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Issue #47: Wilton Simpson sold out Pasco County in Redistricting
Final map weakens Pasco's influence
For anyone who has been following my twitter account, you will know that I have been working on a detailed deep-dive into the new Congressional districts. This article continues to be built, and while it likely won’t be ready till next week, I promise it will be worth the wait. (Translation: It is gonna be long)
In the meantime, I came across an interesting factoid as I was collecting district information. Specifically, the lines of Congressional District 12 and how they relate to Pasco County.
A Pasco-based Seat?
During last week’s redistricting committee hearing on the new map, the presenter, Alex Kelly, discussed the logic behind the way Congressional District 12 was drawn. The new district includes all of Citrus and Hernando; and most of Pasco. While covering the district, Kelly made a seemingly random statement.
“District 12 actually is still, in this configuration, a majority Pasco County seat”
Now, this type of analysis is something you will see plenty of in my deep dive. But why is DeSantis’ staff laying out county control of a district? Seems so random.
Or does it? —- More on that later.
To clarify, they are right, in terms of total population. A majority of the population is retained from Pasco county.
The note from Kelly is likely due to the fact that the outgoing CD12 is also a majority Pasco seat. In the current 12th, 70% of the population is from Pasco. In addition, the seat, which is steadily Republican, has 63% of its GOP primary votes coming from Pasco.
The story for the new 12th is a very different story. Kelly was right about total population. However, when it comes to Republican primary votes, Pasco only makes up 39% of the votes cast.
Pasco is bigger than Citrus or Hernando, but it can lose out to its northern neighbors if they team up. While I wouldn’t imagine incumbent Gus Bilirakis will face a real primary threat, all bets are off when this seat is open. Pasco won’t be able to count on controlling the primary.
Reasons for the 12th Moving North
The 12th district has is currently Pasco and parts of Northern Pinellas and Hillsborough. It was no shock that the State Senate’s passed Congressional plan retained a Pasco-heavy seat; with the plan adopting many least-change proposals where possible for the lines. This version included a bit of Pinellas, all of Pasco, and Hernando. It moved a bit north, but Pasco remained the anchor. This district gave Pasco 63% of the GOP primary share.
This layout, however, couldn’t be achieved if the goal was to gerrymander the Tampa Bay region. Republican drafts in the House and with DeSantis all aimed to split eastern Pasco so that it could be added to the growing Democratic east-central Hillsborough suburbs; keeping the 15th in play for the GOP. A split Pasco meant moving the 12 further North, especially when Northern Pinellas is being used to make the 13th more GOP friendly.
The DeSantis plan in Tampa reveals the extent of the gerrymander. The east-central Hillsborough Democratic suburbs are split up, while the 14th acts as a Democratic vote-sink. The 13th, drawn to become a Trump seat, goes all the way to the Pasco border.
The Tampa lines drive what happens with the 12th district. The result is that the district must move north to equalize its population. As a result, it loses its control of the only thing that matters, the GOP primary.
Wilton Simpson’s Influence
So why am I doing a substack post just about Pasco County? Because it is the home of Senate President Wilton Simpson. Now look, I cannot claim to know, for sure, what was going on behind closed doors. Did Simpson have a hand in ensuring the original Senate drafts kept Pasco whole? I don’t know. The reality is, the Senate drafts made a great deal of sense. That staff came to the draft maps by themselves wouldn’t shock me at all.
HOWEVER, it is clear that after DeSantis got involved, any effort to maintain the Fair Districts standards rapidly went out out the window. The legislature would first try to placate DeSantis’ demands for redistricting, then eventually caved. At first, Simpson was unwilling to adhere to DeSantis’ demands, with bad blood boiling between the two over multiple issues.
Meanwhile, Simpson is running for State Agriculture Commissioner. Simpson actually owns an egg farm in Pasco County. At first, the statewide run gave Simpson all the reason in the world to not gerrymander the maps. Lawsuits and depositions on the campaign trail (or once in office) are not ideal. However, as Simpson and DeSantis butted heads, suddenly a primary challenger emerged; Chuck Nadd. A veteran of Afghanistan, Nadd would begin hitting Simpson on his ties to big agrobusiness and US Sugar, something DeSantis was also attacking the Senator on.
As this developed, the rumbling came out of the capital that DeSantis was making clear threats to lawmakers. “Support me on the Congressional map or face primaries.” No doubt Simpson was part of this threat. For Simpson, even if he won the primary, would it be worth it if he had a poor relationship with the Governor? Clearly Simpson felt selling out was better. Simpson endorsed the DeSantis Congressional map, which would pass last week.
SO, what does this all mean? Why am I talking about this.
I just think its truly priceless that in caving to the Governor and violating Fair Districts, Simpson not only exposed himself to future lawsuits, but he split the county he hails from; weakening their voting power. Look, maybe I’m out of my mind. But that Alex Kelly quote at the top of this article? I can’t help but wonder if it was purposely added to help Wilton “save face.” But hey, I’m just wondering out loud.
When its all said and done, Pasco Republicans and North Florida African-Americans can say they have one thing in common. Wilton Simpson stepped on their representation on his path to statewide office.