Editorial: The new rules

Editorial | The Gainesville Sun | 03/10/2012

The Florida Legislature has pretty much always undertaken its once-every-decade redistricting chore with two paramount objectives: To protect incumbents and to keep the ruling party in power.

That was true when the Democrats ran the Legislature, and it is true now that the Republicans are in charge.

But now there are a whole new set of rules in place, complements of Florida voters who approved two "Fair Districts" amendments to the state Constitution.

For the first time, objective standards have been defined that are intended to — at least to the extent possible — take the politics out of the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts. But until Friday, it was uncertain as to whether adoption of Fair Districts would indeed have an impact on the Legislature's two traditional, paramount, objectives.

Now we know that the answer is yes.

On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court tossed out the Florida Senate's redistricting plan because several districts were obviously drawn to protect incumbents and favor one party over the other.

"We recognize that the Senate did not have the benefit of our opinion when drawing its plan. However, it is clear from a facial review of the Senate plan that the pick and choose method for existing boundaries was not balanced," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the 5-2 majority decision.

To its credit, the Florida House appears to have taken the Fair Districts standards seriously. Its plan was not rejected by the state's highest court.

The jury is still out, in a manner of speaking, on the Legislature's congressional redistricting plan, which has yet to be subjected to judicial review.

It is ironic that the decision was handed down on the last day of the regular legislative session. It means that the Senate will have to rewrite its plan, and a special session convened to approve it.

"From this day forward our elected officials are on notice that they cannot ignore the Constitution and abuse the public trust by drawing districts to favor themselves," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Florida has a new set of rules for redistricting. That may be bad news for the politicians and the parties, but it's good news for Floridians.

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