Thursday, March 14, 2013

Les Miller pushing for another single-member district Hillsborough County Commission seat

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 9:17 AM

Les Miller addressing the Hillsborough GLBTA Democratic Caucus at J.J.s in Ybor
  • Les Miller addressing the Hillsborough GLBTA Democratic Caucus at J.J.'s in Ybor
It was a little more than a year ago when Hillsborough County Commissioners killed a plan to create a fifth single-member district, a measure backed by Hispanic advocacy groups. But one of the only two County Commissioners who supported the plan, Democrat Les Miller, said he will again make a case for the change at a board meeting next month.

The current commission consists of four single-member districts and three at-large, the latter meaning commissioners represent the entire sprawling county of approximately 1.3 million people.

Speaking to the Hillsborough County GLBTA Democratic caucus at J.J.'s in Ybor City on Wednesday night, Miller said that Hillsborough is the only Florida county with more than a million people that includes at-large districts. Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Broward strictly have single-member districts, and in some cases have nine board members to Hillsborough's seven.

"It's time to bring government closer to the people," he said, referring to the fact that in his single member District 3 seat he represents more than 315,000 people, not far off from the 350,000 or so that Bob Buckhorn represents as mayor of Tampa.

Miller's second goal is to help craft a district that packs in Latino voters, allowing the possibility of a Latino commissioner being elected. Recent census numbers have shown tremendous growth with that demographic in Hillsborough County, yet they have no direct representation at the County Center.

Miller said he will propose an ordinance at the Board of County Commissioner's (BOCC) April 17 meeting. He'll request to change the composition of the board to five single-member districts and two at-large. The ordinance will ask commissioners to direct staff to draw up an ordinance, and then conduct public hearings about it. If approved, the measure would go to the voters in November 2014.

Miller said the at-large district he wants to see go away by 2016 would be Kevin Beckner's District 6 seat (Beckner will be termed out by then). Miller said if the measure passes, the BOCC would reapportion the districts in 2015 and voters would decide on the newly constituted board in 2016.

He said that reapportionment would also affect Victor Crist's District 2 seat, giving him two more years on the board should he be successful in his bid for re-election in 2014. As of now, Crist is scheduled to be term-limited out in 2018. But Miller said if new district lines are created, Crist could go on to serve until 2020.

Miller said there has been talk of expanding the board to nine members, or making the BOCC all single-member districts. But that's not where he's going with this proposal because he realizes that this first, smaller step is going against the odds of the GOP-led board.

The commissioner won over the crowd during the question and answer period at J.J's, but only after responding to skeptical queries. One Democrat in the room said the party tends to do better in county-wide races than in single-district ones. Another person questioned the fairness of the current GOP-led board in drawing up new lines.

"How do you ensure the new district would include a Hispanic?" Miller was asked several times by audience members. The commissioner said that he would be working with other "fair-minded " voting groups to help craft the lines.

When asked what has changed from a year ago when the board shot it down, Miller succinctly said, "Nothing." However, this time he is going out and talking with groups, advocating for the change, and telling citizens to contact their own commissioners to back the measure before next month's meeting.

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