Gaetz: Charlotte County concerns prompted shift in Florida Senate’s District 13 map

The Florida Senate redistricting committee has released a revamped draft of how it proposes to redraw Florida’s congressional lines. The new map shows a big shift in the district of Rep. Vern Buchanan — a shift that came about because of urgings from Charlotte County residents to lump them in with other coastal residents, according to committee chairman Don Gaetz.

In the committee’s original proposal, published on Nov. 28, Buchanan’s District 13 covered all of Sarasota County, most of Manatee County and a sliver Charlotte County:

In the new version, published on Dec. 30, a large hunk of western Charlotte has been added to the district, and Sarasota and Manatee have been divided at the I-75:

State Sen. Gaetz, R-Destin, says his committee’s staff made the change after public testimony from Charlotte residents who were upset that their area might be combined with more rural counties like Hardee and DeSoto. According to a transcript of the Senate committee’s Dec. 6 meeting (.pdf), five Charlotte residents criticized the original proposal, most of them citing a desire to be included with coastal districts to the north or south.

“Under the proposed plan, most of Charlotte County has been lumped into new Congressional District 12,” said Punta Gorda’s Barry Jollett, according to the transcript. He added:

Most of the population of Charlotte County is located west of I-75 and is coastal in nature. All of the coastal area from Anna Maria Island to the Everglades is represented by Congressional District 14 and Congressional District 13, except Charlotte County, which is placed in an agricultural district. We have been the stepchild in the current Congressional District 16. Tom Rooney has been great and accessible here, but he is on the east coast of Florida. I really expected that western Charlotte County would be represented along with the other coastal areas of southwest Florida.

Charlotte’s Robert Starr offered similar thoughts:

The Florida voters mandated compact, sensible districts. The proposed plan for Charlotte County is in direct opposition to this voter mandate. We are not in an agricultural community. We are a coastal community with miles of beach and the second-largest harbor in the state, Charlotte Harbor. Our interests would be better served with a district combined with our coastal neighbors, Sarasota, Lee and Collier County.

According to Gaetz, testimony such as Jollett and Starr’s prompted the committee and its staff to rethink District 13. But the move slices Sarasota and Manatee counties — something many participants in an August public forum in Sarasota asked the committee not to do.

The redistricting committee meets again at 1 p.m. next Wed., Jan. 11, to discuss its maps. Gaetz says his committee has heard from 2,200 Floridians about its maps, and that it will continue to hear public testimony next week.