Florida population

Experts challenge Senate cards in Tampa area


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A boat passes the waters of Old Tampa Bay as the Howard Frankland Bridge is seen in the distance on October 25, 2021, in Tampa, Florida. (Chris Urso / Tampa Bay Times / TNS)

Tampa Bay Times / TNS

Florida Democrats on Wednesday offered the first sign of backing off redistricting plans proposed by Florida Senate staff, asking them to end a 30-year-old tradition of connecting black neighborhoods by crossing Tampa Bay.

Senator Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, asked the staff of the Republican-dominated Senate Redistribution Committee whether population growth now allows for a majority-minority district without binding predominantly communities black in Tampa and St. Petersburg crossing the water.

Each of the Senate cards offered preserves a 30-year configuration of the predominantly black neighborhood, Senate District 19, with part of the district in Tampa and the other in St. Petersburg.

Under the Fair District Amendments to the Florida Constitution, lawmakers cannot diminish the voting power of black and Hispanic voters. Senate staff, advised by a host of outside lawyers, have determined that the only way to preserve the districts is to continue connecting them across the bay.

However, several outside experts on redistribution disagree. They argue that population growth over the past decade now creates a constituency that will elect a black candidate without dividing communities.

“You can easily draw a Hillsborough-only district that has a higher African American elementary share,” said Matt Isbell in a Twitter thread. “So there is no reason to cross the water. So why are all the plans still doing it? Isbell, a redistribution analyst, wrote a history of the Tampa Bay Minority District.

Nicholas Warren, a redistribution expert who worked at the Florida Supreme Court during the previous redistribution cycle and is now a staff attorney at the Florida ACLU, told the Senate legislative reallocation subcommittee on Wednesday that he had submitted an alternative card.

Warren’s proposal keeps SD 19 compact in Hillsborough and modifies six southern districts. The plan also keeps two-thirds of Pasco County in a single Senate district, while the Senate plans divide them into three different districts.

“Perhaps the last decade it has not been possible to draw a district holding entire Hillsborough while maintaining the ability not to shrink [a minority-majority district], I think the statistics confirm that it is now possible, ” he said.

Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, asked staff if this was true.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t looked at the statistics for this,” replied Jay Ferrin, personnel director of the Senate Redistribution Committee.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Bracy met with Senate attorneys and told reporters he was concerned that rejecting the Cross-Bay District could affect the ability of neighboring districts to elect black people. On the other hand, he wondered, is there a setup that could maximize black voting strength?

“What constitutes a decrease? ” He asked. “You can reduce the black population in one district and those voters could still elect a black candidate in another district. Then they can have more power.

Little public intervention

As lawmakers met in special session this week, the Senate Reallocation Committee held two subcommittee workshops to review four staff-proposed plans for Senate and Congress redevelopment.

There has been little public testimony on the proposals except for Warren’s attempt to submit four alternative proposals and the League of Florida Women Voters which raised concerns.

Faced with little friction, the plans are expected to be recommended for approval by the full committee at its meeting next month. A final map will then be approved by lawmakers in the 60-day regular session that begins in January.

Meanwhile, because Southeast Florida’s population has not grown as quickly as in other parts of the state, the changes lose a Senate Democrats seat, triggering a series of musical chairs. potential among members.

In Miami-Dade, Senate cards appear to eliminate a black access seat currently held by Senator Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Miami. The current District 38 has more than 40% black in the Democratic primary, but according to the new maps, the district is disbanded and the replacement, Senate District 36, no longer preserves minority voting power.

30-year conflict

Whether a majority minority district should pass through Tampa Bay has been an issue since 1992, when lawmakers first attempted to create districts designed to help elect black candidates. in the Legislative Assembly and the State Congress.

In 2012, lawmakers designated Congressional District 14 as a minority district that spanned Tampa Bay, connecting the communities of Tampa with those of St. Petersburg. They justified the district by claiming that the 14th district was a “coalition district” made up of more than 50% non-whites.

But the Senate did not analyze the voting data to determine whether black and Hispanic populations voted as a cohesive unit and, in 2014, the court concluded that it was an attempt to regroup. minority voters in the district so that the surrounding white majority districts favor Republicans and ordered that the district be redesigned.

This year, the Senate congressional map projects do not show the minority district of Tampa crossing the bay, but the Senate maps for its own districts. include this functionality.

At the heart of the issue of establishing minority constituencies is whether connected communities actually vote coherently. In 2012, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that voter cohesion was necessary for them to consider race in the design of minority ridings.

Michael McDonald, a redistribution expert and professor of political science at the University of Florida, analyzed the Senate card projects and wondered how well Senate staff analyzed voting patterns in proposed District 24 of County of Pinellas, which is adjacent to the proposed SD 19.

By keeping SD 19 in Hillsborough, he said, SD 24 includes the rest of the peninsula and “suddenly this district becomes a Democratic electoral district,” he said.

If Senate leaders want to avoid violating Fair District principles, which prohibit them to protect political parties, they should be able to justify the voting patterns in both constituencies.

“Is it used to increase electoral chances for minorities?” Or are there minorities above what is necessary to elect minorities? I don’t know the answer to these questions, ” he said.

Senator Danny Burgess, the Republican from Zephryhills who chairs the Senate Legislative Redistribution Committee, walked out of the boardroom immediately after the meeting and avoided answering questions from reporters.

Questions submitted to Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson’s spokesperson R-Trilby were not answered.

Mary Ellen Klas can be contacted at [email protected] and @MaryEllenKlas

Mary Ellen Klas is the state capitol bureau chief for the Miami Herald, where she covers government and politics and focuses on investigative and accountability reporting. In 2018-2019, Mary Ellen was Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and was named 2019 Murrey Marder Nieman Fellow in Surveillance Journalism. In 2018, she won the Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. The Herald’s Statehouse office is a joint operation with the Tampa Bay Times Statehouse staff. Please support his work with a digital subscription. You can reach her at [email protected] and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.