Here’s a word to start your May:
OK, so it’s not a very interesting word. Kinda dull, when you think of it.
But for the first time since 2016, we’re going to have a new congressperson representing Citrus County.
This is due to redistricting. You may have read about that, how the Legislature passed a map that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed, then there was a special session to rubber stamp the governor’s map, and here we are. (Click here to see the map.)
I’ve avoided this topic for months. You think I’m into politics? Some are into it in an unhealthy way and they’ve been bugging me to write about Citrus County and the new congressional district.
We’ve been somewhat lulled into picking our congressperson for many years now. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In the new congressional map, Citrus County is being left out of District 11 and joined instead with District 12. I know that means very little to most of you. It means very little to me as well, except district numbers are the only way to keep track of who's doing what.
Old District 11 stretched from Citrus to the east into Lake County, where our current congressman, Rep. Daniel Webster, resides.
New District 12 is more compact and seems to make strategic sense: All of Citrus, all of Hernando and part of Pasco counties. Has that Suncoast Parkway corridor feel.
Webster has already announced he’s sticking with District 11, so he’s out. Let’s stop there for a minute.
I honestly cannot think of a single impact Webster had in Citrus County, good or bad. I’d see him in a parade every so often but Webster always seemed out of place, like he accidentally showed up for the wrong parade but they let him sit on the rear seat of the convertible anyway and wave to the crowd.
Webster’s predecessor was Rich Nugent, the former Hernando County sheriff who snuck into ballot qualifying at the last minute because of a sweetheart deal with his predecessor, Ginny Brown-Waite. I won’t bore you with the weeds, but it was political unsportsmanlike conduct at its worst.
Karen Thurman, who I saw a few weeks ago at Gerry Mulligan’s retirement dinner, served 10 years in Congress and was the last Democrat elected to Congress from these parts. Even though she lived across the river in Dunnellon, Thurman was considered a Citrus County representative and she served this community tremendously.
So that lands us in District 12, where the incumbent is Gus Bilirakis. He is a Palm Harbor Republican who has served in the U.S. House since 2006.
You no doubt notice Palm Harbor is in neither Citrus, Hernando nor Pasco counties. Old District 12 included Palm Harbor, new District 12 does not. Turns out that’s not a problem for congressional districts. The residency rule that we have so much fun with in local races isn’t a factor for Congress — House members need only live in Florida.
As of now, he’s officially in the race along with four other Republicans and two Democrats. Ballot qualifying is six weeks away.
(Here's an excellent breakdown of the new congressional districts. I'm sure you're wondering: The new district voted 63.76% for Donald Trump in 2020.)
This doesn't have to be another ordinary congressional campaign that we sleep through. The opportunity to showcase Citrus County’s successes and challenges to a new congressperson is one we should embrace. It starts by getting to know these candidates and making sure they get to know Citrus County.
Look what Senate President Wilton Simpson did for this community. An egg farmer from Pasco County inherits Citrus in a redistricting map, and next thing we’re getting millions of dollars for water-quality projects, and lasting connections with a guy whose trajectory keeps climbing.
Gus Bilirakis, or someone else on the District 12 ballot, could be the next Wilton Simpson for Citrus County. Maybe this deserves our close attention after all.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.