ORLANDO — When Florida lawmakers begin the redistricting process next year, the state’s substantial population growth in the past decade means Florida will gain two new congressional districts.
Likewise, the growth across Central Florida — the fastest growing region of the state — means at least one of those districts is certain to be created somewhere in the huge metropolis between Orlando and Tampa. The question for lawmakers is what the district lines will look like, and who is likely to benefit.
When the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee held a public hearing today at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center to get input from the public on how those new lines should be drawn, it was immediately clear that quite a few people not only have very strong opinions about the issue — but there are quite a few groups lining up to lay claim on a new district.
Several people representing civil rights organizations for the Latino and African American communities attended and asked lawmakers to give strong consideration to new district lines that would be designed to elect one of their own.
Emilio Perez, an activist with LatinoJustice, a civil rights group based in New York, noted that Florida’s population grew by 55 percent in the past decade, and he said the Latino community helped fuel a huge part of that growth.
The new Central Florida district, he said, should be designed so that a majority of the people living within it are Latino.
“Reward the community that made it happen,” he said.
Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, echoed that, and called on lawmakers to create a “Latino-anchored, Central Florida-anchored district.”
It’s only possible, Cartagena said, because the region owes its growth to the Latino community.
“Florida is in a unique position,” he said. “You are very lucky. We work in communities where we lose districts and are fighting to keep them, so you’re lucky to be gaining one.”
As Cartagena noted, redistricting reflects demographic changes. Every 10 years, the legislatures in the 50 states redrawn the lines of the nation’s 435 congressional districts to reflect population shifts over the past decade. States that lost residents lose congressional districts, while states like Florida that experienced population gains add new districts.
Central Florida grew by leaps and bounds in the past decade, and a lot of that can be attributed to the rising number of Latinos moving to Osceola, Polk and Orange counties. Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones stressed that when urged lawmakers to consider how important Latinos are as a voting block.
“Look at what particular groups helped with the increase in population,” he said.
But not everyone thought the district should be tailor-made for a Latino candidate.
Pastor Randolph Bracy Jr. of the New Covenant Baptist Church in Orlando had a different perspective. He called on lawmakers to “respond to the very explosive growth going on in Central Florida,” and do the fair thing by ensuring that when the new district gets created, “It should be a minority — i.e., African-American — seat. Give us a seat that has an African-American representative.”
The Rev. Canon Nelson W. Pinders, who recently retired from the St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, said he had a better solution. Since Florida was expected to gain two new districts, give one to the Latino community and one to African-Americans.
“I hope that you, with this new congressional district, don’t play the game of minority against minority,” Pinders said. “I don’t want you to fence me out, I want you to fence me in.”
The way to do that, he said, would be to reward both minority communities with new districts.
“I would hope that you would give us both a Hispanic and a black district,” he said.
Not everyone focused on how the district lines would impact minorities. Diane Rambo of East Orange County said she was sick and tired of being represented in the Florida Legislature by lawmakers who live in Brevard County — lawmakers, she added, who totally ignore her community.
“Will you draw us a district that is East Orange County only?” she asked. “We don’t need to be lumped in with Brevard County, which is an hour away and in a swamp.”
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