Redistricting in Florida: Part One

Florida redistricting after the 2010 census is likely to be a partisan struggle. The state is likely to gain an additional Congressional seat (for a total of 26). Despite having more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida, the state government is dominated by Republicans. The state Senate has twenty-six Republicans to fourteen Democrats and the state House has seventy-six Republicans to forty-four Democrats. Additionally, the governor and one senator are also Republicans. This series of articles will present a general overview of Florida redistricting followed by close examination of the more competitive, at risk or over-populated Congressional districts.

This series will also consider the potential impact of the “FairDistricts” measure headed for Florida’s ballot this November.

Currently, Republicans hold fifteen of Florida’s twenty-five Congressional seats. The state is expected to gain one additional seat after the 2010 census. The Democrats’ ten seats are generally clustered around urban areas. Grouped around Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach on the Southeastern coast of the state are 17th, 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd. In West Tampa, is the 11th and near Orlando, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Orange, Seminole, Brevard and Volusia Counties. The 2nd in the Western part of the Panhandle includes Tallahassee and Panama City. According to 2007 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the average Democrat- held district is currently under-populated by about 3,700 people. The Republican-held seats, in contrast, are generally in more rural areas of the state. Their districts are over-populated by an average of almost 74,000 people. Five seats will be open in 2010: the 12th, 17th, 19th, 21st and 25th. The incumbents of the first two left office to run for other elected positions, the third to become president of non-profit, the fourth to retire and the fifth to run for the seat vacated by the fourth. As a result of the 2002 redistricting plan, Republicans initially held eighteen of the Congressional seats as a result of gaining two seats during the redistricting process, with new seats created specifically for Tom Feeney, then Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and Mario Diaz-Balart, then chair of the state House’s redistricting committee. Over the course of the 2006 and 2008 elections, however, the Republicans have since lost three seats (the 8th, 22nd and 24th) resulting in the current balance of fifteen Republicans and ten Democrats.

Later parts of this report will go into more detail about how the 2010 election may change the composition of the Florida House delegation.

Florida's Congressional Seats by Party

The latest population estimate from the American Community Survey (ACS) puts the population of Florida at 18,182,321, up 13.8% from 15,982,813 in 2000. These numbers, however, are calculated based on 2006-2008 and so do not take into account the recent loss on population that the state has experienced. For the first time since 1946, Florida’s population declined in a given year, losing almost 60,000 residents in the year leading up to April 2009 as a result of the economic recession. The University of Florida has more recent data numbers that show the state at 18,748,925 in April 2009, down from 18,807,219 the year before. For purposes of this report, the ACS data will be used as they have released the most up-to-date estimates on population per congressional district. Assuming that Florida gains the seat it is expected to in the coming redistricting, the state will have twenty-six seats. Based on the ACS numbers, each district should have about 699, 320 people living within it in order to have equally sized districts. 

Redistricting in Florida is done by the state legislature. They are expected to pass a joint resolution either during the regular session or a thirty day special session called by the governor. (If they fail finish an apportionment plan, the Supreme Court is to make one within sixty days). Once the legislature has passed a joint resolution, the Supreme Court determines its validity and it becomes law. If the plan is not approved by the Court, the legislature fixes any problems during a fifteen day session after which it goes back to the Supreme Court again. If the plan is not approved (again), or if the legislature is not able to reach a new joint resolution within the fifteen days, the Court has sixty days to make its own plan. The governor does not have veto power over the legislative or Supreme Court plan.

The Florida state legislature has been Republican since 1994, and it is highly unlikely that enough seats will be transferred to the Democrats during the upcoming 2010 elections to swing the balance of power. In the state senate, Republicans currently have twenty-six of forty seats, and in the state house, they have seventy-six out of one hundred and twenty.

An initiative called FairDistricts will be on the ballot in 2010 proposing a constitutional amendment to restrict gerrymandering. It would require the legislature to draw compact districts that conform to pre-existing political and geographic boundaries. Currently the only restrictions on redistricting in the state are that all districts must be contiguous and the map must follow federal law and the Voting Rights Act. A December 2009 poll found that 55% of likely voters supported the initiative although 35% remained unsure and said they did not know enough about the issue to decide. While the initiative is generally supported by most Democrats (though some African American elected leaders have expressed concerns about it) and attacked by Republicans, it is worth remembering that in 1991 Democrats divided districts to their political advantage just as Republicans did in 2001. The Democratic over-reach in 1991 made possible a swing to Republican control in the Republican sweep of 1994. If the Fair Districts initiative passes, it will leave control of redistricting in the Legislature’s hands but impose significant restrictions on how it can draw the lines. The degree of that control will almost certainly be the subject of multiple post-redistricting lawsuits.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey figures, the state’s population was 60.3% white, 21.0% Hispanic, and 15.9% African-American. The state’s 2007 poverty rate was 12.1% and in 2000, 23.1% spoke a language other than English at home. The population is far older than the national average, with 17.4% of residents sixty-five years or older as of 2008, compared with 12.8% in the country as a whole. The state’s governor, Charlie Crist, is Republican but will be leaving office to run for Senate in 2010. His likely successor is the current State Attorney General, Republican Bill McCollum. Although state government is largely dominated by Republicans, Florida has been a swing state in the last few presidential elections. In 2008, Barack Obama won with 51% of the vote, and in 2004, George W. Bush won with 52%, after the state’s infamously close count in 2000 elected President Bush by less than six hundred votes.

Along with the House races in November, Florida will have election for governor and senate as well. With Republicans currently polling well in both races, this could possibly increase voting turnout amongst the Republican population, thereby strengthening Republicans throughout the ballot.

For the purposes of this report, we have divided Florida into five regions: the Panhandle, Northern Florida, Central Florida, Southern Florida and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach. Each will be addressed individually in upcoming blog posts. Today, the two Panhandle districts- the 1st and the 2nd– will be discussed.

Florida's 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts

The Panhandle contains two very different districts: the more rural and conservative 1st and the more liberal and urban 2nd.

Congressman Jeff Miller

Florida’s 1st Congressional district is in the Western-most part of the state and has the most milit ary veterans of any district in the country, making up 19.4% of its population. Culturally very southern, the district is 76.1% white and has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R +21. In the 2008 presidential election, the 1st gave John McCain 67% of its vote. The incumbent in the 1st is Republican Jeff Miller, first elected in a special election in October 2001 which followed the resignation of Joe Scarborough to become a talk-show host on MSNBC. The American Conservative Union gave Miller a 100% rating in 2008 and in his first election, Miller received 66% of the vote and has not fallen below that number in a general election since. He has raised over $140,000 in the campaign cycle so far; his next closest opponent just over $6,000. What could happen to this district? With a population of 694,028, the district is just barely below the estimated ideal population based on the ACS numbers and so will probably be slightly expanded to the west. This slight change, however, will not be enough to change the partisan balance and Miller’s seat seems safe.

Congressman Allen Boyd

Florida’s 2nd Congressional district is directly east of the 1st and is centered on the state’s capitol, Tallahassee. It extends west to Destin and east to the Sewanee River and is the part of the state with the highest percentage of native Floridians. There is a political divide between more-liberal Tallahassee in Leon County and the rest of the district. While Leon County has solidly supported Democrats in recent presidential elections, the district as a whole voted for McCain, giving him 54% of the vote and it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R +6. The 2nd is 70.5% white and 22% African-American and 17.3% of its residents live below the poverty line. The incumbent is Blue Dog Democrat Allen Boyd, who was first elected in 1996. Boyd describes himself as a “moderate Democrat with a social conscience” and this is supported by his National Journal Rankings, which place him nearly squarely in the middle except on social issues where he leans more Democratic. Boyd has been easily reelected, running unopposed in 2006 and beating Republican Mark Mulligan by twenty-four points in 2008. Boyd has raised over $850,000 in the current campaign cycle, while his closest opponent, Democratic State Senator Alfred Lawson Jr., has raised almost $80,000. A poll from November 2009 showed Lawson to be leading Boyd by about 35-31, within the 4.6% margin of error. While national Republicans have yet to take a significant stand behind any of the several GOP candidates for this seat, it is one of the better chances in the state for the Republicans to gain a seat and so they will likely spend more time and money on the campaign once the primaries are done. Watch for this race to become competitive as the general election approaches, although it seems safe for the Democrats for now. The 2nd is about 5,000 people over the ideal population, not enough to significantly change the demographic make-up of the district. It seems likely that this 5,000 will simply be taken from the 2nd’s western border and added to the 1st district as it is about 5,000 people under the ideal population.

Tomorrow, we will focus on Northern Florida, home to the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 24th districts.

Florida welcome sign picture courtesy of Valerie Renee and picture of Jeff Miller is courtesy the House Republican Conference.  All other Congressional photos from that member’s official House webpage.

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