I’ll begin today with a personal mea culpa.
Even though I have been a resident of Brandon for more than a quarter-century, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that only one of the seven Hillsborough County Commissioners is among the approximately 300,000 residents living east of Interstate 75. That would be Al Higginbotham, holding high the banner for District 4, stretching from north of Plant City to way down south in the county.
The rest of east Hillsborough is covered by Kevin Beckner and Mark Sharpe, who hold countywide seats, and Victor Crist from the weirdly configured District 2.
Did I say weird?
District 2 runs from Carrollwood, across Temple Terrace, and almost to Plant City.
Why this civics lesson?
Primarily, it’s to applaud commissioners for their decision Thursday to take a step toward allowing the city-county Planning Commission to draw new district lines instead of doing it themselves.
“That’s the key to everything,” Beckner said. “It’s all about how you draw the maps. A lot of the problems we have in the country is because we have gerrymandered districts. This takes the politics out of it.”
That’s getting a little ahead of things, because it involves replacing one of three countywide seats with a new single-member district. There will be a public hearing Nov. 6, and voters would have to approve the whole thing in 2014. Giving away the power to set up new districts is huge, though. Politicians on both sides of the legislative aisle have been rigging the system for decades by configuring districts that all but guarantee their continued employment.
That can lead to districts that look like they were drawn up over a couple of pitchers at Hooters.
No disrespect intended at all for those public servants holding the seats, but it’s just a fact that everyone benefits if their leaders have a working knowledge of what life is like for the people they represent.
For instance, consider the outcry from the residents of Bloomingdale over the incursion of big-box buildings in their neighborhood.
A commissioner living in another part of the county might see it as economic growth that increases the tax base. But a commissioner who lives around there might understand the increased traffic and overall blah that inflicts on residents and might be inclined to speak against it.
“Does it mean the process is not political because it’s out of the hands of politicians? I would say no,” said Mark Nash, a Brandonite who unsuccessfully ran in 2012 against Higginbotham. “But if it happens, it would at least take away the appearance of it being political.
“I heard something that put it best. The voters pick their elected officials, but when the elected officials draw the lines they are essentially picking their voters.”
So, no one is naive. As long as there are politics, it is best to remain skeptical even when something sounds like good news. But that’s for another day. For now, the commission gets a thumbs-up.