TAMPA Hillsborough County commissioners voted 6-0 today to hold public hearings on creating a fifth single-member commission district, which supporters believe will increase the chances of a Hispanic candidate winning a seat.
Currently, the commission has four single-member districts and three countywide, or at-large, seats. Changing the board’s makeup would require a referendum. The commission vote was the first step in putting the issue on the ballot in November 2014.
Commissioner Les Miller, who tried and failed to get board support for an additional single-member district in February 2012, said he was surprised by the unanimous vote. At that time, Miller said the five Republican commissioners killed the additional single-member district because they feared the new district would favor Democrats.
“I had no idea this would happen,” Miller said after the vote. “I came here praying today. I guess timing is everything.”
Each of the current districts contain about 307,000 residents. Adding a district would reduce the number of residents to about 240,000. Miller said reducing the number of constituents would bring government closer to the people.
But Miller also hopes a new district would include enough Hispanic residents to elect a Hispanic commissioner. He said a district with 50 percent or more Hispanics is not practicable because they are spread out around the county. But creating a district with between 35 and 40 percent Hispanic residents could greatly increase the chances of a Latino board member.
The vote today doesn’t guarantee the matter will be put on the ballot. The next step is for the board to hold workshops and at least one public workshop.