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Florida judge upholds new U.S. House map, but it won’t be used until 2016

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling clears the way for the state’s August 26 primary

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor

florida mugTALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Just days before Florida’s primary, a state judge has approved a redrawn map for the state’s 27 congressional districts but delayed its implementation until the 2016 elections.

Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis

Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis

The August 22 ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis clears the way for the August 26 primary to proceed without the possibility of a special election later in the year under the redrawn map.

The ruling was a victory for the leadership of the GOP-controlled legislature, who maintained that imposing the new map now would have wreaked havoc on the state’s electoral process.

“Thankfully, the court listened to supervisors of elections and the Secretary of State and rejected plaintiffs’ plan, which would have thrown the 2014 elections into chaos and could have resulted in our state being without congressional representation for weeks or even months,” said State Senate President Don Gaetz in a statement.

However, the groups that sued to strike down the map, including the League of Women Voters, say they will appeal the ruling, contending that the changes made by the legislature during a special session earlier in the month didn’t go far enough to fix the unconstitutional gerrymandering that prompted Lewis to strike down the original map.

Lewis ruled that the new map “adequately addresses the constitutional deficiencies” he found in the original map drawn after the 2010 Census.

While conceding that alternatives offered by the plaintiffs might be less gerrymandered, Lewis said the legislature isn’t required “to produce a map that the plaintiffs, or I, or anyone else might prefer.”

“The legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the constitution,” Lewis said. He also said the plaintiffs had failed to prove that using the new map this year was “legally and logistically doable.”

In July, Lewis ruled that two districts in northwestern and central Florida — the majority black 5th District and the Republican-leaning 10th District — violated two constitutional amendments Florida voters approved in 2010 designed to limit political gerrymandering.

Under the new rules, districts cannot be drawn to benefit any political party and must be geographically compact. However, the amendments left redistricting in the hands of legislators, rather than turning it over to an independent outside panel.

In the original map, the 5th District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, was a majority black district that meandered from Jacksonville over to Gainesville and then down to Orlando. At one point, it is the width of a highway. The 10th District, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was anchored in central Florida west of Orlando but had an appendage that wrapped around Orlando to take in GOP voters to the east in Seminole County.

Lewis ruled that the map draw packed black voters into the 5th District to make surrounding districts more Republican and that the appendage was added to the 10th District to help Webster, both of which were unconstitutional.

In the new map, the 5th District still runs from Jacksonville to Orlando, but some black voters in the Orlando area were shifted to adjacent districts and some more rural areas were added south of Jacksonville to make the district geographically wider. The new district is 48 percent black. The new map also removed the appendage from Webster’s district.

Because House districts must have equal population, the changes to those two districts required slight changes in five surrounding districts in central Florida.

The League of Women Voters proposed a different map that would have the 5th District running due west from Jacksonville past Tallahassee — a change that would have required a wholesale revision of the map statewide.

A Democratic alternative rejected by the legislature didn’t as far as the plaintiff’s map, but it would have made the 7th and 10th districts more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Although Florida is evenly divided politically, Republicans enjoy a 17-10 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, largely due to their control of the redistricting process. The new map is not expected to change the delegation’s partisan balance.

Florida Legislature approves changes to U.S. House map

New plan makes slight alterations to 10 districts and is unlikely to disturb delegation’s GOP tilt

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugTALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — On a largely party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate have approved a bill redrawing the state’s U.S. House map, which a state judge ruled last month was unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

The new map makes only minor alterations to 10 of the state’s 27 districts that are unlikely to change the House delegation’s partisan balance. The groups that sued to strike down the map, including the League of Women Voters, are demanding more substantial changes that could trigger new districts statewide and are expected to ask the judge to reject the redrawn map.

The Senate approved the new map by a vote of 25-12 on August 11. The House gave its approval a short time later by a vote of 71-38. Lawmakers rejected a democratic alternative that would have made two GOP-held districts near Orlando more competitive.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that two districts in northwestern and central Florida — the majority black 5th District and the Republican-leaning 10th District — violated two constitutional amendments Florida voters approved in 2010 designed to limit political gerrymandering.

Under the new rules, districts cannot be drawn to benefit any political party and must be geographically compact. However, the amendments left redistricting in the hands of legislators, rather than turning it over to an independent outside panel.

Lewis ruled that the map draw by legislators packed black voters into the oddly shaped 5th District to make surrounding districts more Republican and also added an appendage to the 10th District east of Orlando to add more Republican voters.

Lewis ordered legislators to draw a new map by August 15, although he has not said whether he will order the map to be used in this year’s congressional elections. That could throw the Sunshine State’s election process into chaos as absentee ballots have already been sent out for the August 26 primary.

While Republican leaders in the legislature decided to comply with Lewis’s order to redraw the map rather than appeal, they have said they will only support using the new map beginning in 2016 and want to continue this year’s elections under the old map.

Lewis has set a hearing for August 20 to hear arguments on implementing the new map.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

Under the original map, the 5th District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, was a majority black district that meandered from Jacksonville over to Gainesville and then down to Orlando, taking in heavily black precincts to create a black majority At one point, it is the width of a highway.

In the new map, the 5th District still runs from Jacksonville to Orlando, but some black voters in the Orlando area are shifted to adjacent districts and some more rural areas are added south of Jacksonville to make the district geographically wider. The new district is 48 percent black.

Brown joined with Republicans in supporting the original map, which she said met the Voting Rights Act’s requirement to create majority minority districts wherever possible.

The new map also makes changes to the 10th District, held by U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, and the adjacent 7th District, held by U.S. Rep. John Mica, that will make them less Republican. Because House districts must have equal population, the changes to those three districts required slight changes in seven surrounding districts in central Florida.

The League of Women Voters and the other plaintiffs are criticizing the new map, saying it doesn’t fix the geographic problems with the 5th District. They have proposed a different map that would have the 5th District running due west from Jacksonville past Tallahassee — a change that would require a wholesale revision of the map statewide.

The Democratic alternative rejected by the legislature doesn’t go as far as the plaintiff’s map, but it would have made the 7th and 10th districts more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Although Florida is evenly divided politically, Republicans enjoy a 17-10 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, largely due to their control of the redistricting process.

In his ruling striking down the map, Lewis was highly critical of the behind-the-scenes role Republican political consultants played in the redistricting process, which was supposed to be apolitical.

“They made a mockery of the legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process, utilizing the access it gave them to the decision makers, but going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it,” Lewis said.

Gwen Graham, daughter of former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, runs for House seat in Florida

Graham is challenging two-term GOP Rep. Steve Southerland in a district Democrats think they can flip in 2014

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugTALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Possessing one of the most storied names in Florida politics and Washington media circles, Democrat Gwen Graham has launched a bid for a GOP-held House seat in northern Florida that’s a prime target for Democrats in 2014.

graham

Gwen Graham

Graham, 50, is the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who was also elected Florida’s governor during a political career that spanned nearly four decades. She is also a member of the Graham family that for decades owned the Washington Post. (The Post’s legendary publisher, Katherine Graham, was Gwen Graham’s aunt by marriage.)

She is seeking the 2nd District seat now held by Rep. Steve Southerland, 47, who was a Panama City funeral director with no political experience when he defeated incumbent Democrat Allen Boyd in the Tea Party wave of 2010.

The district sprawls across 17 counties in the Big Bend area of the Florida Panhandle, including Panama City and part of Tallahassee.

Mitt Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote in 2012. However, this district is perhaps the last “yellow dog” Democratic district left in Florida – the type of place where Graham’s father always ran strong — with a majority of its voters registered as Democrats.

Southerland held the seat with just 53 percent of the vote in 2012, giving Democrats hope that they can flip the seat in the 2014 cycle.

Graham, who has never sought political office before, is billing herself as “an independent voice standing up for North Florida.” Not surprisingly, in a district with large numbers of federal workers and military families, she has hammered Southerland over the government shutdown, even calling on him to donate his salary to charity during the standoff.

“Like so many in Washington, Congressman Southerland has forgotten that Congress exists to solve problems, not be an arena for political sport,” she said.

Rep. Steve Southerland

Rep. Steve Southerland

For his part, Southerland has defended the Republican strategy of trying to tie government funding to repeal of Obamacare. He was co-author of a measure that would have delayed implementation for Obamacare for a year in return for a funding measure.

“I have heard the people of North and Northwest Florida loud and clear,” Southerland said. “They don’t want an interruption in the vital services they expect from their government, but they do want to delay Obamacare.”

Southerland is already getting heavy-duty help in his re-election, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appearing at a fundraiser for him in August.

One key question for Graham is whether she will face a primary challenge from former State Senator Alfred Lawson, who nearly toppled Boyd in a primary in 2010 and won the party’s nomination for the seat over a more conservative Democrat in 2012.

The racial makeup of the district would be a key in a primary. Nearly 25 percent of the 2nd Districts residents are black, which means black voters will make up a sizeable portion of the Democratic electorate. Lawson is black; Graham is white.

Across the South, anomalous House districts few and far between

Only eight House districts in the South had different presidential and congressional winners in 2012, leaving few targets for either party in 2014.

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

(CFP) — In a few little corners of the South, Democrats sit in congressional seats from districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. There are also seats – even fewer in number — where Republicans represent districts Barack Obama won

These anomalous districts – districts that behave one way in the presidential vote but the opposite way when it comes to picking a congressman – are, as you might expect, top targets for both parties in 2014.

But for Democrats hoping to make inroads on Republican hegemony in the South, the bad news is that across the entire region, there are only eight such seats — and five of those are seats Democrats must defend.

First, let’s take a look at the five seats occupied by Democrats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012:

north-carolina mugNorth Carolina 7 – Veteran Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre held on to this seat by his fingernails in 2012, winning by a mere 650 votes over former Republican State Sen. David Rouzer. In this district, which takes in the southeast corner of the state including areas near Fayetteville and Wilmington, Romney clobbered Obama by 19 percentage points.

McIntyre is at the top of the Republicans’ target list. Not only does McIntyre face a rematch with Rouzer, he is also facing a primary challenger, New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who thinks McIntyre hasn’t been supportive enough of the president.

McIntyre is white; Barfield is black. Overall, the district is 30 percent black, which means the black vote could tread close to a majority in a Democratic primary.

west-virginia mugWest Virginia 3 – Another longtime Democratic officer holder, Rep. Nick Rahall, carried 54 percent in here in 2012, at the same time Romney was crushing Obama by 32 percentage points in this district, which takes in the southern third of the state.

Rahall is hoping the power of incumbency can once again turn back a challenge from Republican former State Del. Rick Snuffer, whom he has beaten twice before.

georgia mugGeorgia 12 – Democratic Rep. John Barrow won a healthy 54 percent in this district in 2012, where Romney topped Obama by 11 percentage points. On paper, this should be a solid GOP district. But Georgia Republicans, to their great frustration, have not been able to defeat Barrow in five tries, even after gerrymandering his hometown of Athens out of the district.

Barrow was recruited by national Democrats to run for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, but he opted for another House run instead. On the Republican side, an already contentious primary is shaping up between John Stone, the former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter of Texas, and Augusta businessman Rick Allen. Barrow beat Stone by 30 points in 2008.

florida mugFlorida 18 – Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy narrowly ousted Tea Party favorite Allen West in 2012 in this district, which takes in parts of Martin and St. Lucie counties on Florida’s Treasure Coast. West went down even though Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote.

Perhaps the best news for Murphy, a top GOP target in 2014, is that West declined a rematch. A smorgasbord of Republican officeholders and activists are considering this race, with no clear frontrunner so far on the GOP side.

texas mugTexas 23 – In this majority Latino district that sprawls across the desert from El Paso to San Antonio, Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego ousted Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Conseco by a narrow margin in 2012.

Republicans hope to get this district back, and Conseco is considering a rematch. However, the former congressman would have to get past a Republican primary opponent, Dr. Robert Lowry, a Ron Paul acolyte.

Now, let’s take a look at the three districts where Republicans hold seats that Obama carried in 2012:

virginia mugVirginia 2 – Republican Rep. Scott Rigell easily kept this seat in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote, even though Obama narrowly bested Romney here. While Rigell is a top Democratic target in 2014, this is a GOP-leaning district where Obama overperformed in 2012, due to the fact that 22 percent of the electorate in the 2nd District is black.

Earlier this year, Rigell was the target of an ad campaign from the National Association for Gun Rights, which hit the congressman for sponsoring legislation that would increase penalties for people who illegally purchase guns and transport them across state lines. Rigell, a lifetime member of the NRA, called the group’s charges “laughable.”

Despite that salvo, Rigell hasn’t faced any serious trouble from the right, and, so far, Democrats have struggled to come up with a top-tier candidate to take him on.

florida mugFlorida 13 – When Bill Young came to Congress, bell bottoms were in and Nixon was still The One. After 22 terms, he’s the longest serving Republican in the House, and there has been speculation that the octagenarian might retire instead of seeking re-election in 2014.

If he does, this district, which includes parts of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin in the Tampa Bay area, would be a prime opportunity for Democrats. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2012, even as Young was easily swatting away his latest Democratic challenger, St. Petersburg attorney Jessica Ehrlich, who is running again in 2014.

Florida 27 – In 2012, Obama carried this district, which was something of a surprise given that it includes heavily Cuban-American areas of Miami and Hialeah, which are traditionally Republican turf. But Obama clearly overperformed here in what has to be considered a safe district for Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is seeking her 11th term in 2014.

Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina and the longest serving Republican woman in the House, carried 60 percent of the vote here in 2012.

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