The progressive buzzword of the year is “equity,” and in modern political theory it would mean that we must alter social systems in order for underprivileged groups to achieve the same outcomes as more privileged groups. Our county commissioners here in Hillsborough like to preach the concept of equity in rhetoric, but when it’s time to put that concept into practice, they throw equity out of the window in favor of self-serving partisan politics, as in the case with redistricting.
The proposed redistricting maps are drawn for the sole purpose of maintaining winnable seats for the sitting county commissioners at the behest of under-represented communities such as Hispanics and African-Americans. If these progressive commissioners truly believed in “equity,” then the only solution they would preach is expanding the number of districts from seven to 11, and providing fair districts.
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) consists of four single-member regional district representatives and three countywide representatives. Seven elected officials have represented Hillsborough County since 1983 when this format was adopted, at a time when we had a population of 700,000 people. However, we have more than doubled our population to over 1.5 million, and that number is climbing rapidly. Unlike state or federal redistricting where districts are rebalanced every decade to account for the population growth and decline, Hillsborough County is not required to rebalance based on population growth or demographic shifts.
Hillsborough can self-regulate and solve this problem by creating nine single-member districts representative of more cohesive communities and two county-wide representatives, expanding the total number of seats from seven to 11, better representing the exponential growth of Hillsborough.
The gerrymandered maps we have right now include ridiculous districts that sprawl from the University of South Florida to Sun City Center, or another that combines Town N’Country with Apollo Beach. Does Brandon have the same needs as Keystone? These are real examples on the proposed maps, and it’s obvious these districts have grown too large and diverse to be represented by seven county commissioners, but nobody seems to care.
Why is it when here in Hillsborough, where the County Commission is no stranger to skirting legal processes, activists are silent, complicitly accepting gerrymandered partisan maps, which heavily favor the affluent white liberal demographic?
Included in all proposed maps, there is a single-member district that is about 38% African-American, even though African-American residents only account for 15% of the total population of Hillsborough County. While this ensures one Black representative, it also ensures there will never be two or three. If we added districts there could easily be two or three Black representatives, drastically shifting representation for the Black community.
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Most egregiously, we have a 30%+ Hispanic population in Hillsborough and not a single district designated for that community. There is no Hispanic representation on the board currently, and our current options ensure they won’t be for the next decade due to the limited number of commissioners and their unwillingness to give power to minorities.
Then there’s veterans, who also make up 15% of our population; shouldn’t they get a special district that ensures they get a representative on the County Commission? How about young adults, who rarely get represented on the commission because of the prohibitive costs of running such a large political campaign?
Still there is silence. The same political organizations who constantly complain about “Republican gerrymandering” are doing nothing to hold the commissioners’ feet to the fire to deliver fair districts: Those groups seem content with encouraging gerrymandering as long as the white people on the commission are Democrats. So much for equity.
Ultimately, it is the very same minority communities who they claim to care about, desperately in need of equity, who won’t get it, and ironically will suffer the most because of the desire from a few predominately old, hypocritical, white liberals to maintain a firm grip on power.
Jake Hoffman, a Republican, is a candidate for Florida House of Representatives in Hillsborough County.