Editorial: Stop games on redistricting

Editorial | Pensacola News Journal | 03/06/2011

Whatever critics have been able to say about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, it's been hard to slam him for playing "politics as usual."

Except when it comes to redistricting.

Unfortunately Scott, who blew into Tallahassee promising a fresh breeze to clear the air in Tallahassee, has reacted to voters' mandate to clean up how the state draws political districts with all the enthusiasm of a non-smoker choking on a fat Cuban stogie.

It's all too reminiscent of how Republicans and Democrats have always reacted to efforts to limit their ability to game the system. They do that by drawing political districts that protect incumbents and the power of whichever political party controls the redistricting process.

The two constitutional amendments creating a cleaner, more fair, politically neutral redistricting system were approved by an overwhelming 63 percent of voters in November (while Scott barely won the governor's seat with 49 percent of the vote, barely more than 1 percent more than Alex Sink).

Both Scott and most Republicans in the Legislature opposed them, and Scott has been trying every procedural trick in the book to keep from doing what the voters clearly want while Republicans lead a lawsuit seeking to overturn the amendments. Delaying action on the process was one of his first acts as governor.

Frankly, it's all too reminiscent of the Legislature's response to the class size amendment for schools. Legislators have refused to provide sufficient funds to hire enough teachers to meet the mandate, forcing districts to divert money from dwindling budgets. This despite the fact voters in November rebuffed the Legislature's attempt to modify the class size amendment.

Escambia County school Supt. Malcolm Thomas said meeting class size requirements is costing the district $4 million this year, but the Legislature allocated only $900,000 to cover it.

Voters in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have a lot to gain from a politically neutral (or at least, more neutral) redistricting system.

Following the new requirements, which call for districts that are compact and respect local geographical and political boundaries, should result in restoring a state Senate seat centered on Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Today both counties are dissected and represented by two senators from Okaloosa County in districts that extend much farther east.

Scott came into office claiming he wanted to represent the people. Well, their overwhelming approval of amendments 5 and 6 is a clear signal of what they want.

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