By Matt Wiley
New Florida redistricting maps are currently being reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, after already having been approved by the Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate and by Governor Rick Scott. If approved by the Court, the maps are poised to reshape the state legislative districts for both Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.
“The district numbers have changed dramatically,” says current Florida House District 61 Rep. Will Weatherford (R – Wesley Chapel), who chaired the House’s redistricting committee. “Pasco County has become three separate districts.”
Rep. Weatherford says that, despite the lawsuit brought on by the Florida Democratic Party contesting the maps, the districts have been drawn as compactly as possible, without any political favoritism or breaking up any racial minority districts.
The newly redrawn maps move all of Wesley Chapel from District 61 into House District 38, which would be comprised entirely of Pasco County residents.
He says that his district had grown from 60,000 to a population of 250,000. Because of this massive growth, Weatherford’s district is now strictly within Pasco County and includes all of Wesley Chapel, as well as Zephyrhills and Dade City. It would no longer contain the small portion of New Tampa that previously was in District 61.
The portion of New Tampa that Weatherford was representing has moved into the newly drawn House District 63, along with the rest of New Tampa, old Carrollwood and the USF area. If approved, the only part of the old District 60 (which currently is comprised of both New Tampa and Temple Terrace) that won’t be included in District 63 is Temple Terrace.
“I hate to not be able to represent New Tampa, but my district was severely overpopulated,” Weatherford says. “It had to shrink. It makes more sense for it to be more compact.”
Current Florida House District 60 Rep. Shawn Harrison (R – New Tampa) says that he likes the new district lines, although he hates to lose 5,000 Temple Terrace voters from his new district.
“They (the district lines) are good geographically,” Harrison says. “All of New Tampa is now in my district. That’s my home, but I still have an office and a lot of friends in Temple Terrace.”
Florida’s 120 legislative district boundaries are redrawn every ten years, based on the most recent population census.
Under new redistricting rules meant to prevent gerrymandering (or redrawing a district to benefit an official currently in office or that official’s political party), Weatherford says the districts have been drawn without acknowledging incumbents-officials currently in office-or their political parties.
Still Not A Done Deal
Almost immediately after being passed by a vote of 31-7 in the Florida Senate, the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the newly redrawn district maps, claiming that the maps violate the recently added anti-gerrymandering regulations and that they benefit the Republican-incumbent-controlled Florida House of Representatives and Senate.
Weatherford says that he isn’t surprised by the lawsuit.
“There are always lawsuits during redistricting,” he says, adding, however, that these maps are fair.
The Supreme Court has until March 9 to decide whether to approve the maps, but that decision wouldn’t be made until after we went to press.