Redistricting plan joins Manatee, Sarasota

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 26, 2012 

MANATEE -- A plan in which most of Manatee and Sarasota counties are joined together in a single congressional district may have the inside track when it comes to redistricting.

State Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, co-chair of the Florida House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, believes a proposal that keeps the two counties together in a newly formed 16th Congressional District will prevail in the Florida Legislature.

“What we’re looking at is a House proposal that shows Sarasota and Manatee together for the congressional districts’ map we’re working on at this point,” Holder said Wednesday.

A recently approved Senate version bifurcated both counties, lumping their easternmost parts into a monster inland district.

“I don’t have very much confidence the Senate map will be utilized,” Holder said.

The Florida Legislature is attempting to ensure newly drawn congressional districts have about the same number of voters, based on results of the 2010 census. How the boundaries are drawn can influence who gets elected, and whether local jurisdictions gain or lose political clout.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, called the House proposal under consideration Wednesday the “Sweet 16” in a press release from his office.

“The two counties are so tightly interwoven, geographically and economically, that it was in the best interest of the people to keep them in the same district,” said Buchanan, who currently represents the 13th Congressional District.

The 13th encompasses most of Manatee, all of Sarasota, DeSoto and Hardee counties, and a small slice of Charlotte County.

Public testimony also stressed the importance of keeping the two counties in the same district; and the map also conforms with guidelines under a new state constitutional amendment, which emphasized compact and contiguous districts, according to Buchanan’s office.

“Vern’s positive,” said campaign spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts. “All along, he has maintained Sarasota and Manatee counties should stay together -- they are one economic region. He’s pleased this map does that.”

The plan is expected to be approved Friday by a key House committee, and then quickly ratified by the state Senate, the release from Buchanan’s office said.

The Senate version bifurcating the two counties is “inappropriate,” and would “disenfranchise” the Lakewood Ranch community, agreed Manatee County Democratic Chairman Richard O’Brien.

“It’s inappropriate because it disenfranchises the Lakewood Ranch community, which is traditionally part of Sarasota and Manatee counties in every way -- politically, historically and culturally,” said O’Brien.

State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, plans to support the House version, saying, “I think it definitely would not be as productive as if we had Manatee and Sarasota counties together.

“It makes a more compact, geographically sound district,” he added.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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