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Parties criticize redistricting plan

Local Democratic leader Frank Koziuk described the proposal as screwy. Charlie Curtis on the Republican side called those behind the plan cynical and selfish.

The proposal out of Tallahassee to take a sizable chunk of Citrus County from its state House district and replace it with western Hernando County isn't playing well locally.

Citrus political leaders from both parties are nearly unanimous in criticizing the Democratic redistricting plan unveiled last week. The plan would take Floral City and half of Inverness away from state Rep. Paul Hawkes' district and put those voters into state Rep. Chuck Smith's district.

Smith, a Brooksville Democrat elected in 1978, would lose western Hernando County, including about half of Spring Hill to Hawkes, a first-term Crystal River Republican.

The Legislature is drawing new district boundaries to try to make them roughly equal in population, based on 1990 census figures. The House Reapportionment Committee is scheduled to consider the Democratic and other redistricting proposals this week.

The Democratic plan carries the most weight, since Democrats control the Legislature. However, the plan faces numerous obstacles including demands for minority districts and, eventually, a possible challenge by the U.S. Justice Department.

Citrus politicians hope their county is patched back together somewhere along the way.

"We're not familiar with the guys in Hernando," said Koziuk, chairman of the Democratic executive committee in Citrus County. "What's going to happen is we're going to have to get familiar with (our legislator) all over again."

Curtis, the Republican state committeeman from Citrus, argued that the county should retain its own representative since its population of 95,000 is almost the right size for a district. The Legislature is trying to create House districts of 108,000 people.

"We are so very near the magical number to have a state representative that will look after the interests of this county," he said.

"I think it's regrettable that some representatives and some legislators can't resist the temptation to dive into the cookie jar and try to save all they can for themselves. I think it's cynical and selfish."

Currently, Citrus County is within Hawkes' district, except for the sparsely populated northwest corner that falls under state Rep. Alan Boyd, a Monticello Democrat.

The existing district, which with 151,000 people has to shrink to reach the 108,000 target, includes a large part of southwest Marion County. The proposed new district would lose all of Marion except for a short part of the State Road 200 corridor.

At least two Citrus County commissioners are unhappy with the proposal to split the county.

"I would rather have seen a local representative stay with this district just because it makes it easier for the local people to meet him and see him than traveling down to Brooksville," said David Langer, a Democrat from Inverness.

Homosassa Republican Gary Bartell said the proposed districts might harm efforts to overcome the split between residents of west and east Citrus County that has characterized Citrus at times.

"I could just envision some confusion if it is divided up that way, where citizens will be confused about who their representative is and who they need to put the pressure on when they want something done."

County Commissioner Chet White, an Inverness Republican, disagreed with the critics. He said his only concern is that the new districts be compact so legislators don't have to drive too far to serve their constituents.

"I don't see (dividing counties) as a problem," he said. "If you're elected to serve the people and all those folks vote for you, regardless of the two counties or whatever, that is your responsibility."

The proposal has upset some people in Hernando County, too. A group named Project P.U.S.H.(Political Unity for Spring Hill) wanted a district built around the 50,000 population base of that community.

Instead, the proposal splits Spring Hill down the middle. Project P.U.S.H. chairman Jeff Stabins, a Republican, charged that the plan attempts to create a more Democratic seat for Smith, the incumbent.

Under the plan, Smith would lose west Hernando _ an area where Republicans are gaining in strength _ to Hawkes. He also would be moving into more traditional rural, Democratic areas inland. Smith has denied gerrymandering.

The Project P.U.S.H. proposal would have created a district encompassing Spring Hill, northwest Hernando County and southwest Citrus County, including Homosassa Springs.

"We would have been perfectly happy to keep the entire Hernando County whole, but we knew it wouldn't happen because Chuck Smith couldn't be re-elected," Stabins said. "Instead, Chuck gets what he wants, Paul (Hawkes) gets apparently most of what he wants, and we get the shaft down here."