Allen West a Wild Card in Florida Redistricting

Perhaps the hottest political story in Florida these days is the one whose final chapter won’t be written until early next year.  Florida will be the last large state to complete its process of congressional redistricting, and by all estimates, that won’t occur until the Florida legislature reconvenes in January.

Thanks to a big influx of population, the census has given the Sunshine State two new House districts, along with the 25 (19 held by Republicans, six by Democrats) it now has.  Where they will be located and which party they favor remains a mystery for now.  In addition, the process is complicated by an amendment to the state constitution enacted by voters in a statewide referendum last year that requires congressional districts to be “contiguous” and “compact,” equal in population, and to make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.  The amendment prohibits drawing districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.

But the real mystery of Florida redistricting is this:  What will happen to Rep. Allen West?

With Republicans controlling the Florida legislature and governorship, and thus fully in charge of the congressional redistricting process, it was assumed that a secure district would be carved for freshman West, one of two African-American Republicans in Congress and a nationally known Tea Party conservative from his frequent appearances on cable TV programs.

But sources in the Sunshine State say redistricting is by no means a slam-dunk for West.  Two-term Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, who has a Republican-leaning district, has to lose approximately 100,000 individuals.  However, he most likely wants to shave off Charlotte County on the west coast of Florida, which coincidentally, has about that amount of Democrats in its population.  However, this may require Rooney to add even more GOP voters to the Palm Beach portion of his 16th District, and they would almost certainly come from the neighboring 22nd District held by West.

Giving Rooney an advantage in the redistricting process is his brother, a newly elected Florida legislator, State Rep. Patrick Rooney Jr.

Two years ago, West won a district in which Democrats have an advantage in registered voters and which has gone Democratic in the last three presidential election cycles.  A loss of Republican precincts to Rooney would almost certainly put swashbuckling conservative and decorated U.S. Army veteran West further in the political danger zone.

Supporters of West and the Tea Party don’t want this to happen and, to no one’s surprise, the freshman lawmaker wants a district that is more secure.  Should Rooney’s district gain this turf from West’s neighboring district, it would almost certainly force West to gain precincts from unfriendly Democratic areas to his south.  As one Florida political operative put it, “To Allen West’s east is the Atlantic Ocean, to his west is the [heavily Democratic district of Rep.] Alcee Hastings.  To the south is [Democratic National Committee Chairwoman] Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  West has to go north.”

West has already ruled out a run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson.  Sources close to both lawmakers say that their respective supporters in the state legislature could conceivably come up with a map that, while not giving either West or Rooney the perfectly secure district each wants, could nonetheless give each a district approximately 52% to 53% Republican.  The question is whether the legislators in Tallahassee follow the supporters who testified at hearings in South Florida in August.  The congressmen themselves are banned from discussing the redistricting process with each other due to a court case involving trying to overturn the state constitutional amendment dealing with redistricting that was enacted by voters last year.

Whether there can be agreement on such a map may well determine the fate of Tom Rooney and Allen West.  Until then, one has to agree with the Palm Beach Post that the two are on a “collision course.”