Editorial: Republicans should accept redistricting defeat and drop talk of appeals

Editorial Board | Tampa Tribune | 01/10/2016

For a brief moment last week it appeared the Florida Legislature had come to its senses and was willing to accept a judge’s ruling on the boundaries for new state Senate districts.

But that proved to be nothing more than wishful thinking. After indicating there would be no appeal, the Republicans behind the failed Senate redistricting maps say they are considering a number of avenues to appeal.

That would surely add to the $8 million in legal fees the Legislature has wasted over several years trying to gain approval of the flawed maps it produced.

For the sake of the taxpayers, if nothing else, legislative leaders should end the redistricting battle and begin implementing the Senate map Circuit Judge George Reynolds approved last week. Not only would it save tax dollars and end years of chaos, it would mean the state will finally have Senate districts that adhere to the Fair District amendments voters passed in 2010.

The amendments instruct lawmakers to draw the district boundaries fairly and without benefit to a particular political party or incumbent office holder. Where practical, the boundaries must be compact and follow city or county boundaries.

The once-a-decade task of redistricting falls to the Legislature. But its failure to adhere to the Fair Districts amendments led to legal challenges by the League of Women Voters and other voter-rights groups. Time and again, the courts have ruled in favor of the voter-rights groups.

After hearing testimony and reviewing maps provided by the Legislature and by the voter-rights groups, Reynolds last week chose the map favored by the voter-rights groups as the one that best represents the intent of the Fair Districts amendments.

He found the map was the most compact and split fewer cities. He also questioned how Sen. Bill Galvano, a Republican from Bradenton who offered the Senate map, could be impartial when he serves as Senate majority leader and chairman of Republican Senate campaigns this year. “Those conflicting roles leave Senator Galvano open to the charge that he was acting in a partisan manner ...” the judge wrote. Galvano is one of the lawmakers talking about a possible federal or state appeal.

Sound familiar?

The same stubborn refusal to accept defeat is playing out with the congressional district lines the Legislature improperly drew and that were rejected by the courts in favor of maps favored by the voter-rights groups.

Unwilling to accept the court ruling, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, is pursuing a federal lawsuit.

The balance of power between the judicial, legislative and executive branches is a vital function of a healthy democracy. In this case, the state has come out with Senate and congressional maps that reflect the will of the voters, rather than the will of the Legislature.

How political districts are drawn has a profound impact on who gets elected to represent voters and whether competing candidates have a fair chance at upending an incumbent or changing the balance of political power. The state Senate map that Reynolds approved is said by pundits to favor more Democrats being elected, changing the dominance Republicans now have in Tallahassee, where they control 26 Senate seats compared to 14 for the Democrats.

But that concern is secondary to giving voters with common interests a chance to elect their representatives, rather than rigging the process to ensure an incumbent from a particular party wins.

The Republicans in charge should focus on winning fair and square, and spare the taxpayers and voters the cost and turmoil of more appeals.

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