Other professional commitments prevented me today from looking closely at the Congressional Redistricting map released by the legislature earlier today. After years of attempting to circumvent the will of the voters in an arrogant and entitled fashion. legislative Republicans took a big step Wednesday toward making peace with the law of the state and needs of citizens in terms of providing for representative government.
The decision during the 2002 redistricting to split St Petersburg into two districts was among the most criminal moves made by legislature simply interested in maximizing partisan gain. For years, St Petersburg and Tampa had existed in SEPARATE congressional districts so both major cities could have a strong advocate for them in Congress. Generally through the years, St Pete elected Republicans like Bill Cramer and Bill Young while Tampa elected Democrats like Sam Gibbons and Jim Davis. But the system worked well for the Tampa Bay area. Both sides of the bay benefited from this arrangement.
In 2002, Republicans in the Legislature decided to make Congressman Young “safer” by pulling African-American and liberal white areas of St Petersburg OUT his district (now held by David Jolly) and drawing Davis’ seat (now held by Kathy Castor) across the bay to pick up these areas. Young didn’t request the change and actually was unhappy about it. Still Republicans got away with it in the name of “protecting” him.
The plan released Wednesday corrects this historic error and will allow the central areas of St Petersburg to be once again represented by a member of Congress from Pinellas County. That was one of several changes that were positive.
I know many readers here are partisans and probably object to the drawing of Corrine Brown’s seat westward toward Tallahassee. But that is a change I have advocated since the 1992 maps were thrown out of court and forced to be redrawn for the 1996 election. The idea of bringing Brown’s seat into Central Florida deprived a significant portion of the population of one of the largest urban areas in the southeast United States a resident member of Congress. Keeping communities of interest as much together in districts is important and since 1992, much of Orlando has been represented by someone from Jacksonville, a smaller urban area with completely different interests. While it is troubling for some Democrats in North Florida to see this change, it’s simply logical given the population shifts in the state. The proposed plan would also likely flip several districts towards the Democrats along the I-4 corridor.
Compactness and maintaining communities of interest are important in drawing districts. Incumbent protection and partisan identification should not be. Democrats themselves have been guilty of forgetting this in the process, making deals with GOP lawmakers that protect or promote favored Democrats or incumbents.
This map is simply a starting point – no doubt the final version will likely look different. But the Republicans in the legislature proved finally that after years of wasting taxpayer money defending illegal maps, disregarding the will of the voters who passed fair districts and disrespecting members of their own party who didn’t want to see communities of interest broken up for partisan purposes, that they might have finally learned a lesson.