Darryl Rouson questions splitting Tampa in congressional cartography
Darryl Rouson has some questions about Tampa's new political maps. Image via Colin Hackley.

Senate reapportionment staff propose moving Kathy Castor's district west.

Will U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district become a battleground that includes Pinellas County? Will U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel’s district become an inland jurisdiction, running vertical alongside Rep. Ted Deutch’s?

Staff for the Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee earned generally high marks for draft maps released last week that didn’t aggressively expand Republican advantages. Still, it was the treatment of districts now represented by Democrats that attracted the most skepticism and scrutiny at the committee’s first post-publishing meeting.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, took particular issue with the proposed make-up of Florida’s 14th Congressional District. The district, represented by Castor of Tampa, now covers the full city of Tampa and stops on its western boundary at the Pinellas County line.

But in all draft maps published by staff, the district shifts westward, stopping in Pinellas County. That puts Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and much of Palm Harbor in the district, areas today represented by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, in Florida’s 12 Congressional District.

Moreover, the drafts split Tampa, Florida’s third most populous city with 384,959 residents in the census. With the ideal population for congressional districts set at 769,221 people, Rouson questioned why Tampa was not kept in tact.

“I’m just not sure of the tier two reasons why it needs to look like that,” Rouson said, referencing guidelines laid out by the Florida Supreme Court regarding legal redistricting.

Jay Ferrin, staff director for the Senate Reapportionment Committee, said the shift was largely a byproduct of inserting Florida’s 28th Congressional District, a new seat awarded to Florida after the Census reapportionment process, in Central Florida. That district on the draft maps ends up in the Lakeland area, while Florida’s 15th Congressional District, represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, moves west.

Franklin lives in Lakeland, and the new district leans Republican, so most expect the incumbent to run there. As for CD 15, that district now snatches up east Tampa in maps, reaching near the edge of downtown Tampa and using the CSX rail line as a boundary.

Rouson wasn’t content with Ferrin’s explanation.

“His response was, it grew in population and it had to do that so that it would be more visually appealing to the surrounding districts,” Rouson said. “I’m going to follow up on that. But I’ve heard from some folks in Tampa that they’re not too happy with the way it’s drawn.”

Staff said the maps were drawn without consideration to voting behavior, except for seeing if the maps denied a racial or language minority the ability to elect a candidate of their choosing. Addresses for any members of Congress holding office now were not considered. Officials also said the boundaries for Florida’s existing political boundaries were not taken into account, though the draft maps show most districts in similar position to where they are today.

Independent analyses show significant political ramifications to this shift. A review by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which gives the maps a grade of “B” for partisan fairness, lists Castor’s district as one of the four most competitive in the state today.

President Joe Biden won the district by almost five percentage points in November. An analysis by MCI Maps shows roughly the same partisan makeup for the district in all drafts.

The other districts generating some discussion Tuesday were Florida’s 21st and 22 Congressional districts in South Florida, represented respectively by Frankel and Deutch. Two draft maps show the shape and placement of the districts similar to what exists now, with both holding parts of the coast. Frankel’s district, as it does now, would span from West Palm Beach south to Delray Beach and inland to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Deutch’s would run south from Boca Raton and grow from its current form to extend to Hollywood.

But two draft maps redraw the districts to two more narrow jurisdictions. Frankel would lose all coastline and serve from Wellington south to Margate. Deutch would run the coast from West Palm Beach to Hallandale.

State Sen. Gayle Harrell pushed for details on differences in the configurations, mostly involving the splitting of cities along the Interstate-95 corridor. But Ferrin said the bulk of cities that are broken up face that fate in service of Florida’s 20th Congressional District. That’s a majority Black district most recently represented by the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat. Senators previously directed staff to make sure no draft maps compromise minority representation.

___

Renzo Downey contributed to this report.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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