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Plan puts Citrus at tip of 16-county Senate district

Citrus County's next state senator may be from Waukeenah.

Wau-what? Waukeenah. It's a small town 20 miles east of Tallahassee. It's also home to first-term Democratic state Sen. Sherry Walker, whose district would stretch 150 miles down U.S. 19 to Chassahowitzka under the Democratic redistricting plan.

In the proposal unveiled last week, her new district would take in parts or all of 16 counties, stretching from the Citrus County to the Georgia state line. All of Citrus would be included except for Sugarmill Woods, which would join north Hernando County in a district with Sumter, Marion and Lake counties.

The plan is a long way from approval. The Senate subcommittee on legislative reapportionment passed the plan on Friday, and the full Senate committee on reapportionment is scheduled to consider it this week.

Being at the southern end of a 16-county district would be a radical change for Citrus County residents. For the last decade, they have been at the center of a much more compact four-county district running from Marion to Pasco counties. Their current senator, Democrat Karen Thurman, lives in Dunnellon and has her main constituent office in Inverness.

Although the proposed new district appears to favor a Democrat, it upsets local Democrats as well as Republicans. At the local level, politicians are more concerned about having a voice in Tallahassee than which party that voice comes from.

"I definitely am opposed to that," said David Langer, a Democratic County commissioner. "For us to see our senator, we're going to have to go to Tallahassee."

From traffic problems to lifestyle, Citrus County is more similar to Marion and Hernando counties than rural north central Florida, said Charlie Curtis, Republican state committeeman from Citrus.

"We really don't have anything in common in Citrus County with the people in Taylor and Lafayette" counties, he said.

"That's the land of yellow dog Democrats and tall pine trees, whereas Citrus County is growing and maturing, and so many of those areas there just don't have the growth opportunities. They don't have the gain in population that we're experiencing here."

The proposal would create obstacles for two Citrus County residents who hope to succeed Thurman in the state senate. Thurman, who was elected to the Senate in 1982 after the last redistricting, plans to run for Congress in November.

Democrat Karen Johnson and Republican Casimer Smerecki would be taking on an incumbent instead of filling a vacancy. Both vowed to stay in the race regardless of the district boundaries.

"I made a commitment to those people who really encouraged me to run and I'm going to run," said Johnson, a Citrus school board member. "It's very important to the people who live in this county to have someone close by and someone who actually lives in the county."

Smerecki, a retired New York police detective, would face the additional obstacle of a district in which 75 percent of the voters are registered as Democrats. He called the plan blatant gerrymandering.

"You ever hear of a district 200 miles long?" Smerecki said. "I'm surprised they didn't give me South Carolina."