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A Missing Voice
January 27, 2002
Our position: Hispanics deserve more of a chance to get elected to the Legislature.
Central Florida's Hispanic community needs political representation badly.
This region has 18 state House seats; seven state Senate seats and five U.S. House seats. Yet not one of those offices is held by a Hispanic, even though almost one out of five Central Floridians is Hispanic. They are needed at the political table to help address critical issues, such as public education deficiencies and transportation.
The once-a-decade redistricting process now under way in the Florida Legislature holds the key to giving Hispanics a fair opportunity to gain a political voice. Both political parties should be working together on this because Hispanics are an important part of this state's political future.
Achieving this goal won't be easy. Recent court rulings prohibit using race or ethnicity as the primary consideration in drawing districts.
The rulings, however, allow lawmakers to consider a community's common interests when drawing districts. Districts can be drawn in a way that take Hispanic interests into account, while still respecting the interests of other minority communities, as well as the non-Hispanic white majority.
Those common interests, for example, could include people who live along a transportation corridor, such as Interstate 4; belong to the same income group; or work in the same employment category, such as the service sector.
Significant opportunities to achieve this goal exist throughout this region, especially in east and south Orange County and the Buenaventura Lakes section of Osceola County, where there are dense concentrations of Hispanic residents.
The rich mixture of white, black and Hispanic residents in those communities sets the stage for establishing at least one state House district where a Hispanic could stand a reasonable chance of being elected. A state House district requires 133,000 residents.
The point should be to arrive at a plan that gives fair representation without gerrymandering district lines into oddly shaped mazes of political confusion. Otherwise, the courts will once again have to intervene.
Giving Hispanics a fair shot does not necessarily mean creating numerous districts where they are in the majority. Existing housing patterns make that improbable because Hispanics are spread across the region.
A better plan would give Hispanics various districts of influence, ranging from about one in five to one in three citizens in a district.
Central Florida Hispanics today face the same kind of problem that African-Americans faced just a decade ago: a lack of political representation in Tallahassee and Washington. Both of those communities are growing and thriving in Central Florida. Each must be part of this area's political life. Only when they can share in working on finding solutions to the issues will they feel they have a true stake in this community.
Hispanics' growing political clout does not have to come at the expense of any other group. As the area grows, more seats will have to be created in this area to accommodate that growth.
But some in Tallahassee might be tempted to shut out Hispanic voting strength by spreading that community's influence in too many districts or trying to concentrate it all into one. That's neither fair nor likely constitutional.