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Gain may elevate Pasco's political profile

Pasco's population increase could translate into the county becoming a majority district for the state Senate.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001

Pasco's population increase could translate into the county becoming a majority district for the state Senate.

Will Pasco County's 23 percent population gain spell more political clout for Florida's 13th most populous county?

To quote the old Magic 8-ball toy, signs point to yes, especially if you're talking about the state Senate.

Of the county's three state senators -- Jack Latvala, Victor Crist and Ginny Brown-Waite -- none draws a majority of its constituents from Pasco.

Though still shy of the 400,000 people needed to form its own Senate district, Pasco's 344,765 people reflected in the 2000 census are the makings of a Pasco-majority district.

That still-to-be-determined district is where state House Majority Leader Mike Fasano would like to run for Senate in 2002.

The New Port Richey Republican said he thinks Pasco stands a good chance of emerging on top when legislative redistricting committees begin their job this summer.

At 23 percent, Pasco's population increase was much greater than that of Pinellas County, whose population grew by 8 percent. Fasano sees Senate districts shifting north to account for migration to Pasco and Hernando counties.

"Senators Latvala and Brown-Waite have done an outstanding job," Fasano said. "But they will tell you their priorities, if it comes down to it, will be their home counties. And none of them are Pasco."

Fasano shares a house during the legislative session with Sen. Daniel Webster, the Republican who chairs the Senate's redistricting committee.

Whether Pasco's legislative delegation will be able to bring home the bacon is less clear. Pasco's 23 percent population growth nearly matched the state's 24 percent.

While such growth may be the envy of rust belt states, in Florida, where counties such as Collier racked up gains of 65 percent, it's fairly run-of-the-mill.

Whether Pasco will collect a bigger share of state sales tax receipts or win more grants for infrastructure and social services won't be known for months, said Greg Giordano, Fasano's chief legislative aide.

"The population increase itself isn't as important as the increase in Pasco compared to other counties," Giordano said.

His views tracked those of Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher, who declined to speculate what goodies a bigger population might bring.

"If everybody grows at the same proportion, we may get the same slice of pie," Gallagher said.

Tuesday's release of the latest population figures seemed to alleviate one big concern: that census takers would miss some of the county's newer residents.

Nevertheless, the cities of San Antonio and Saint Leo have requested a recount after the census reported population drops there.

Countywide population gains were 10,000 to 20,000 higher than some earlier estimates, driven largely by an explosion of homes in bedroom communities just north of Hillsborough and Pinellas.

"I think it's accurate with all the growth we've had in Trinity, Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel," Gallagher said.

In addition to state and federal redistricting, the five County Commission districts will need nips and tucks to fit the new demographic reality. Each district grows from 56,000 people in 1990 to 68,000 today. Perhaps the biggest adjustments will be to Commissioner Pat Mulieri's behemoth of a district stretching from Shady Hill in the northwest to Zephyrhills in the southeast.

A good candidate to pick up chunks of Mulieri's territory is Commissioner Ted Schrader, whose northeast Pasco district gained fewer than others.

Pasco Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning favors postponing applying the new commission districts until the 2004 election. He fears overhauling state, federal and county districts at once might confuse voters.

But Gallagher is pushing to redraw boundaries this year, in time for the 2002 elections. Districts for School Board members correspond to those of county commissioners.

"The big question is which commissioner is going to get Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel," Gallagher said.

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