Talking Points

How to Sound Smart About Redistricting

Cooper Levey-Baker breaks down what's going on with redistricting and how it affects us.

By Cooper Levey-Baker March 1, 2016 Published in the March 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Tasked with redrawing state House, state Senate and congressional district lines in a fair and open manner, the Republican Florida Legislature fell flat on its face. Lawsuits challenging the redistricting process led the courts to construct new maps for the state Senate and Florida’s congressional delegation.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR SARASOTA: The court-approved state Senate map keeps Sarasota County whole—a win for local politicos—while the congressional map slices the county into a northern and southern hunk. That upsets folks in South County, who suddenly find themselves corralled into a largely rural district that stretches all the way to Lake Okeechobee. Instead of being represented by Congressman Vern Buchanan, they’re now represented by Tom Rooney, who lives more than two hours away. “I don’t think the state Legislature did a very good job, and I don’t think the judicial branch has done a very good job,” says Barbara Vaughn, president of the Republican Club of South Sarasota County.

THE SHORT-TERM EFFECT: Aspiring lawmakers have been stuck in limbo during the protracted legislative and judicial fight. Not knowing the shape of potential districts has made it difficult to plot a strategy and attract support. Former Sarasota City and County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who is running for the state Senate, says many potential donors were wary of endorsing any candidates without knowing what the map would look like.

THE POLITICAL TAKEAWAY: Statewide, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by 350,000, about 2.9 percentage points, yet the GOP holds 17 out of 27 congressional seats and 26 out of 40 state Senate seats. Gerrymandering explains some of that imbalance. The new maps will level the playing field and lead to more competitive elections—and more elected Democrats.

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