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New voting districts have lawmakers playing musical chairs

The Legislature’s revised Senate redistricting map is in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court justices. The Court set oral arguments for April 20 to decide the plan’s fate. However, James Call reports candidates are not waiting for the final decision on new district lines and have begun campaigning for the 2012 elections.

Moments after a Senate committee approved a new district map Senators gathered around it to see what it meant to their reelection chances.

There was little change in Broward County Senator Eleanor Sobel’s district. And the odd number for the senate seat means she won’t have to run for reelection in two years.

"Thirty three? You get four more years. I’m happy."

Redistricting is the once-a-decade task of redrawing the political map for statehouse and congressional seats to reflect changes in population. This year it is forcing several politicians to stand for reelection in front of new people. Second District Republican Congressman Steve Southerland will have a more Democratic constituency under the plan. His district lines move East, taking in all of predominately Democratic Leon County, the most populated county in his new district.

"And so there is a battle going on, local state and federal level.  I need conservatives who not just talk like conservatives but I need them to walk and act like conservatives."

Leon Republicans filled up a Country Club banquet room to hear Southerland speak at a midweek luncheon. The parking lot was filled and staff set up extra tables and chairs. More than a 100 people watched Southerland fire what may have been North Florida Republican's opening salvo in the 2012 campaign.

"It’s real clear in November that we got to win elections, and we got to win elections at all levels. We’ve got to win elections at the local level. The state level. The federal level.  And I’m going to upset some people with this comment, [but] what I’ve learned about our party in some areas there are wolves in sheeps clothing.  I certainly know I’m among wolves in sheep clothing in the Republican conference in Washington D.C.  There are some people that need to go home.  They need to go home."

At the state level, redistricting may send more than a few lawmakers home to stay. The new map for the House draws 33 representatives into competition with other incumbents.  At least ten  have decided to run for a Senate seat and 10 others will seek an open seat or run for a local office.  Moments after the House passed the new Senate map, Democratic House minority leader Ron Saunders was discussing making an announcement for a Senate run.

"Next week. I wanted to get through the session and all that then I’m going to close out my House account and file for Senate next week. I didn’t want to do anything during session. I’m going to be running against Dwight Bullard; well actually it is him and James Bush running.

 Across the rotunda Pasco County Republican Senator Mike Fasano, whose protests have stymied Republican efforts to change insurance regulations and privatize state prisons, was setting his eyes on a return to the House. There was speculation Fasano would run for congress but the redistricting plan would have forced him to challenge an incumbent, Gus Bilirakis, who Fasano calls a friend. Instead Fasano will try to take a step back to the Florida House where he began his legislative career 18 years ago.

"Absolutely not. I don’t look at that as a  second choice, but the ability to continue to serve in some capacity for the people of Pasco County."

The redistricting of Florida’s political map is in the final stages though there is still a chance changes can be made to the maps. The Supreme Court has 30 days to accept, reject or replace the Senate proposal.  The U.S. Justice Department also has to review the maps for compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Potential candidates hope all can be worked out in less than eight weeks so they can know which office they are eligible to represent. The week-long candidate qualifying period for the November election begins June 4th.