Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Sue Carlton: Idea of Hispanic commission district raises interesting questions

Sounding suspiciously inclusive, Hillsborough County commissioners are talking about making it easier for a Hispanic person to have a seat on their board.

That's right. The very same commission that could not muster the goodwill to pass a domestic partner registry, the one that thought an applicant opposed to Muslims and gays would be great for a diversity board, agreed to explore giving a Hispanic representative a better shot.

How would it work? One of the commission seats currently picked by voters countywide would instead go to voters in a newly created district that includes neighborhoods where many Hispanic residents have traditionally lived, such as West Tampa and Town 'N Country.

Interestingly, in the past when this came up, Republicans on the GOP-dominated board helped kill it, presumably not willing to weaken the stranglehold they enjoy.

And now questions about political implications and potential motivations are stacking up.

Could Republican commissioners use this to gain badly needed favor with Hispanic voters? Would it help Democrats add to their two seats on the seven-member board? Or would concentrating Democratic voters with some artful gerrymandering actually help preserve that Republican lock?

Putting questions about any motive beyond true inclusiveness aside, the good in this idea is pretty easy to see.

One of the best things about Tampa and the county around it is who built it. In Miami where I come from, relationships between ethnic groups can be fractious. So it was interesting to settle in a place where Cuban, Spanish and Italian roots (among others) have long been part of the fabric.

And why shouldn't Hispanics have a better shot at a voice on the commission with a seat similar to the one designed to help make sure there's a black representative?

You also hear the argument that commissioners representing smaller numbers of constituents can be a good thing.

Here is what's not to like. Now, Hillsborough voters have a say in four commission seats. They get to vote for the person to represent their district, and they get to vote in three countywide races.

This means voters have a hand in the majority of commission races. Take one away to make it a specific district, and voters no longer do.

And there is something to be said for the current mix of commissioners representing specific constituents, and commissioners elected to care about the whole county. (Yes, you would hope they all would.)

I called Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, a longtime Hispanic leader in these parts, for his take. A board of varied backgrounds, he says, "makes for good government."

Miranda himself turns out to be term-limited in 2015. So I asked: If this new district thing happens — and that's a big if — might he run? (What fun: outspoken, no-nonsense Miranda, a Democrat by the way, in that political mix.) "No," he says at first, and then, "Possibly."

So commissioners are taking up a process that could end up on the ballot for voters to decide in 2014, if the board doesn't nip it in the bud. That's time enough for answers about politics, motives, and maybe even what's best for Hillsborough County.

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