Editorial: Lawmakers whine about the courts, sunshine

Editorial Board | Tampa Bay Times | 08/12/2015

The hot air is not just outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee. There is plenty of it inside, where Republican legislators are fuming about the audacity of the Florida Supreme Court to force them to redraw congressional districts as the state Constitution requires. They complain their constitutional rights are being violated, they are being forced to keep public records of their conversations and documents, and their hands are being tied in the way the districts are redrawn.

Tough.

The legislators brought this hot August special session on themselves. They are the ones who allowed the redistricting process to be poisoned in 2012 by secretly meeting with Republican consultants. They are the ones who looked the other way when those consultants got special access to maps and other information. They are the ones who sat quietly as consultants manipulated the process by producing maps and misrepresenting them as the work of others, including a college student who had no idea his name was being used.

The legislators are the ones who violated the Florida Constitution by failing to comply with the 2010 Fair Districts amendments approved by the voters. They are the ones who did not meet the amendment requirements that the congressional districts be drawn without any intent to favor political parties or incumbents. Now they don't like it that the court has provided clear direction on how to draw legal districts, that they can't seek private help from consultants to manipulate the lines and that they have to do their work in the open.

Tough.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, complained that the court exceeded its constitutional authority and that "when one branch goes deep into other areas, the people lose.'' Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, complained that the court has "run roughshod" over the Legislature and that his constitutional rights are being violated, and he mused about hiring a personal lawyer. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, compared it to a police station where police record conversations with suspects.

Actually, suspects as a description is too kind. The Legislature already has been found by the Florida Supreme Court to have violated the state Constitution and the will of the voters. If anyone treated anyone like suspects Tuesday, they were the Republican and Democratic legislators who questioned staff members about their motivations, conversations, race and political affiliations as the staff explained the proposed congressional map that they drew. If the court erred, it was in giving the Legislature another chance to draw legal congressional districts when it already has failed twice.

Lawmakers would be wise to listen to one of their outside lawyers, George Meros, who suggested they follow the court's direction and redraw a North Florida minority district so it would stretch from Jacksonville west to the Tallahassee area instead of south to Orlando. They would be wise to ignore U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, who showed up to complain that the legislative staff had carved his Orlando area district into several districts and left him nowhere he can win. And they would be wise to quit whining about the Florida Supreme Court and get comfortable redrawing districts in the sunshine rather than behind closed doors with secret help from their political consultants.

Tough.


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