Hillsborough County Commission takes step that could lead to a Latino being elected

09/18/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Al Higginbotham, Victor DiMaio, Hillsborough County Commission, Kevin Beckner, Hispanic, Latino, Les Miller, redistricting single member district


Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller also asked for five single member districts in 2011.

photo by Janelle Irwin, WMNF file photo 2013

The Latino community in Hillsborough wants a County Commission district that represents its interests. During a meeting Wednesday, commissioners took a step that might make it more likely for voters to elect a Latino commissioner. They scheduled a public hearing to consider moving from four single-member districts to five without expanding the size of the board. During public comment, three people spoke in favor, including the co-founder of the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition, Victor DiMaio.

“It’s an inequity that we can begin to solve today and I’m here in support of Commissioner Miller’s courageous proposal under F-3 to bring this forward and try to bring equity. Our group was founded to form a single member district and with all due respect, we have three commissioners here who served in the legislature under a single-member district plan and somehow we survived – you all did a [honorable] job under a single-member district plan.”

Even though the meetings were supported unanimously, there were some concerns among board members. Commissioner Kevin Beckner supports the concept of creating a more representative district, but said redistricting can be too politicized.

“If that process does not change, this plan could ultimately fail and we could have a disproportionate representation and not equal representation as we planned.”

The idea was brought forward by Commissioner Les Miller who proposed a similar plan in 2011 that ultimately failed. Miller grew angry after Beckner’s caution that there could be problems.

“I am not trying to do any disservice to the public and that’s the third time I’ve heard disservice to the public. I would be circumventing my responsibilities as sworn officer of this county to do any disservice to the public. I’m not trying to do anything to cheat the public, hide the public, pull the wool over the eye of the public at all.”

Some members of the Latino community want the commission to do more by making all 7 seats single-member districts. Christopher Cano is with the League of Latin-American Citizens.

“We need to look even further at it because, what happens when another minority grows so large that they’re going to ask for the same thing and we can solve these issues of minority access districts by moving to a seven single member district system which would, one, create a smaller constituency for all of you and, two, would hold the commission more accountable to a smaller constituency, to its constituents, to the people.”

But Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he didn’t buy the argument that moving to all single-member districts would make life easier for commissioners.

“I’m a full time commissioner. I don’t have a problem with this work load. I don’t have a problem with staying in touch. That doesn’t mean that myself and constituents don’t always see eye to eye.”

Before the November 6th public hearing, Hillsborough Commissioners will workshop ideas about changing the number of single-member districts in the county on October 3rd. The meetings were approved unanimously.

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