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Push To Keep Leon Whole In Redistricting Pits Congresswomen Graham And Brown Against Each Other

DNC Member Jon Ausman's proposed map puts Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Corrine Brown in the same district, but keeps Leon County intact.

The Florida legislature meets in two weeks to start drawing Congressional districts for the third time. The special session comes after the Florida Supreme Court declared eight districts unconstitutional due to gerrymandering. But a proposal by the plaintiffs in the suit to set the situation right—is causing heartburn to North Florida Republicans and Democrats.

North Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham’s district could become a causality of redistricting. A proposed “remedy”  by the plaintiffs in the redistricting lawsuit call for splitting the Democratic stronghold of Leon County in half—and crafting a new district running from Gadsden, part of Leon and the northern half’s of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton Columbia, Baker, into Jacksonville. Under that scenario, Graham could remain in a Democratic District--with fellow Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Leon County’s voting influence could be diminished. But Democratic National Committeeman Jon Ausman wants to keep Leon intact—and his consultant, Matt Isbell, believes it can be done—though Graham would be at a disadvantage.

“Sixty percent of registered Democrats will be African American so this is still very likely, in terms of political reality, still likely to elect an African American from the Leon County, Gadsden County area," Isbell said.

Ausman says he plans to submit his proposal to the legislature for consideration in the upcoming redistricting special session. Ausman says he doesn’t have a problem with pitting Graham and Brown against each other. He simply believes Leon should be kept intact as mandated by the Fair Districts Amendments to the state constitution-- which say lines should try to respect geographic and political boundaries.

Credit LHatter / WFSU News
Leon GOP Chairman Evan Power

“I think Leon County should be in one district, and the reason for that is when Leon County is in one district it gets 42 percent of the vote in both the Democratic primary and general election," Ausman said. "And the more percentage of the vote you have, the greater chance we have of electing a member to congress more friendly to us.”

The push to keep Leon whole is also endorsed by County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power, who says Leon is more culturally and politically aligned with its western neighbors.

“We on the other hand would prefer staying in the panhandle. We feel communities of interest between Duval and Leon County aren’t quite the same as Leon County and some of the panhandle counties. But as a whole we want Leon County kept whole.

Power says if the district has to change, he’d like it to run westward-- which could require Graham to face off against Republican Congressman Jeff Miller. Either way, Graham could find herself stuck in the middle. But none of this is set in stone. The Florida legislature is meeting to determine the congressional boundary lines. And Graham’s fate, along with other North Florida Congressmen and women—is up to lawmakers.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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