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Critics Claim State Senate's New Map Favors Incumbents

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Plans to redraw the political boundaries of the state Senate and Florida's congressional delegations passed the upper chamber by broad margin even as opponents bitterly argued the maps are aimed at protecting political incumbents.

For Republican Senate leaders the 34-6 vote in favor of the plans, which included 'yea' votes by seven of the chamber's 12 Democrats, gave them an opportunity to crow about the quick resolution of the first act in what was expected to be a long and heated fight over the once-a-decade redistricting process.

"This was a true bipartisan vote on maybe the most contentious issue in politics," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

But opponents wasted no time in tearing into the new plans.

"The maps passed today protect every incumbent senator and ensure another decade of complete Republican control of Tallahassee," said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. "And the Florida Constitution is no less offended by a Democrat voting to protect their seat than a Republican voting to do the same."

The fight scrambled the usual lines associated with redistricting votes. Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who has repeatedly butted heads with the leadership, joined Democrats in opposing the plan.

There was also little difference between white and black Democrats on the vote, even though their interests often diverge on reapportionment; black Democrats split evenly on the plan, 3-3, while white Democrats voted 4-2 in favor of it.

But while Republicans hailed the plan's focus on preserving minority districts, it was a black Democrat who delivered one of the most stinging denunciations of the Senate map.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said the measure strengthened the Republicans' hand by packing more voters into heavily Democratic districts than were necessary to elect minority candidates, "bleaching" surrounding districts and creating Republican majorities despite the fact that blacks vote heavily for Democrats.

"While this plan does guarantee a certain number of black legislators will be elected, it also ensures that we will be in a perpetual minority in the House and the Senate, with little ability to advance an agenda that will benefit the very people we represent," Joyner said.

Opponents were no fonder of the congressional plan.

"This plan still protects incumbents, it still gerrymanders, it still has districts that meander around the state with no apparent logic and it will still very likely result in a congressional delegation that is grossly disproportionate to the partisan make-up of this state," said Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston.

The timeline for a final vote in the Legislature is unclear. The House Redistricting Committee is set to vote on its version of the plan -- including House maps -- on Jan. 27. While House and Senate leaders have agreed to essentially trade the maps for their respective chambers, any differences in the congressional plan would still have to be hammered out before the plans can gain final approval.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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