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Hispanic group forms to have voice in Hillsborough County redistricting

TAMPA — Hispanics fueled well more than half the population growth in Hillsborough County during the past decade.

Yet they potentially stand to lose ground politically when it comes to their ability to elect someone whose interests resemble theirs to the Hillsborough County Commission, or force that board to listen to them.

A hastily formed group of Hispanic civic leaders is mobilizing to try to change that as commissioners finalize proposals for new political boundaries for themselves in coming weeks.

"We need to be united, not try to get anyone elected," said Lydia Medrano with the League of United Latin American Citizens heading an effort calling itself the Hispanic Redistricting Initiative. "We're just trying to get a district with a large percentage of Hispanics in it."

Hillsborough County has seven elected commissioners. Four of them represent separate, defined regions of the county, while the other three are chosen in countywide elections.

As with Congress and the Legislature, political boundaries for the four district commissioners are redrawn every 10 years to ensure each represents roughly the same number of people.

Commissioners draw their own boundaries with the help of county demographers and feedback from representatives, not to mention behind-the-scenes political arm wrestling. That process is going on now.

Much of the public debate so far has centered on ensuring that District 3 — representing much of central Tampa and parts of east Hillsborough — maintains roughly the same percentage of its African-American population share, about 40 percent.

On Monday, the Hispanic Redistricting Initiative heard a presentation from John Garcia, redistricting manager for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a New York group that advocates on behalf of Hispanics. He said Hispanics are arguably worse off under each of the new boundary proposals.

He noted that District 1 — representing much of South and West Tampa, as well as neighborhoods along the south Hillsborough shoreline — currently includes a 35 percent bloc of Hispanics. The existing proposals each have the percentage declining, to no more than 33 percent to just less than 30.

That's true although the Hispanic population grew countywide by 71 percent to 307,000 people during the past decade.

"You've got to work real hard to do something like that," said Garcia of the fact that all six of the redistricting proposals so far dilute the Hispanic vote in District 1.

Four of the proposed new boundary maps under consideration by the county were drawn largely by county planners, with public input. The two under closest consideration as of the last County Commission meeting emerged from the offices of Commissioners Victor Crist and Sandy Murman, both Republicans.

Crist represents much of northern Hillsborough — or District 2 — and he has to give up some of his territory to other districts that didn't grow as fast. He is seeking to ensure he doesn't lose all of the city of Temple Terrace to District 3, represented by Commissioner Les Miller, a Democrat.

Another map with origins in Murman's office has the south Hillsborough part of her district spreading east to take in the heavily Republican retirement community Sun City Center.

Commissioners hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the County Center to consider the maps they have so far.

Hispanic group forms to have voice in Hillsborough County redistricting 06/06/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 6, 2011 11:25pm]
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