Don’t strip district of economic engines that help sustain it

Revenue generated by PortMiami gives congressional District 24 an economic boost.
Revenue generated by PortMiami gives congressional District 24 an economic boost.

Every 10 years, the party that controls the state Legislature takes the lead in redrawing congressional and legislative districts — a battle that is inherently partisan and inevitably causes strife.

One of the most sacred tenets of redistricting is to create a climate of inclusion that empowers minorities to elect representatives who they believe will have their best interests at heart. Those tasked with the privilege of mapping out district lines are duty-bound to ensure that they do not intentionally separate races for voting purposes — or create a map that would reverse a district’s evolution.

A map proposed by the Fair Districts coalition threatens to plunge Florida’s congressional District 24 into economic apartheid. This map is the only one out of seven submitted for judicial review that would wreak financial havoc on District 24 by removing three important economic engines that provide major opportunities to an underserved community.

PortMiami, the gateway for Florida trade, contributes more than $27 billion annually to South Florida’s economy and generates 207,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. Because it is a nonresidential area and has no voting population, it is unconscionable to even consider removing this vibrant economic driver from a community that has come to depend on it for well-paying jobs. The same is true of the Jackson Health System complex, which employs more than 11,000 workers, and the Brickell financial district, which helped lift District 24 out of poverty.

Before the last census, District 24 was District 17 and classified in the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index as the “most suffering” congressional district in the nation in the category of life evaluation — or how people described their quality of life — and the third most miserable district overall.

This annual survey also assesses healthy behavior, work environment and access to health services. After learning that lack of access to health services was the largest contributing factor to the “most suffering” rating, I was determined to ensure that the Liberty City Health Clinic was built. It not only meets the healthcare needs of thousands of residents, but also provides much-needed jobs in the community. In addition, the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a resolution to address the underlying causes of the district’s poor showing and to seek ways to enhance its prosperity.

In 2012, District 17 became District 24 and was redrawn to include PortMiami, the Brickell financial district and the Jackson Health System complex, transforming the economic landscape.

If CP-1 is adopted, District 24 could once again become the nation’s “most suffering.” Instead of continuing to cultivate economic growth, congressional, state and local government offices will be forced to focus almost exclusively on the inevitable problems that come with areas of concentrated poverty and with no economic drivers. Efforts to create jobs, attract new business and strengthen the district’s financial health and vitality will be replaced with solving problems related to housing, domestic violence, incarceration and others issues that overwhelm communities where there is little hope of escaping poverty.

Isolating poor people behind district lines is as much a violation of the spirit of the Voting Rights Act as intentionally separating races for voting purposes to give one party a political advantage.

The CP-1 map drawn by the Fair Districts coalition is anything but fair. I hope that the justices who will make the final decision pay close attention to CP-1. I beg them to not allow District 24 to become, again, the “most suffering” district in the nation.

Rep. Frederica Wilson represents District 24 in Congress.