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Judges uphold redrawn districts

A challenge to the Legislature's new districts is rejected, pitting, among others, high-profile candidates Ginny Brown-Waite and incumbent Karen Thurman.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 3, 2002

Monday night, a voter asked Ginny Brown-Waite about the geographic boundaries for congressional districts. Brown-Waite began her reply the way she always does: "As of now. ..."

Pretty soon, Brown-Waite might be able to drop that standard preface.

A panel of federal judges on Tuesday upheld the new district lines that the Legislature drew.

A coalition of Democratic plaintiffs had asked the three-judge panel to throw out the lines, arguing they were unfair to minorities and were too politically motivated.

The panel ruled without comment, saying only that the plaintiffs didn't prove their case.

Brown-Waite, a Republican state senator from Brooksville, wants to represent the 5th Congressional District, where the incumbent is U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon.

Brown-Waite was part of the Legislature that drew those new lines as part of the redistricting process lawmakers engage in every 10 years.

"I'm glad that they (the three federal judges) ruled because that makes the constituents have a sense of finality as to what district they are going to be in," Brown-Waite said Tuesday.

Brown-Waite said she had been confident the court would rule as it did because she believed the redistricting process was fair and open and she didn't think the Legislature harmed any districts designed to encourage minority representation.

The new district lines exclude Alachua County and west Pasco. Among the new areas are east and central Pasco and portions of Lake and Polk counties. The new district, like the old one, includes all of Citrus and Hernando counties.

The result: a district that is more Republican and more likely to vote that way.

According to a state legislative analysis, voters in the original district supported Democrats Al Gore for president and Bill Nelson for U.S. senator in 2000. Voters in the new district went for Republicans George W. Bush and Bill McCollum.

Within the original district boundaries, 46 percent of the voters were registered Democrats and 36 percent were Republicans. The new district features 42 percent Republicans and 41 percent Democrats.

Thurman has questioned some of the redistricting decisions the Legislature made and has been a careful observer of the federal court proceedings in Miami.

It was unclear Tuesday evening what appellate options the plaintiffs have.

Jack Gargan said the court's timing and ruling were great for him.

The timing was great because Gargan was in Tallahassee on Tuesday to formally announce his candidacy. The ruling was great because the new district map "represents the whole basis of my running," he said.

Gargan of Cedar Key said he didn't think he could compete if Alachua County remained in the district. "I guess I'm too conservative for those folks," he said.

The new map "gives me a really good shot at actually winning," Gargan said.

He is not claiming a party affiliation for this race. Gargan ran under the Reform Party banner in 1998 and lost badly to Thurman.

Also in the race are Don Gessner, a Republican from the Black Diamond subdivision in Lecanto, and Brian Moore, no party affiliation, from Spring Hill.

-- This story includes information from Times wires.

-- Jim Ross writes about politics in Citrus County. Reach him at 860-7302 or

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