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NEWS

The other fair districts

Orlando's coming reapportionment process promises some local political theater

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During the November midterm elections, there was much ado about Amendments 5 and 6, two measures that were intended to alter Florida's redistricting process by forcing the legislature to respect municipal lines, balance racial representation and deter attempts by political parties to draw districts that favor incumbents. The amendments were approved by voters with a 63 percent margin, but since then, there has been a cacophony of concerns about them.

On Nov. 3, U.S. House incumbents Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, filed a lawsuit to block Amendment 6 (defining U.S. Congressional districts), claiming that it violated federal law and could actually hurt minority representation rather than help it. Gov. Rick Scott muddied things further when he secretly withdrew the amendments from the U.S. Justice Department approval process in early January. Soon after, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, expressed concern about Amendment 6's constitutionality and filed a motion that the state legislature should piggyback on the lawsuit. Redistricting is expected to commence regardless, meeting the deadline of June 2012.

But that gerrymandering soap opera is only part of the story.

As with state legislative districts and U.S. Congressional districts, local county district lines, school board district lines and even the six non-partisan districts of the city of Orlando have to be redrawn in the coming months to reflect population shifts and growth. Though 2010 census numbers specific to the city have yet to be released, echoes of what was a contentious battle over race and representation in city government 10 years ago (the last time the city had to redistrict) are already resounding.

Substantial developments in Baldwin Park and Lake Nona's medical city may threaten a decade's worth of boundaries, and boom-and-bust foreclosures and empty condo units could shift the balance of power in some areas. At least one commissioner, Phil Diamond of District 1, may be pushed out of his district altogether when the dust settles. Which should be just fine by him - he's probably running for mayor in 2012. Local politics are about to get dirty.

Doug Head, former chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, knows the drill. He was one of nine members of the city's redistricting advisory committee in 2001; he was chosen by Commissioner Patty Sheehan to represent the interests of District 4 (each commissioner chooses one representative of the committee, the mayor will likely pick three). In 2001, the board included such luminaries as current Orange County Republican Executive Committee head Lew Oliver and, remarkably, Dean Cannon. The drill, Head says, amounts to little more than political theater.

"They don't need a commission or a board," he says. "I can tell you from my personal experience that the commissioners talk to the staff and the staff explains to the advisory board why everything needs to work the way the commissioners want."

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