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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Redistricting proposal killed along party lines amid charges of offensive critique



Hillsborough County commissioners rejected a proposal to change their district boundaries Wednesday in a vote that fell along partisan lines.

The outcome was not unexpected, but nevertheless came with some drama.

Currently, Hillsborough has seven elected county commissioners. Three are chosen in countywide elections. The other four represent geographic districts. Commissioner Les Miller proposed having five district commissioners and two who are elected countywide, a change that would have required voters' approval in a referendum.

Miller, a Democrat, said he was trying to have district commissioners represent fewer people. But he also wanted to create a district where Hispanics have a greater chance of electing someone of their ethnicity.

During public comment, community activist Marilyn Smith characterized the proposal as "ghettoizing" County Commission districts. Smith asked, "What's next? Creating districts so that Lithuanians or other ethnic groups can gain representation?"

Miller shot back when the issue went to commissioners for discussion.

"That cuts deep. It's painful," Miller said of Smith's comments. "So I apologize for those comments being made."

Several representatives of Hispanic groups were in the audience to support Miller's proposal, and applauded his apology.

Republican commissioners ultimately said they were rejecting the idea because the current arrangement allows all residents to be able to vote for or against a majority of the board.

"I believe a majority of residents like being represented by a majority of commissioners," said Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, a Republican.

The current district boundaries, approved last year, heavily favor Republican candidates for office in each district except Miller's, which has a high concentration of Democratic and African-American residents. Democratic voters actually outnumber those who are registered  as Republicans overall in the county.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, another Democrat, was the lone supporter of Miller's proposal.

 -- Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer



[Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 4:23pm]


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