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GOP, black lawmakers may reunite on maps

The two groups may well share common interests in the critical redrawing of political district lines.

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 18, 2001

TALLAHASSEE -- Look for a renewed alliance between black legislators and Republicans this year as lawmakers begin redrawing the lines for legislative and congressional districts in Florida, says Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee.

Lawson, a black Democrat from an 11-county district dominated by white voters, said he is seeing signs of the unusual alliance that developed 10 years ago when some African-Americans joined forces with Republicans and forced the creation of more minority districts.

The minority districts stripped Democrats out of neighboring districts and helped Republicans win enough seats to gain control of the Legislature in 1996.

"We don't even go to church together normally," Lawson told a predominantly white crowd at Capital Tiger Bay Club. Lawson, Senate Majority Leader Jim King and House Redistricting Council Chairman Johnnie Byrd were on hand to talk about redistricting plans that are expected to dominate the coming legislative session.

Lawson said some of the Legislature's Democrats, now a minority in the House and Senate, want to shift minority voters into other districts to give Democrats a better chance at regaining seats lost since 1992.

"Everyone wants a district they can be elected from," Lawson explained. "I am concerned about keeping communities of interest together."

Byrd said he does not believe the old alliances will be as much of a factor this time. Ten years ago, legislators were working under orders from the U.S. Department of Justice to create more minority districts.

"The law has changed in a huge way," Byrd noted. "We can't (step backward), but we can't use race as a primary factor in designing districts."

This time legislators will be focusing on creating compact districts that are as equal as possible in population.

That could be bad news for people such as U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat elected from a district that reaches from Jacksonville to Orlando, picking up minority neighborhoods along the way.

King said the Senate is still at least two weeks away from crafting its first public map. Byrd and King pledged to conduct this year's mapmaking sessions in public.

King predicted that this year's redistricting will probably be decided by the courts, just as the 1992 plan was. After legislators finish their work the House and Senate districts go to the Florida Supreme Court for approval and congressional districts are reviewed by the federal courts.

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