ORLANDO – He became a hero to so many on the political left, a champion of health care reform and opponent of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but he ultimately lost his re-election bid in a solid year for Republicans.
Now the question is whether former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson is poised to not only get re-elected, but to quickly become a soon-in to win.
At least one local political commentator thinks Grayson is headed back to Congress with a clear victory path next year.
“Guess what, he’s going to be back,” said Doug Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report radio talk show and driving force behind the Ax the Tax movement.
Guetzloe thinks that Grayson – who lost his seat representing the state’s 8th Congressional District to Republican Dan Webster, 56 percent to 38 percent – will win not because of changing political winds that go against the GOP and return to the Democrats’ corner, but rather something else entirely: redistricting.
At the start of each decade, the 50 states use new census figures to redraw the lines of all 435 congressional district to reflect population shifts. Florida grew at a solid enough rate throughout the past decade that the Sunshine State is expected to gain two more congressional districts, bringing the total number to 27. Central Florida was one of the fastest growing parts of the state, and the Orlando area is widely expected to gain one of those districts.
Guetzloe, a conservative who has been active recently with the Florida Tea Party – which recruited a candidate, Peg Dunmire, to challenge Grayson in 2008 – thinks that district will clearly favor the Democrats.
“Central Florida will get a new Democratic seat in 2012, and it will be a democratic seat because Orange County is overwhelmingly Democratic,” Guetzloe said, adding that the Democrats have a natural candidate to run.
“Save your Alan Grayson buttons,” Guetzloe said. “Alan Grayson will be the next congressman from that district. He will be the unabashed frontrunner.”
Guetzloe thinks two factors will work in favor of a solidly Democratic district in the Orlando area. First, most of the congressman in this area – Webster, Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, and Rep. Bill Posey of the Space Coast – are Republicans. Guetzloe thinks these incumbents will be eager to shed democratic precincts in their own districts, making them safer for their own re-election bids.
Second, a decade ago the district lines were drawn by the Florida Legislature, which today – just as in 2002 – is solidly in the hands of Republicans. Add in Gov. Rick Scott, and Republicans have complete control of the redistricting process.
Or at least they did, until last November, when Florida voters approved two ballot referendums that pulled redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers and turned the process over to an independent commission given the task of drawing up the new lines. The ballot initiative, by Fair Districts Florida, aimed to restrict “gerrymandering,” the process of drawing lines to maximize partisan gain. Instead, it requires the drawing of compact districts that conform to geographic boundaries.
With Republican lawmakers stripped of their ability to craft safe GOP districts,”It’s going to result in more Democrats being elected in 2012,” Guetzloe said. “Fair Districts is going to result in less gerrymandering, which will result in more democratic seats.”
Paul Senft, a former member of the Republican State Executive Committee and a former Polk County commissioner, said that prediction might be premature. He said population shifts will help determine where the district lines go, regardless of which party controls the process.
“The actual population figures will have something to do with that,” Senft said. “I don’t know if Miami has grown or stayed the same, or if the Jacksonville area had the most growth. There are extensive computer programs where they can punch in numbers and do it that way.”
Senft said Greater Orlando, which experienced a major population boom over the past 10 years, should be favored to gain a new seat.
“I would think Orlando probably would, yes,” he said.
But Senft said it’s not clear if the Fair Districts measures, which were approved by two to one margins, will hold up under a court challenge. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, filed a court challenge along with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Miami, to knock Amendments 5 and 6 off the ballot, unsuccessfully. Brown has promised to continue her court challenge, since she believes the amendments will make it harder to create districts that minority candidates can carry.
“It will go to court for sure,” Senft said. “It’s going to go to court and be settled in court. I don’t believe the politics is out of it when it’s in the courts.”
Brown’s own district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, taking in heavily minority voting precincts in both cities. Guetzloe, though, predicted that Brown’s court challenge would almost certainly fail.
“I think Corrine Brown is an anachronism,” he said. “I think she’ll moan and groan about this, but I don’t think she’ll get anywhere.”
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