Our views: It's your democracy Hold Florida lawmakers accountable to draw fair state districts

Editorial Board | Florida Today | 06/09/2011

Now is the time for Florida voters to hold the Legislature accountable to obey the state Constitution on the critical issue of
redistricting.

Enshrined in the document since the 2010 elections are two Fair Districts amendments that require lawmakers, using 2010
Census data, to redraw legislative and U.S. congressional districts in a nonpartisan way before the 2012 elections.

And end a long, sordid record of politicians drawing maps to favor whatever party holds the reins of power, protect
incumbents against competition and give voters little choice at the ballot box.

Democrats wrongly did it in the 1990s, when they controlled Tallahassee, and Republicans wrongly do it now.

Just take a look at Florida House District 29 for evidence of the bizarrely shaped districts that have resulted from the
gerrymandering. It trails south in a thin strip from North Brevard to rural Indian River County to maximize the number of
Republican votes.

The seat was won by Rep. Tom Goodson in the GOP primary in August last year. Predictably, the Cocoa Republican faced no Democratic opposition.

Other districts in the state snake across as many as eight counties, linking far-flung cities or illogically divide communities.

Bipartisan support

Outrage at the practice led Florida voters to pass the Fair Districts amendments by 63 percent last year, a margin mirrored in
Brevard County. That showed broad support across party lines for a less partisan approach to redistricting.

In a victory for democracy last week, the U.S. Department of Justice — which must review election law changes because of
previous racial discrimination in voting in some Florida counties — reaffirmed the wisdom of Fair Districts, giving the
amendments the go-ahead.

The ruling counters false claims by lawmakers, trying to preserve their hold on power, that Fair Districts would hinder
minorities’ voting rights.

It also sends a loud message that tactics tobstruct the reforms must end, including from Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon.

The Winter Park Republican joined the House to a misguided lawsuit to kill the congressional Fair Districts rules coming
from U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.

The suit should be dropped immediately.

Blocking voters’ will

But it’s only the latest recent attempt by lawmakers to preserve their power and block the voters’ will.

Here’s the shabby history:

— In 2010, then Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other mostly GOP state lawmakers tried to sabotage the effect of Fair Districts, voting to put on fall ballots a tricky counter amendment that would have nullified the reform mandate.

In September, the state Supreme Court rightly yanked the proposed amendment as misleading.

— Three days after taking office this year, Gov. Rick Scott secretly halted the routine clearance process for the redistricting
amendments, refusing to send them promptly for review by the Justice Department, as required by law.

The Justice Department’s approval of the Fair Districts standards is big step forward, but no time for advocates to rest on their laurels.

Legislative committees are charged with coming up with new district boundaries by June 2012.

You can bet there’ll be more attempts to undermine the wholly sensible requirements that districts be contiguous, compact geographically, and not drawn to favor or disfavor any party or incumbent.

Citizen pressure needed

You can get more informed by visiting www.floridaredistricting.org, a website created by the Legislature to encourage citizen input.

And a series of public meetings will be held around the state this summer, including one in Viera on July 28.

Defenders of democracy should show up and insist lawmakers observe the highest standards of ethics to keep politics out of the redistricting process.

It’s their constitutional duty and one they cannot be allowed to shirk.

Copyright © 2011 www.floridatoday.com.


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