Under a proposed redistricting plan released this month, a controversial state senator would represent a greater percentage of Pasco residents while avoiding a confrontation with a well-funded east Pasco candidate.
State Sen. Jim Norman's District 12 would pick up the Zephyrhills area and extend several miles west under the proposed map. But it also cuts out the Dade City area, which is currently in the district he won a little more than a year ago. That change would force Trilby egg farmer Wilton Simpson to run for the Senate in another district.
The boundaries face several hurdles before becoming law. Legislators have not yet voted on the plans; they also have not yet been considered by the courts.
The new District 12 would also remove Norman from the north Hillsborough communities of Temple Terrace and New Tampa.
Norman, R-Tampa, said he's "disappointed" with losing a chunk of northern Hillsborough, which he got to know during 18 years on the Hillsborough County Commission.
"To lose an area like that you're so familiar with, it hurts," he said.
In theory, the boundary changes could bode well for Norman's re-election.
Norman worked much of the year under the cloud of a federal investigation. Authorities were looking at a $500,000 loan Norman's wife received from one of his former political benefactors. The loan was used for a waterfront home in Arkansas.
Federal prosecutors announced last month that they found no evidence that Norman broke the law. But the negative publicity surrounding the case could linger longer in Hillsborough than in Pasco, where Norman is less known.
Norman dismissed the theory that voters would take the matter to heart come next election.
"They looked at everything I've done, and I'm just clean as a whistle," he said of federal authorities. "I knew that, or I couldn't have operated. I knew I didn't do anything wrong and I was validated."
The proposed map puts Simpson — currently a constituent of Norman's — in District 11, which includes much of urban west Pasco. Simpson, a first-time candidate with $160,000 in his campaign coffers, would face term-limited Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey.
Simpson said the map runs counter to a July public hearing in Wesley Chapel, where many residents wanted to either keep Pasco whole in the Senate map or to split the county along the Suncoast Parkway or U.S. 41. He noted that the Senate proposal is far from being final.
"I personally believe that either the Senate or the courts are going to significantly change the way the Senate maps are drawn," Simpson said.
Deborah Cox-Roush, former chairwoman of the Hillsborough GOP, said she thinks more Pasco voters equals a stronger re-election bid for Norman.
"I think Sen. Norman picking up parts of Pasco County is advantageous to him," Roush said. "He's always had great support in Pasco County."
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who serves on the redistricting committee, said that didn't factor into how the maps were drawn. His own district would lose Westchase and the airport area to Norman's district.
"I have no idea how Jim Norman did in his election in any part of his district. Nobody knows that kind of stuff," Latvala said. "Nobody said anything specifically about taking Temple Terrace from him. … He indicated an interest in continuing to have the southern part of Pasco County. He enjoys the people he represents out there."
Norman said he doesn't think losing Temple Terrace and New Tampa would help him. He said he has been lobbying members of the Senate redistricting committee to get them back.
"I've had some conversations about trying to save those areas, but I've been pushed back," he said.
Reach Jodie Tillman at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.