POINCIANA – Every 10 years, state lawmakers are required to redraw the lines of congressional and state legislative districts to reflect population shifts.
For Poinciana, there may be a lot at stake with redistricting this year. For a community still struggling to shake off the painful impact of the housing market’s collapse, Poinciana appears eager to gain a lot more political influence than it has now – in part, because this community that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties is divided between multiple legislative districts.
“We have four state representatives,” said Jeanette Coughenour, the manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the homeowner’s association for the 10 villages in Poinciana.
As Coughenour noted, none of the representatives actually lives in Poinciana. The three Republican lawmakers are state Rep. John Wood of Haines City, Rep. Steve Precourt of Orlando, and Rep. Mike Horner of St. Cloud. The fourth lawmaker, state Rep. Darren Soto, is from Kissimmee.
Coughenour said regardless of whether local voters think these are effective legislators or not, the truth is that Poinciana would benefit by having someone who actually lives in, and fully understands the needs of, the community they’re representing.
“What goes on in Haines City is totally different from what goes on in Poinciana, and what goes on in Orlando is also very different from what happens in Poinciana,” she said.
Communities are considered to have greater political strength if residents are united together in a single district, where they can maximize their voting strength. Being divided among several districts, Coughenour said, makes it harder for the community to unite behind a candidate who advocates for their concerns.
It’s also ironic, Coughenour said, that Poinciana’s population now exceeds 70,000 – more than in some cities that are entirely within a single district.
Horner said he understands that view, but insisted that lawmakers like himself work hard on Poinciana’s behalf, and so do his colleagues.
“John Wood spent a lot of time in Poinciana, and those folks are well represented,” he said.
Horner said he understands the community’s needs. Among the three Republicans who have parts of Poinciana in their district, “I’m the only rep who lives in Osceola County,” Horner said. Poinciana is divided between unincorporated parts of Osceola and Polk counties.
“For them, that can sometimes be a good thing,” Horner said of communities divided among multiple legislative districts. Poinciana has one state senator, Paula Dockery, a Republican who lives in Lakeland and represents most of Polk County.
But Horner said he also understands the concerns about communities with shared interests being able to vote together in one district. He noted that Osceola County is divided among four state senate districts and three congressional districts.
“Is that good or bad?” he asked. In a worst case scenario where communities are not united within a single voting district, “You may not have an influence over whether the candidates get re-elected,” Horner said.
Horner said residents have an opportunity to voice their concerns about their congressional, state senate and state legislative districts this summer. Starting today, the Florida Legislature’s Redistricting Committee will hold a series of public hearings on the issue. The new district lines have to be drawn up in time for the 2012 Florida primary elections, when candidates will run in new congressional, state senate and state legislative district lines throughout Florida.
The committee members will hold hearings throughout the state, including one on Monday, July 25, from 2-5 p.m. at Polk State College in Lakeland, and a second on Wednesday, July 27 from 2-4 p.m. and again from 6-8 p.m. at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in Orlando, the closest hearings to Poinciana.
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