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Politics

Florida House Readies for Redistricting

April 7, 2011 - 6:00pm

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, set the stage for redistricting Friday, announcing that the Legislature would take public input on the matter throughout 2012 and asking for members to serve on the various redistricting committees.

With the redistricting process, legislators are forced to follow two amendments passed by Florida voters at the ballot box in November. The legislators will also redraw the congressional districts across the Sunshine State to draw up two new seats. One of those seats is expected to be in the central part of the state, while the rapidly growing southwestern part of the state is likely to gain the other one.

With eight of the 120 members of the House having already launched bids for the Senate in 2012, including key members of Cannon's leadership team, and more than 100 of the House members having fielded to run for re-election in 2012, Cannon made it clear in a memo sent out Friday that representatives need to put their own ambitions on the backburner for the time being.

As we begin the redistricting process, I would remind you that we will conduct this process in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the law, wrote Cannon. Consequently, members should refrain from discussing their personal political ambitions, their personal district preferences, or the ambitions or preferences of other candidates or officeholders with the chairmen, the members, or the staff of the Redistricting Committee or the redistricting subcommittees.

Cannon also announced that House members would join up with their counterparts in the Senate in taking the matter to the voters. He revealed there would be about 30 hearings across the state from July until November.

When he was named to head the Redistricting Committee in November, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he will reach out to as many Floridians as possible.

"I look forward to hearing our citizens' concerns on this very important process," noted Weatherford. "We will seek to give all parties a voice on this vital issue affecting every Floridian."

Weatherford is, as of now, the only member that Cannon named to the committee, though Democrats are looking to Incoming Leader Perry Thurston of Plantation for leadership on the matter.

Cannon asked in the memo for House members to contact his office by the close of business Tuesday if they wish to be on the committee, though he offered a warning -- that members of the committee will be busy throughout 2011 and into 2012.

Some additional preparatory work will be required prior to this summer, noted Cannon.Consequently, the Redistricting Committee, the House Redistricting Subcommittee, the Senate Redistricting Subcommittee, and the Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee will hold several meetings during the final weeks of this session.

With less than a month remaining in session, Cannon added that committee members can also expect a busy summer.

Please be aware that service on the Redistricting Committee or subcommittees will require attending 25 percent of this summers public hearings, including attending meetings outside of your home region, wrote Cannon.

Based on the Senate Reapportionment Committee, Cannon should be expecting a host of applicants. Led by Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who is the chairman, and vice chairwoman Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, 23 of the Senates 40 members are on the committee.

Cannon encouraged the public to take part in drawing up districts using data from the 2010 Census. The House staff created their own redistricting web application, which was currently in its beta version. The program should be finished by summer.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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