POINCIANA – Communities get divided all the time – over local projects, plans for the future, or how services are being delivered.
Keith Laytham, a resident of Poinciana, thinks his home community is divided in another way – and not just because the 10 villages in Poinciana are split between two counties, Osceola and Polk.
Laytham thinks the community is divided politically, but not necessarily in the traditional sense, such as between liberals and conservatives or Democrats and Republicans.
It’s a political division of a different sort, known as redistricting. Poinciana is divided between two congressional districts and three state legislative districts – and Laytham is hoping that gets changed next year, when the Legislature redraws the lines of the state’s congressional, state Senate and state House districts to reflect population shifts over the past decade.
“The districts must be contiguous,” said Laytham. “Every effort should be made to preserve communities of interest. For example, Poinciana, which has a community on the Polk side and a community on the Osceola side, really should be within one district.”
Laytham is a member of the Polk Democratic Executive Committee, which has been putting together its own plan for redistricting, which they will submit to the Legislature for consideration.
“One of the responsibilities I have taken on is to look at the redistricting efforts going on,” Laytham said. “And I have been up to my eyeballs in working with the redistricting mapping tools that the Legislature has provided. They spent a lot of money on this. They created a web-based computer tool that allows people to draw different congressional districts, state Senate districts, or state House districts.”
Right now, Poinciana has two congressmen, Bill Posey and Dennis Ross; one state senator, Paula Dockery; and three state House members – Mike Horner, John Wood, and Steve Precourt. As Laytham noted, these lawmakers have two things in common: they’re all Republican, and not one of them lives in Poinciana.
In most cases, they live quite a distance from the community. Wood is from Winter Haven, Dockery lives in Lakeland, Precourt is from Orlando, and Posey has the farthest distance to go to reach Poinciana, being from the town of Rockledge in neighboring Brevard County.
Florida’s Legislature is controlled by Republicans, and most of the state’s 25 congressional districts are now held by members of the GOP. But as Laytham noted, they won’t just be redrawing the existing congressional districts.
“The big food fight in Florida is we went from 25 to 27 congressional seats, which means out of the entire state of Florida, they have to create two new congressional seats,” he said.
Laytham said he’s working on creating districts that unite Poinciana – and hopefully, he said, give the community more political influence.
“My goal is not necessarily to make a Democratic district or a Latino district, but one that brings this community together,” he said, pointing to the state House districts as a good example of what’s wrong with Poinciana’s current redistricting, which was done in 2002.
“Wood has all of the Polk side of Poinciana,” Laytham said. “Precourt has Villages 1 and 2, and Horner has the rest of Poinciana on the Osceola side.”
Horner has argued that this works to Poinciana’s advantage, by giving the community several voices to advocate for local residents.
But Laytham challenged that theory, saying most of the districts have a population base somewhere else – and those communities get the federal and state funds, not Poinciana.
“Let me tell you where the fallacy of that argument comes in,” he said. “Right now, Poinciana is represented by three state representatives. Each of them has about 30,000 people in their district from Poinciana. Each of them has a total district of 140,000 people. Poinciana doesn’t make up the majority of any of those three districts. The bottom line is Poinciana ends up sucking wind as far as any of the highway fund money goes, because we don’t have anybody that is really sticking up for us.”
Wendy Farrell, the chairman of the Poinciana Area Council, agreed. She’s been urging residents to take an interest in redistricting for months now, because as Poinciana has grown, Farrell believes the community’s political strength gets diluted by being carved up between multiple districts.
“Poinciana is always the bottom of the pile,” she said. “When it comes to legislators, it makes sense to have one single voice. Poinciana is too big to have little bits here and little bits there. That’s why we never get anything done, because there’s no one advocating on our behalf.”
Laytham said he’s now working on using the Legislature’s computer mapping system to create congressional and state legislative districts that bring Poinciana together. He noted that in November 2010, Florida voters approved two constitutional amendments which mandate that congressional and state legislative districts must unite communities of shared interests, and that partisan politics can’t be the chief goal behind the district lines. The term for this is “gerrymandering” – creating districts designed to elect a member of one party or another.
With that requirement now the law in Florida, Laytham said he’s working on “not just a Poinciana district, but one that puts together districts for Polk and Osceola counties that meet the guidelines that will be acceptable to the existing people who make the decisions, and also be in the best interest of the people being served. You’re never going to take the politics out of it. What we’re going to have to do is everybody comes to some kind of compromise, and in order to preserve communities of interest, what we’d really like to do is have Poinciana in one district.”
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