Florida redistricting committee gets an earful from Pasco County residents

07/27/11 Sarah Curran
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Lawmakers are holding a series of meetings across Florida to establish what residents hope to see as Legislative and Congressional districts are-re-drawn early next year. One Pasco County resident called last night’s redistricting meeting in Wesley Chapel a dog and pony show. State legislators from Bradenton to Miami-Dade County heard an earful from residents like J Porter, who said Pasco County can’t be overlooked any longer.

“During the growth boom Pasco was the 2nd fastest growing county in the state. That kind of growth everyone in the room felt and everyone in this room saw. Its something when those kind of people and we get that kind of density your seeing. Your seeing growth that is taking place during a depressed market. We need to make sure our representation basically correct and dead on for the kind of constituents in the areas.”

Many residents expressed the vast differences between East, West and Central Pasco County. While eastern Pasco is highly agricultural, Central Pasco has become a business hub, with West Pasco representing the gulf beaches. Some even suggested using the Suncoast Parkway as a dividing line between possible new districts. 6th generation rancher Charles Waller wants the districts to consider the distinct differences of a rural lifestyle.

“Take the parkway, make that the dividing line. That area over there has similar interests up and down the coast. And if you will take that parkway and come forward then thru the rest of Central and East Pasco come up thru Sumter and Hernando County, we speak the same language. We are farmers, we are ranchers, we are chicken farmers, we own groves and we need someone who can look out for our interests.”

Executive director of the greater Zephyrhills chamber of commerce Bonnie McNichlson says lawmakers need to understand the potential of central locations like Pasco County.

“We have the ability to capitalize on a variety of logistics from two interstates, rail, port access to air expansion possibilities and the availability of land. We are enthusiastic about our future but we can better utilize these resources with representatives that will work with our local communities as a whole and understand these attributes to develop them to the highest level possible.“

Residents frequently referenced Florida’s recently-passed Amendments 5 and 6. They aim to keep politics out and fairness in when lawmakers consider new districts. And while most residents praised the representatives for their attempts at transparency, residents like John Russell are still skeptical of the process. He says the Fair Districts amendments told lawmakers what Floridians want in new districts, but in the end it all boils down to who has the most money.

“The judiciary will see fit and your gonna run this thing thru and use our tax dollars against us. I thank you very much this is a dog and pony show. It is a fig leaf over what will be the final result.”

Residents wanting to take a stab are drawing their own districts can go online to floridaredistricting.org to submit a map using the same data used by legislators. Today lawmakers will hear from Residents in Orlando, followed by Melbourne tomorrow. Tampa Bay residents can still attend two more public meeting on redistricting in the area. The first is scheduled for August 29 in Hillsborough County, the second on August 30 in Largo.

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