Opportunity Exists Yet For Better Representation

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 31, 2019

Sarasota County Commissioners this week decided to redistrict ahead of 2020 elections. Now, citizens need to accept this will happen. It doesn’t matter if most people oppose this direction (they do) or if it’s based on terribly flawed logic (it is). Commissioners always had discretion to take this step, and they have.

Still, citizens would be wise to hold commissioners to their word on a few things. Those include commitments to a process based on transparent discussion and sound data. And a look at numbers so far actually suggests interesting hopes for supporters of single-member districts.

Consultant Kurt Spitzer on Tuesday presented commissioners with preliminary data on racial, ethnic and geographic breakdowns in Sarasota’s five existing commission districts. If individuals could see through their white, hot rage that Spitzer had been paid thousands of dollars to collect this data at all, they might notice a plan to fabricate the county in a way that favors Republican candidates will be harder than it sounds.

Spitzer also noted during redistricting efforts he previously worked on prioritized minority representation. That likely caught the ear of the gerrymandering obsessed, as an unholy alliance between minority advocates and Republican cartographers has been used to create voter sinks and load traditionally Democratic voters into sprawling districts. This in turn makes it harder for Democrats to win majorities in legislative chambers, even in 50-50 states like Florida.

But remember, Sarasota County doesn’t have 40 or 120 or 435 county commission districts. It has five. Democratic partisans supporting single-member voting saw a chance to finally win a seat north of Bee Ridge Road. Spitzer’s approach—and the data he has collected thus far—actually show a commitment to the same goal.

District 1 already shows a naturally high concentration of black and Hispanic voters.

Hopes of making two competitive districts may get dashed in coming months, but it seems Spitzer sees value in guaranteeing minority representation.

Weeks ago, I suggested the most obvious motive for redistricting was a “Mike Moran Protection Plan,” tailoring a seat to protect a GOP incumbent. But that honestly would require shifting minority voters away from a district where the population is too low already. Where The Votes Are analyses of past elections show voters in District 1 already favor Democrats. In 2018, they favored Andrew Gillum over Ron DeSantis, Ruta Jouniari or Christian Ziegler and Wesley Beggs over Alan Maio, despite none of those Democrats winning countywide.

Commissioners also stressed better representation in south county, and Spitzer’s numbers show the real action may happen around Districts 3 and 5. This won’t be a partisan battle; the GOP has an unbreakable hold south of Clark Road. But these districts have too many people, and some must get shifted into already-red District 4. Spitzer made very clear that if commissioners do re-district, they should shoot for near-identical sizes od constituencies. 

In Commissioner Nancy Detert’s District 3, almost 5,000 voters must be shed. In the District 5 seat being vacated by Commissioner Charles Hines, there’s a more than 6,000 voters that must be kicked out to balance districts.

As for the transparency commitment, commissioners also encouraged citizens to submit their own proposals and craft their own fair maps. Notably, such a map is what ultimately replaced the broken one the Legislature drew for Senate and Congressional seats, though that notably took a years-long court battle.

Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, and commissioners will brazenly shift direction, but they will have to do so in full view after committing to fairness and transparency—and maybe maps that live beyond the 2020 census.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

 

Graphic by Kurt Spitzer and Associates courtesy Sarasota County.

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