Like clockwork every 10 years, after the completion of the census, controlling parties in state legislatures across the country reapportion congressional districts in ways that they hope will consolidate their legislative control. While redistricting is par for the political course, sacrificing incumbents is rarely part of the plan. But Republicans in Florida have put one of their own at risk.
Where usually Republicans are accused of reapportioning voters to dilute minority voting blocs, in the case of Congressional District 22 in South Florida, it may be conservative Republican Rep. Allen West, one of the few black elected Republicans in Florida, who ends up losing power. West is currently at the center of Republican infighting over redistricting, and legal challenges may result from the effort.
West, a Tea Party darling who once likened himself to freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, is apparently expendable to the new plan's architects. Party members in the congressman's district, which includes Boca Raton, are fighting back, and have even launched a website, www.saveallenwest.com, to advocate for the fiery congressmen, despite the fact that incumbency cannot legally be considered in the redistricting process.
According to Tampa Bay Times, "In an open letter to members of the Florida legislature's redistricting committees, the top brass of the Broward County Republican Party have registered this complaint: your maps don't protect our incumbent." The local leaders claim that the plans will hurt West, whose district as it stands is almost evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. The new proposed district would essentially slice off a largely Republican section and would add a Democratic swath. But the letter may do him more harm than good, as it could trigger a lawsuit.
"Just when I thought the GOP couldn't get more incompetent, Broward comes along with an effort to save an incumbent? This is Exhibit A in the first lawsuit," Henry Kelley, chairman of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party, told the Sunshine State News. "You could have made the argument solely over compactness, but to specifically do so over a single congressman, you are begging for a lawsuit. Further, you just handed every group who will sue an example of Republicans manipulating the process to protect incumbents."
The case for "compactness" that Kelley references is contingent on a November 2010 amendment to the Florida Constitution, which, as The Palm Beach Post explains, not only "forbids favoring or disfavoring incumbents or political parties. The new law also requires that districts be compact and make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries where feasible."
The decennial redistricting of congressional districts is one of the more contentious tactics, which also include stringent new voter identification laws and the elimination of early voting, that Democrats accuse Republicans of using to disenfranchise key Democratic voting blocs, particularly racial minorities, in advance of the 2012 presidential elections.
This past summer during an interview with Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor," West likened the Democratic party to a plantation, "where the Democrat party has forever taken the black vote for granted, and you have established certain black leaders who are nothing more than the overseers of that plantation."
"And now the people on that plantation are upset because they've been disregarded, disrespected and their concerns are not cared about," he continued. "So I'm here as the modern-day Harriet Tubman to kind of lead people on the Underground Railroad away from that plantation into a sense of sensibility."