State Politics

Congressional boost piques local interest

MANATEE -- The addition of two new Florida congressional seats from a higher census count could set off a scramble in Manatee-Sarasota.

Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett might be interested in running if one of the new U.S. House seats were to materialize in the Tampa Bay area.

“We’re thinking about it,” Bennett told the Bradenton Herald. “It’s one decision we’re trying to decide during the holiday.”

Bennett, a Bradenton Republican facing term limits, said the possibility was very good that one of the two new congressional districts would include part of Southwest Florida.

“In District 13, we’ve had a tremendous amount of growth, in Lakewood Ranch and the City of North Port,” Bennett said. The district is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that Florida will get two more congressional seats in 2012, upping its total from 25 to 27.

The population of the 13th congressional district has jumped from 677,666 in 2000 to an estimated 735,932 through 2009, according to the census bureau. The district includes most of Manatee County, all of Sarasota and Hardee counties, and a small part of Charlotte County.

Legislative redistricting committees will redraw congressional and legislative maps before the 2012 election cycle.

Every district in Florida will be redrawn, Bennett said.

“The easiest way to understand it is if you think of the State of Florida as a pie, and formerly it was divided into 25 equal pieces, and now, we have to divide it into 27 pieces” that are numerically the same, he said.

Former Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, a Bradenton Republican who was term-limited, said it was too early to decide whether he would run for such a seat if it materializes.

“I will look at it once the districts are drawn to determine if I have any interest at that point,” Reagan said. “It will be interesting to see how they redraw the lines, especially in light of the new constitutional amendments that went into effect.”

In November, voters approved the Fair Districts constitutional amendments. The two amendments, one setting redistricting standards for the Florida Legislature and the other for the U.S. Congress, passed with more than 62 percent of the vote. They set new parameters for legislators to follow during the redistricting process.

Reagan noted that he has heard plenty of rumblings about possible candidates locally as well as in neighboring areas, including Tampa and Sarasota.

“I think everybody’s going to sit tight until next year, when the districts are drawn,” Reagan said.

The meat of the reapportionment process won’t even start until this summer, noted state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton.

Legislators will be taking public testimony over the summer, and a year from now will hold committee meetings. The Florida Legislative session will be scheduled earlier than normal in January and February of 2012, so lawmakers can complete redistricting in time for candidates to qualify for the primary races in the spring, he said.

“We don’t even know where those congressional seats are going to end up,” Steube said. “It could be the Orlando area, although there’s been a lot of growth in eastern Manatee and Sarasota counties, and there’s a chance it might come down this direction.

“But we don’t know any of that,” he added. “It would be hard for people thinking about running for the seat because you don’t know.”

Buchanan, the District 13 incumbent, said the way the redistricting takes place across the state is important.

“As the redistricting process moves forward, it is important that Manatee and Sarasota counties remain in the same district since they are so tightly interwoven, geographically and economically,” he said. “I will be monitoring the process very closely to make sure that it serves the best interests of the people of Manatee and Sarasota now and in the future.”

State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, also emphasized how important the process is both for Manatee County and the state as a whole.

“It would be an important seat for us to try to work and put the best person in it as possible,” said Boyd.

“We would continue to enjoy good and strong representation in this part of our state,” he added. “We’re all watching and waiting.”

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