Who represents Hillsborough County in Congress is at the center of what might become the latest political divide in the Florida Legislature, where acrimony is a consistent theme. The county became a flashpoint Monday after state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, successfully rewrote the Senate’s congressional redistricting plan to assure that more than 520,000 people in eastern Hillsborough will be represented by just one member of Congress, rather than be split into two or three pieces, as is currently the case. Under his plan, most people living east of Interstate 75 would be in one congressional district for the first time in decades.
Lee said he’s simply tired of Hillsborough being a “donor county” where parts are included in far-flung congressional districts to balance out population numbers elsewhere. Sun City Center and other areas of southern Hillsborough are represented by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican from Okeechobee, while Lakeland Rep. Dennis Ross covers Valrico and Plant City. Brandon is part of Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor’s district.
But Lee’s amendment also makes certain that the House and Senate now have very different plans that complicate the Legislature’s aim of ending the special session on redistricting by Friday. Within minutes of Lee’s idea passing the Senate redistricting committee, the House rejected all amendments to a base redistricting plan that was previously identical in both chambers.
The result is that the House and the Senate are in a familiar place: Divided.