TAMPA — The movement to add a Hispanic-leaning district to the Hillsborough County Commission gained ground today as commissioners set a Nov. 6 date to decide whether to place a redistricting plan on the 2014 ballot.
Commissioners voted 7-0 to set the vote on a ballot measure that would add a single-member district and remove an at-large district. If voters approve the measure, the commission would have five single-member districts and two seats elected countywide. Currently, three seats are elected countywide.
The vote was a reversal of a commission action in February 2012 when all five Republican commissioners voted against setting a public hearing on the new district — a prerequisite for putting the matter before voters.
In both cases, Les Miller, a Democrat and the commission’s only black member, pushed for the new district, arguing that if commissioners represented fewer constituents, it would bring residents closer to their government. Each of the four single-district commissioners now represents about 307,000 residents. Miller’s plan would reduce that number to about 240,000.
Hispanic groups have supported Miller’s initiative because they see it as their only hope of electing a commissioner of Hispanic heritage. Otherwise, they might have to wait until after the U.S. census in 2020.
The board’s other Democratic member, Commissioner Kevin Beckner, said he would support the plan but only if a non-partisan redistricting committee drew the new district.
Beckner recalled presenting the board with a map in 2011 that increased the number of Hispanics in District 1 by 70 percent to 112,253. If commissioners had approved the map, District 1, represented by Sandy Murman, would have had a Hispanic population of nearly 36 percent, more than in any of the four single-member districts.
The commission gave the plan little consideration, however, and voted instead for a map that Democrats criticized as favoring continued Republican domination of the board.
“The problem we’ve seen in this political divide in our country has arisen from the drawing of political maps,” Beckner said. “We must remove politics from this process.”
Miller, while agreeing that politics should be removed from drawing the districts, objected to Beckner’s preconditions.
“We’re not at the map-drawing stage yet sir,” Miller said. “We’re just trying to get a public hearing for 2 p.m. on Nov. 6.”
Beckner apologized to Miller, saying he fully supported the public hearing. But if the board votes at that meeting to put the district plan on the ballot, Beckner said he will press for a committee made up of Democrats and Republicans to redraw the county districts.
The board also voted to hold a workshop on the issue Oct. 3.