Lakeland would be part of a Polk-based new Congressional district under the first draft of redistricting maps released Wednesday by the Florida Senate.
Because of population growth reflected in the 2020 Census, Florida gained a 28th Congressional district, up one from its previous 27. With the greatest population growth along the I-4 corridor, the four new Senate maps place the new district in Polk County along with parts of southern Lake and Sumter counties.
The redrawn 15th Congressional district, currently represented by Lakeland’s Scott Franklin, would rest entirely in eastern Polk County. But the new 28th district would be safe for Republicans like Franklin, according to Dan Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. He tweeted:
“These maps would put #FL15 Rep. Scott Franklin (R) in the new safe R #FL28 , but turn #FL15 into a *Biden* seat in the east Tampa suburbs – effectively creating a new Dem seat. I can’t imagine this is going to be the ultimate GOP plan in FL.”
Wasserman noted that the new maps are largely free of gerrymandering, as some had predicted. He concluded in his series of tweets that the Republicans who control Florida’s Legislature prefer incumbents’ safety over a prospective court challenge.
The Congressional districts, under the Senate proposals, virtually ensure that Polk is represented by somebody who lives in the county. That has been mostly the case since Andy Ireland of Winter Haven was elected to the U.S. House in 1977; the only exception was 2019-20, when Republican Ross Spano of Dover represented District 15.
Under current boundaries, District 15 stretches from suburbs east of Tampa to northeast Polk County and past Clermont in Lake County.
Democratic political mapping expert Matt Isbell says the maps proposed by the Senate largely keeps the political balance between Republicans and Democrats in Florida’s Congressional delegation, the USA Today Florida Network reported.
The proposal would likely give Republicans a 16-12 margin, he said. Currently, the split is 16 Republicans, 10 Democrats and a vacancy in a Democratic-leaning district.
The proposals released Wednesday were drawn in private by the Senate redistricting staff. The committee’s director said the four maps “represent trade-offs within co-equal Tier-Two criteria,” a reference to court-approved criteria for maintaining equal population, visual compactness, county boundaries and not separating cities, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Senators will review the proposed maps when they meet in special session next week. The Florida House has not yet announced plans to release its proposed maps.