Legislators Skirt Fair Districts Law

In 2010, Floridians issued a direct edict to their elected leaders: End the political gamesmanship that has surrounded the drawing of voting-district lines for decades.
But this is Florida and legislators can really slow things down when change interferes with their parties' interests.
So, three years later, legislative leaders are still trying to hide their actions surrounding redistricting from the public view. They dismiss criticism of their failure to abide by the Florida voters' mandate for the Fair Districts constitutional amendment, approved in 2010, as party politics.
For the League of Women Voters and other members of the Fair Districts Coalition, forced to turn to the courts to ensure compliance with the Florida Constitution, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives. It is about Floridians and what they demand from their government.
For decades, politicians of both parties have selfishly drawn legislative and Congressional districts to protect themselves or advance the interests of their own parties.
The people of Florida ordered lawmakers to cease and desist with the delays, but efforts to discover what really went on in the redistricting process, is a lot like waking up in the Land of Oz. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" — we are urged. The great-and-powerful elected leaders must not be questioned, the puppet masters pulling the levers must not be exposed.
Today, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled take up the issue of whether legislative privilege protects members and staff from revealing information about how the maps were drawn.
Essentially, the court is being asked to decide if the redistricting process should be permitted to be conducted behind closed doors, or if the will of the people who voted for the amendments should be honored and the process given the scrutiny that the public deserves.
This will be one of the most important decisions the court will be asked to make this decade.
Depositions and documents obtained from Republican political operatives show that, during the 2012 reapportionment cycle, while professing to be conducting the most open, transparent, interactive and fair redistricting ever, legislative leadership and staff were conspiring with political operatives (state and national) to ensure that the new maps would benefit their party and favored candidates.
Not all the improper communications have been made public because some consultants have opted to be in contempt of court rather than turn over the evidence.
Collusion between lawmakers and consultants is a blatant violation of our constitution. Floridians voted to prohibit drawing maps with partisan intent or intent to protect incumbents.
We also have not received:
Internal documents generated by the Legislature during redistricting.
Communications that we now know legislators and staff secretly had with outside partisan consultants.
The opportunity to take testimony from the legislators or staff who made the important decisions about how the maps were to be drawn.
The trial judge rejected the legislators' bid to sweep evidence of their conduct under the carpet. But the Legislature appealed and the First District Court (with the chief judge dissenting) overruled the trial judge — essentially going along with the lawmakers' attempt to block all information from the court and the public.
Lawmakers seem to think legislative immunity is a shield that sets them above the reach of any constitutional provision — beyond the dictates of the people.
If that is the case, then the Fair Districts amendments would be meaningless. They will continue to manipulate districts to their favor with impunity, disenfranchising voters who don't agree with them.
Gerrymandering empowers elected leaders to ignore the will of the people they are supposed to represent.
Representation — the ability of all citizens to have their voices heard — is key to a healthy democracy. That is why the League of Women Voters is engaged in this fight.
[ Deirdre Macnab is president of the Florida League of Women Voters, Tallahassee. ]

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