Clearing up some reapportionment misconceptions

Florida’s Supreme Court rightly threw out several Congressional districts basically invalidating the entire state map on Thursday. Under the “Fair Districts” law, Florida’s Congressional map was a complete disgrace. Florida’s Republicans have arrogantly drawn maps that skirt the boundaries of the law. The long-standing arrogance and sense of entitlement that Florida’s Republican leadership has demonstrated time and again fits the unwillingness to actually fulfill their governing responsibilities and draw maps that are actually representative of the state’s population and demographics.

Prior to the mid 1960’s and the Baker v Carr decision, Florida’s Democrats who at the time had almost complete control of the levers of power throughout the state behaved in a similar manner trying to resist increased representation from then heavily Republican cities like Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and St Petersburg and liberal areas like Miami that would elect more anti-establishment (northern) Democrats.

The maps need to be redrawn but to a truly FAIR standard. One thing here needs to be pointed out clearly: when Democratic activists around the state scream that we have more registered Democrats than Republicans thus there should be more D-leaning districts than R that is false. I actually think the State House map which has roughly about 54-56 Dem leaning districts and 64-66 GOP leaning districts is a fair map. Here’s why:

Democrats enjoy a registration advantage partly because of rural southern areas

Parts of North Florida and the interior portions of North Central and South Florida are still very much traditionally southern and conservative. Most of these areas except where there are concentrations of military families (ie. Okaloosa, Bay, Walton and Santa Rosa counties) tend to still have more registered Democrats than Republicans. This skews perceptions of what areas are actually capable of electing Democrats.

Democrats are packed in large urban areas

One requirement of Fair Districts is to draw compact, logically-looking districts that maintain some semblance of communities of interest. Because of the concentration of Democrats in small geographic clusters in the state, particularly in Southeast Florida, it’s difficult to draw a map with 61 Democratic House districts that is truly fair. However, the Congressional and State Senate maps have been drawn where under 40% of the districts truly lean toward the Democrats. This is contrasted with the State House where about 46% of the seats can be said to lean Democratic under the current map.

Large populated areas exist where Democrats don’t even compete

The Democrats have not fielded a serious State House campaign south of Sarasota on the west coast of Florida since 1998. They haven’t fielded a serious Congressional campaign in that same geographic area since the 1970’s. Similarly, North Central Florida outside of Alachua County has hardly seen a serious Democratic candidate for anything legislative or congressional since Buddy MacKay left his Congressional seat and ran for US Senate in 1988. More recently, the areas between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville have fallen into this same pattern. So basically, Democrats are not even remotely competitive in large geographic swaths that are not exactly rural areas. While the Democrats increasing dominance in South Florida, and the urban cores around Orlando and Tampa/St Pete are impressive and important, the party will never attain a majority in legislative bodies or the Congressional delegation even on a truly fair map until this changes.

No question the Congressional lines need to be redrawn. But Democrats across the state cannot complain if a truly fair map is finally implemented and Democrats don’t attain a majority in the Congressional delegation. And while it is fashionable to blame the Florida Democratic Party for all the electoral failures, this one is largely beyond their control until local parties start recruiting and fielding better candidates in some of the areas mentioned above.




  1. Hank Porter · ·

    The House map is unquestionably “better” for Democrats and more “fair” than the current Senate or Congressional maps. I agree with main argument that the changing the districts are not a silver bullet that many Democrats make them out to be. Fundraising, candidate recruitment, messaging, strategy all matter A LOT and there is significant room to improve even with the current map.

    However, there are not “54-56 Dem-leaning seats” in the current House map. Using a fair evaluation of top-ticket results over the last four election cycles the districts break out as follows:

    Strong GOP – 54
    Leans GOP – 15
    Swing – 9
    Leans Dem – 9
    Strong Dem – 33

    Adding Strong & Leans seats produces a more realistic analysis is that there are 69 GOP seats, 42 DEM seats and 9 Swing seats. Conceivably, the Democrats could get into the low 50s by winning all 9 Swing seats. Getting to 56 on the current map is unrealistic.


  2. “while it is fashionable to blame the Florida Democratic Party for all the electoral failures, this one is largely beyond their control until local parties start recruiting and fielding better candidates”
    —— I would argue that what the DECs do IS the responsibility of the state party. As long as the state puts up with do-nothing DECs, we will continue to flounder. Local DECs look to the state for direction and guidance. As such, the state needs to set monthly quotas, and hold the DECs accountable for failing to produce. Local grassroots effort, month in and month out, is the only way to win. For example, new voter registrations could increase electable districts by at least 1-2, each election.


    1. Hey Bruce,
      That the DEC’s are not performing is undeniable. In Miami Dade we are still dickering around changing the bylaws for more than 10 years. And until Annette Taddeo came around the DEC was practically irrelevant.
      But, somehow I feel the blame belongs up top. The State Party mismanages the candidates, support some idiots over credible ones and doesn’t contribute to us. Without the leadership up top, nothing is going to change.


  3. Tampa Bay Demo · ·

    Great piece until the last line about not blaming the FDP. That makes this whole thing ludicrous. You’re now preparing excuses yourself.


  4. Eye4Democrat · ·

    A fish rots staring at the head. Until the Democratic Party has new leadership and direction we will continue to flounder.

    Don’t give the party a pass. That is called enabling!


  5. Hurrah! for the guys who say it like it is – as long as the FDP is lead by self-concerned individuals who think that being in charge means you get to pontificate and hold meaningless (to the average voting Democrat) messages except for asking for $$$ will never work – what Florida needs are DEC leaders who don’t give shit just sit around waiting for some signs of leadership from “…above…” – we need hands-on leadership at our street (local) leaders pushing for hands-on election projects for our members – and Democrats who will really work at learning how to be a leader? Should we have to do basic training leadership and management classes for our DEC chairs? If we do, then we’ve been putting the wrong Democrats in charge!!!


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