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District Profile: Florida -- 16th District

Central -- Coastal Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties

The large 16th is something of a link between Central Florida and the southeast's Gold Coast. Although most of its land mass is in four lightly populated counties along the western edge of Lake Okeechobee, most of its population lives in three Atlantic coast counties.

Republicans hold a bare registration edge in the 16th, which means GOP candidates typically run better than their statewide average in top-of-the-ticket races.

The area has attracted newcomers from more congested areas farther south along the coast. Palm Beach County, which accounts for nearly half of the district's population, grew at an overall rate of 50 percent during the 1980s. St. Lucie County, one of the fastest growing areas in the state, grew by 72 percent, and Martin County grew by 58 percent. In solidly GOP Martin County, growth management has become the most important local concern.

The 16th includes parts of north Palm Beach County. Controversies over the pace of development and its impact on the environment have been present in the community of Jupiter, which tripled in size in the 1970s and more than doubled in the 1980s. Many of the newcomers are young, middle-income families who commute south to work in an area from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton. Transportation is a concern here, deciding where to build access roads and how to move travelers through the county. Some bedroom communities are no longer interested in attracting more residents. Jupiter, a mix of conservative Democrats and Republicans, provides a reliably Republican vote.

The region is attractive to boaters because of its access to the Atlantic as well as to the Intracoastal Waterway.

Palm Beach Gardens is headquarters for the Professional Golfers Association and features a golf resort. Wellington is a GOP stronghold. Other areas attractive to retirees are Fountains of Lake Worth, where many residents live on a fixed income and lean Democratic; Golden Lakes Village, and Sentry Village, a heavily Jewish, Democrat-inclined community that has attracted national media attention because it is gated to keep out crime.

Farming is important in less-developed areas of the county, especially sugar, cattle, vegetables and citrus. Pratt & Whitney builds jet engines at a plant northwest of Palm Beach Gardens, while golf courses and beaches draw tourists to the coast.

Some residents work at a growing Northrop-Grumman facility, which produces aircraft components in Stuart.

Citrus is an important industry in St. Lucie County, where Indian River Citrus is known for its sweet grapefruit. Port St. Lucie quadrupled in population in the 1980s, with Republicans cutting into the county's traditional Democratic bent. Fort Pierce, which grew by a relatively modest 9 percent during the 1980s, has a wider spread of incomes than the rest of the coastal communities.

The other four counties in the district -- Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee -- are largely agricultural, with some predominantly fixed-income retirees. Lake Okeechobee, which is adjacent, offers plenty of recreational opportunities for fishing and boating. In the 1992 presidential election, Ross Perot cut into George Bush's margin enough for Bill Clinton to carry Glades and Okeechobee counties.

District Data

  • 1990 Population: 562,519.
  • White 523,225 (93%), Black 22,616 (4%), Other 16,678 (3%). Hispanic origin 35,517 (6%).
  • 18 and over 447,765 (80%), 62 and over 156,318 (28%). Median age: 40.

    Copyright © 1996 Congressional Quarterly, Inc. All rights reserved.

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