The Hillsborough County Commission made the right call Wednesday by rejecting a plan to redraw political lines for the sake of Hispanic residents. The move may have been self-serving and a tactical defeat for the county's largest minority group, but the plan was discriminatory. It would have fed the sort of political games that can grind urban counties to a halt.
As it stands, the seven-member board is composed of three commissioners elected countywide and four from individual districts. The arrangement allows any voter to elect a majority of the board — a district representative and three countywide commissioners. The setup provides political balance in the sprawling, diverse county, and the significant presence of at-large commissioners helps the board see the big picture.
Commissioner Les Miller proposed changing to a 5-2 makeup, replacing a countywide seat with another district commissioner. He said district commissioners could better tend to a growing population and that increasing the number of district seats would make it easier for Hispanics to win election.
Both arguments are flawed, and the commission majority was right to reject the proposal. District commissioners are not overburdened by the population, and the change would have only modestly reduced the number of people they represent. Carving up neighborhoods further along political lines only would create more horse-trading and paralysis at County Center. This was a jobs bill for politicians with limited appeal. And it came after commissioners rejected a plan in 2011 that would have reduced the gerrymandering of districts while giving Hispanics a better shot at a commission seat. The board — including Miller — instead gerrymandered the map again in a way that preserved Miller's safe minority district.
Hispanic residents were used as pawns in this process to gloss over what the commission did to them two years ago and to circumvent the debate over how to recognize their growth in the community. After all, nothing has changed in the two years since the maps were drawn that should not have been addressed back then. The board may have made the right decision, but putting the public through a bitter second act was pointless. If it is serious about improving the election process, the commission can work with Hispanics and other groups to make redistricting less political by turning over the drawing of district lines to the planning commission. This was simply discrimination wrapped in a bow.