Florida Senate, which is expected to vote this week on a map that doesn’t match up with the House version.

The Florida Supreme Court, finding that legislators violated the state’s constitution ban on gerrymandered districts, in July gave legislators just 100 days to come up with a new map. The court, which issued a stinging ruling that maintained legislators had allowed the process to be tainted by partisan operatives, also dictated how a handful of districts should be drawn. Voters in 2010 approved new standards that said legislators could not draw legislative or congressional districts to benefit an incumbent or a member of a political party.

Many Republicans chafed at the state court ruling, and nine of them voted against the map supported by GOP leaders as a protest. Pensacola Rep. Mike Hill complained the state and U.S. constitutions “were under assault” and that the Legislature should fight back against the state court.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, acknowledged that many GOP members thought the court had overstepped its authority. But he said the Legislature had a responsibility to follow the ruling while drawing up a replacement map. The court gave legislators a tight deadline so that the new map can be reviewed and then in place in time for the 2016 elections.

“This is our good-faith effort in doing that,” Crisafulli said.

Nine Democrats joined with most Republicans in supporting the proposal.

The map approved by the House would require major changes to several districts. One would shift the district of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, which now stretches north to south from Jacksonville to Orlando, to one that runs east-west across north Florida. The approved map would also make it improbable that U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Dan Webster would be able to hold on to their seats due to a dramatic change in the Democratic-Republican make-up of their districts.

The special session is scheduled to end Friday. But a showdown is looming because the Senate map makes significant changes to several districts in central Florida and the Tampa Bay region. Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican, said he pushed ahead with the proposal as a way to boost the clout of Hillsborough County, including the eastern part of the county.

The Senate map would also place Lakeland U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in a seat with fellow GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney. Lee’s motives for tinkering with the district lines has prompted speculation that Lee is considering a run for the seat. Lee insisted that the change was “inadvertent” and that he did not even know where Ross lived. He said the map drawn up earlier this week was done largely by staff and lawyers and the proposal to place Ross in a different district was done to make the districts more compact.

Lee contended the Senate map was “superior” to the one passed by the House because it reduced the number of cities that were split.

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