Orlando redistricting hearing packs the house — with the House

By Aaron Deslatte

The Orlando Sentinel

July 27, 2011

The Florida Legislature’s redistricting whistle-stop tour is in Orlando this afternoon and has drawn a crowded house, and that’s just counting the House members present.

By our less-than-scientific tally, there appear to be at least 39 40 House and Senate members on stage at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, where an audience of more than 150 people have signed up to speak during the two-hour session. Lawmakers will hold a second hearing for public input at 6 p.m.

Local lawmakers present include Reps. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, and Steve Crisifulli, R-Merritt Island. Senators present include Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Thad Altman, R-Viera, David Simmons, R-Maitland, and Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

The MC for the day, Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, tried unsuccessfully to get the audience to stop cheering after the first few speakers complained that lawmakers’ summer tour was a farce “designed to look like lawmakers are listening” because they haven’t drawn maps yet. The crowd jeered Precourt when he suggested they pipe down.

So far, the testimony is equal parts criticism of the process, and appeals for creating a Hispanic congressional district that would reflect that Orange County is now made up of a majority of minority groups. Florida will land two new congressional districts — boosting its number of U.S. House members from 25 to 27 next year — and due to Central Florida’s huge Puerto Rican growth, one of those seats is expected to wind up here.

The Central Florida counties of Orange, Osceola, Volusia, Lake and Seminole led the state in population growth over the last decade, largely thanks to Hispanics. Of the 541,000 additional people in Central Florida, 267,000 were Hispanics.

But it will likely be early next year before lawmakers produce proposed maps of the new districts to show how those people will be divvied up.

“As it is now, this exercise is a total waste of time and money,” said Michele Levy, with the Orange County League of Women Voters.

Emilio Perez, chairman of the Central Florida Redistricting Council Inc. in Orlando, said it would be a slap in the face for the Latino community if lawmakers don’t draw an Hispanic access congressional district.

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