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    A Times Editorial

    No dice

    Lawmakers with ulterior motives are slicing and dicing congressional redistricting maps, dividing natural communities and diluting their influence.


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 19, 2002


    Three congressional redistricting maps being considered by the state House would leave much of Tampa Bay carved up like a Balkan turkey. In two of them, most of St. Petersburg would be sliced away from the district long served by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, and stuffed into a district that includes most of Tampa. Meanwhile, Young's reconfigured district would bypass southern Pinellas County to swallow wide-ranging chunks of Hillsborough and Manatee. In another, Young's district would be preserved but Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, would see his district stretched all the way to Orlando and Hillsborough County would be split among four districts.

    The changes would violate the most important rules of political redistricting: Districts should be geographically compact, and they should keep intact communities of shared interests.

    Most of the current congressional districts in this area accomplish those goals. District 10, served by Young, encompasses the southern two-thirds of Pinellas County. District 11, served by Davis includes most of metropolitan Tampa. District 9, served by Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, is less densely populated and takes in parts of Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Only Pasco, which already is sliced and diced into three congressional districts, finds its influence unnecessarily diluted now. It deserves better treatment when the maps are redrawn.

    Population shifts over the past 10 years require some changes in the new congressional maps, but the state House's alternative dismemberments of St. Petersburg and Tampa are indefensible. The curiously shaped maps are driven by a variety of motives, few of them noble. Among other things, House Republican leaders want to "bleach" District 10 of African-Americans, who tend to vote Democratic.

    Young doesn't need the help. The popular and powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has served in Congress for more than 30 years and has rarely attracted serious Democratic opposition. But Young won't serve forever, and the district in its current shape is a competitive mix of Republican, Democratic and independent voters. Republicans with ambitions of replacing Young -- and there is no shortage of them -- are tempted to stack the deck for the next 10 years.

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, chairman of the Senate's redistricting committee, favors a new map that would leave the current congressional districts (and most local communities) largely intact. The process of redrawing Florida's legislative and congressional maps is just heating up, and much creative artwork and horse-trading remain to be done. The transparent partisan schemes just add to the arguments of those who hope redistricting ultimately falls to a federal court rather than the Legislature. Whoever draws the lines, the interests of Florida's voters -- not those of the politicians angling to represent them -- should remain paramount.

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