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Gerrymandering leaves some voters at a loss

Dominick J. Marchica Jr. hopped out of the Dodge Ram pickup adorned with NRA and Harley-Davidson window decals. Without provocation, he announced his intentions: "Let's go make a change.''

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It was before 9 a.m. on Election Day and Marchica headed to Bethel Baptist Church on Michigan Lane. It has a Spring Hill mailing address, but its location, a quarter-mile north of the State Road 52 - U.S. 41 intersection, is in the central Pasco area the old-timers know as Gowers Corner. The church is the polling site for precincts 137 and 12, the latter of which is one of only four Pasco precincts in Florida House District 44.

Marchica has definitive ideas about his country and he can fill a journalist's notebook detailing them. His grandchildren should be learning civics. Discipline is missing in the schools and at home. Government is fat. He is overtaxed. The welfare system needs more reform. The courts are too crowded.

"I used to be a stone-cold Republican, but a lot of the Republicans we put in office failed us big time,'' said Marchica, 66.

He is 23 years into his retirement and a Floridian now for 14 years after previously living in Long Island. A self-described tea partier, his idea of change amounted to Republicans Rick Scott for governor and Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate even though he is enamored with neither.

This is change?

"The whole system needs to change,'' he said.

Marchica didn't have a vote in the state House race because his precinct is in District 46 where Rep. John Legg already was re-elected without opposition. Plenty of others leaving the church, however, admitted to possessing little information about the District 44 race between two-term incumbent Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, and former Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden.

Who was the Democrat? asked voter Keely Smith.

Rowden.

"Then that's who I voted for.''

Jim Kern voted for Schenck but wasn't happy about it. Ditto his support for Scott.

"The lesser of two evils,'' he said of both races.

Kari Butler, 35, knows Schenck personally because his wife teaches at Hernando Christian Academy where Butler's children are enrolled. Of course she voted for him, but her personal knowledge of the candidate put her in the minority of the voters interviewed.

"I wasn't familiar with the (state House) race, and I didn't vote in it,'' said Rick Hawks, 62, who came to vote for independent Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate and Alex Sink for governor. Crist earned his support, Hawks said, because of his veto of Senate Bill 6 (ending teacher tenure) ran contrary to the rest of the Republican Party.

I'm guessing that Hawks represents a missed opportunity for Rowden, something she could ill-afford in her neck-and-neck race with Schenck.

That these Pasco voters even have to consider a representative from Hernando County is indicative of the gerrymandering in Tallahassee. Both parties share the blame. In 1992, Democrats included a single Shady Hills precinct in a state House seat based in Hernando (the one held by Jeff Stabins and later by David Russell) simply to dim the chances of former Pasco Sheriff John Short running for the Legislature. Short happened to live in that Shady Hills precinct.

In 2002, Republicans drew District 44 to include four Pasco precincts totaling 2,702 voters. It is a geographic area in north Pasco that stretches from Gowers Corner to Darby and the Traveler's Rest mobile home park in remote east Pasco. Meanwhile state House District 61, represented by Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, dips into Republican-rich New Tampa in Hillsborough County. And Citrus County-based District 43 includes a chunk of Spring Hill in Hernando County, so much so that Rowden lived in that district until she recently changed her legal address to run against Schenck.

You think a majority of the people in Gowers Corner can identify their state representative?

"They probably think it's me',' said Weatherford.

So does somebody in the Republican Party. Outside Bethel Baptist Church sat the usual gantlet of campaign signs, but none for either Rowden or Schenck. There was, however, a sign urging people to vote for Weatherford.

If Marchica really wants change, I hope he voted for Amendments 5 and 6.

Gerrymandering leaves some voters at a loss 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 8:45pm]

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