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Dozens of speakers have their say as legislative redistricting tour comes to Tampa

TAMPA — Vera J. Chapman stood before 40 of the most powerful people in Florida on Monday and told them she'd like to take them to the woodshed.

"It would be a darn stiff switch that I'd take to your heinies," said Chapman, a retiree from Sun City Center.

Chapman was one of roughly 200 people who showed up for the Tampa edition of the Legislature's traveling summer road show to hear from citizens about redrawing state political boundaries. The 26-stop tour, consisting of members of the state House and Senate redistricting committees, is in its final legs with more stops in west-central Florida this week.

Like most of the roughly half of attendees who took the opportunity to speak at the Jefferson High School auditorium Monday night, Chapman gave the legislators what for. She accused them of spending public money to thwart the will of Florida residents who last year voted by a 63 percent majority to block the redrawing of political districts to favor the party in control.

She told the members to stop wasting citizens' time and money on "sham hearings" and get to work drawing boundary proposals themselves.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, chairman of the House redistricting committee, would make light of her comments after four hours of testimony.

He said much of the commentary had been helpful. As for the rest, he quoted a relative on his wife's side by saying "spanking is good for the soul."

A small group of speakers, many of them actively involved in Hillsborough County's Republican Party, took to the defense of lawmakers. They criticized Amendments 5 and 6, as they are known, for placing vague and subjective standards on legislators by requiring them to adopt political boundaries for themselves and Congress members that are compact and practicable.

"I don't even know what that word is," said Carol Carter, a longtime resident of eastern Hillsborough. She noted that the language encourages legislators to follow municipal boundaries where possible, then pointed to the city of Tampa's elongated shape as seemingly at odds with the "compact" requirement.

"I would describe the city of Tampa as sprawled and oddly shaped," Carter said.

Most of the speakers Monday said the language is quite clear and asked legislators to honor it. Self-identified Republicans and Democrats used two of Tampa Bay's main congressional districts as examples of what they want cured.

They pointed to District 9, the House seat held by Republican Gus Bilirakis, which snakes from northwest Pasco County, across northern Pinellas County and into the far southeast corner of Hillsborough. And they singled out District 11, held by Democrat Kathy Castor, which is centered on the city of Tampa but takes in part of south St. Petersburg and a sliver of Manatee County.

"I'd like to see that kind of gerrymandering stopped," said Gail Parsons of Odessa.

In short, the speakers said such districts are drawn to favor one party over the other. In the case of District 11, said Gary Dolgin, it's drawn to concentrate Democratic voters in one area so that surrounding districts tilt more reliably Republican.

Florida is considered a swing state when it comes to determining national elections. Some speakers said its congressional and legislative seats should reflect that by being staging grounds for competitive races. Instead, both houses in the Legislature are heavily tilted Republican, just as they were once heavily tilted Democrat.

Several speakers made the claim that legislators are suing the state and spending millions of dollars to do it in an effort to thwart the will of voters when they approved the so-called fair districts amendments last year.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

More meetings

Two additional public meetings on legislative redistricting are scheduled for today:

Largo: 8 a.m.- 11 a.m. today, EpiCenter at St. Pete College, 13805 58th St. N.

Sarasota: 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. today, New College, Harry Sudakoff Conference Center, 5845 General Dougher Place.

Get resources

See past coverage, a full meeting schedule and search for your current district at tampabay.com/redistricting.

More meetings

Two additional public meetings on legislative redistricting are scheduled for today:

Largo: 8 to 11 a.m., EpiCenter at St. Pete College, 13805 58th St. N.

Sarasota: 6 to 9 p.m., New College, Harry Sudakoff Conference Center, 5845 General Dougher Place.

Get resources

See past coverage, a meeting schedule and search for your district at tampabay.com/redistricting.

Dozens of speakers have their say as legislative redistricting tour comes to Tampa 08/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 12:25am]

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