Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

Senate district map for Pasco draws critics

Ever since lawmakers in November released proposed new boundaries for the Florida Senate, the way Pasco was divided has produced quiet grumbling.

But those concerns reached a new volume this week when House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford called the map a "head scratcher."

"It's still early in the process," he said Friday. "The House and the Senate still have a long way to go before these things become law. We've got time to iron out all the differences."

Under the proposed Senate map, a half moon-shaped slice lumps Zephyrhills with portions of Trinity and north Tampa. A neighboring district includes west Pasco and Dade City, along with much of Hernando and Sumter counties.

Several Pasco critics point to a July public hearing in Wesley Chapel. Many residents there asked to either keep Pasco whole in the Senate map or to split the county into east and west halves, using the Suncoast Parkway or U.S. 41 as a dividing line.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is in charge of the redistricting effort in the House. His counterpart, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville, is shepherding the Senate map.

A Senate committee plans to vote on the proposal Wednesday, and House subcommittees are set to narrow the field to three choices for both the House and Congressional maps on Monday.

Some observers say the map benefits incumbent state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa. His new district would pick up more Pasco voters and would shed some north Tampa areas that might better remember a recent scandal stemming from a $500,000 loan Norman's wife received from a political supporter. She used the money to buy a waterfront home in Arkansas. The transaction occurred during his 18 years on the Hillsborough County Commission.

Federal prosecutors announced last month that they found no evidence Norman broke the law, and he said recently he is "clean as a whistle."

The map would also put two well-funded hopefuls in another district: term-limited Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, and Trilby egg farmer Wilton Simpson. A first-time candidate, Simpson is currently a constituent of Norman's. The new district would shed much of east Pasco.

The Senate map wasn't drawn with those political considerations in mind, argued Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who sits on the Senate redistricting committee.

"What they did makes sense," he said. "I think that the folks that live in Land O'Lakes and in Wesley Chapel are more attuned to Tampa than they are to Sumter County."

Latvala, who previously served in the Senate a decade ago during the last round of redistricting, said House leaders traditionally draw a map for their own chamber while Senate leaders draw the Senate map.

"Some of the (House) maps I've seen in Pinellas County frankly don't make sense to me," he said. "I'm not going to go micromanage the House map. I certainly hope they won't micromanage our map."

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is vacating the District 11 seat that would include Legg and Simpson. He has removed himself from the redistricting process, but said he shares Weatherford's concerns.

"My question would be, what do the people in Holiday … have in common with the people all the way up in Sumter County?" he said.

But Latvala said he hasn't heard any senators who disagree with Pasco's treatment and that the lines don't always come down neatly. "Unfortunately you've got to split some counties," he said.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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