Sunday, June 24, 2018
Politics

Redistricting lines don't always work out as hoped

The redrawing of Florida's political boundaries is a highly unpredictable business. Just ask Curt Kiser.

For years, the people of North Pinellas were ably represented by Kiser, one of many moderate, good-government Republicans the region has sent to Tallahassee.

But Kiser had his sights set on another capital: Washington.

He was House Republican leader in 1982, the year Florida got four new congressional seats following the massive population growth of the 1970s. A big part of that growth was in east Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

"I was right in the middle of where that seat had to be," Kiser, a lawyer-lobbyist, recalled Monday.

It looked like a cinch. So confident was Kiser of his chances that one day he emerged from a Capitol hearing, smiled and said, "Just call me 'Congressman.' " This paper picked up the line and printed it, and Kiser has never quite lived it down.

"I deserved the criticism," Kiser said Monday, candid and straightforward as always. "I never should have said anything like that."

Kiser never made it to Capitol Hill. Instead, the prize went to an obscure lawyer from Tarpon Springs named Mike Bilirakis.

A decade later, the most powerful senator was Democrat Gwen Margolis of North Miami Beach, who hoped to use the Senate presidency as a springboard to Congress.

Bill Clinton was running for president that year against a weakened George H.W. Bush, and it looked like a banner year for Florida Democrats. Margolis ran for Congress from a reconfigured coastal district that reached deep into Miami-Dade — and promptly lost to Republican E. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale, who stayed around until 2008.

Fast forward to 2002: The speaker of the Florida House is Tom Feeney of Oviedo, who lusted after a seat in Congress and got his wish after a few rounds of horse-trading with the Senate. That same year, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami secured a congressional seat as the House's point man on reapportionment.

Which brings us to 2012 and a surprising political reality in Tallahassee, a town that oozes with political ambition.

Neither Senate President Mike Haridopolos nor House Speaker Dean Cannon shows any interest in going to Congress.

"None. None," Cannon said. "I've learned never to say never, and I said 20 years ago I'd never run for public office. But no. No interest whatsoever."

Haridopolos, who last year mounted a candidacy for U.S. Senate only to fold his tent, said the chatter that he was eyeing a congressional seat on the Space Coast was not true. "I'm not running," Haridopolos said. "How much more transparent can we get?"

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, headed congressional reapportionment a decade ago and is playing an important role this time, too.

"It's always helpful when you don't have a presiding officer who isn't trying to draw a district for themselves or one of their ranking members," Latvala said. "That will make redistricting come together sooner than it has in the past."

One of those watching the lines come together will be Kiser, keenly aware from personal experience just how unpredictable the drawing of districts can be.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected]

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