Saturday, December 16, 2017
Politics

New commission map, sans politics?

Now here's something you don't see every day, given our penchant for politics where politics do not belong:

A bunch of politicians are at least talking about taking politics out of a local redistricting process — a development that could be remarkable in its lack of, well, politics.

Right now, three of the seven Hillsborough County commissioners are elected by voters countywide. The other four win their seats via voters who live in specifically mapped-out districts.

Commissioners are now looking at a proposal that could turn one of those countywide seats into another district seat. Why?

As the argument goes, Hillsborough County has grown to be home to more than 1.2 million citizens. With the proposed change, a district commissioner would be expected to pay attention to the concerns of 245,845 of them instead of 307,307.

With apologies to commissioners, think: waiter with fewer tables.

Also interesting: This proposal could make it easier for Hispanic voters to elect a Hispanic representative — similar to the District 3 seat held by Commissioner Les Miller, which was carved out to help ensure an African-American representative on the board.

Hispanics make up 25 percent of the population and are the fastest growing ethnic group, but currently there is no Hispanic commissioner. Though it should be noted for the record that people with Spanish and Cuban — and also Italian — roots are an integral part of how this place grew up and have long been part of its politics and judiciary.

There is, of course, potential political fallout to such change, real or suspected. Some worry savvy operatives could actually use it to strengthen Republican dominance on the board. Consider, for instance, that it would mean losing the only countywide seat elected in a presidential year, when Democrats tend to show up.

But in making this redistricting decision, commissioners should be able to consider it on the basis of fairness and need without worrying about political influence — right?

"The biggest act of political theater I have ever seen," Commissioner Kevin Beckner says of the redistricting process in 2011, down to bigwig party members sitting in the front row.

Given that, picture this:

Commissioners recently voted 5-1 to consider depoliticizing things by handing over the redistricting process — as in, who ultimately gets to draw those new maps —to the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. These planners have been handling Tampa City Council districts for decades.

So, we're talking politicians at least talking about handing off power for the greater good. (Unless those powerful political types get their ears first, anyway.)

On Nov. 6, citizens get to make their thoughts on a new single-member district to "reflect the diversity of the citizenry in this county" known at a public hearing. It should be a good airing of an interesting idea in all its nuance, of a change that could shape how their county gets governed into the future. The proposal needs five votes from commissioners to get it to a referendum next year.

And that push by politicians to take politics out of the process would be a good start.

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