GOP should be held responsible for redistricting mess

Ft. Myers News-Press | 07/22/2014

Recently, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that Florida’s 2010 redistricting map was unconstitutional. He found that legislative leaders had allowed the map-drawing process to be dictated by Republican political operatives, and ordered that at least two of the state’s 27 congressional districts be redrawn in compliance with Florida’s Fair District amendment.

Bluntly put, our current electoral maps are illegal and corrupt.

What’s most remarkable is what happened shortly after Lewis’ condemnation, which found GOP consultants “made a mockery of the Legislature’s transparent and open process of redistricting” while “going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.”

In the face of such an incriminating assessment, Florida’s top Republicans did not appeal the ruling. Instead, they admitted to it. They conceded that they lied, schemed and cheated Florida voters when they agreed to accept Lewis’ findings. And they agreed to redraw the districts.

You’ve got to love our justice system. If a private Floridian was found to have counterfeited checks in Lake City or defrauded little old ladies in Boca Raton or organized a shuffleboard gambling ring in The Villages, he’d be sent to prison. But if a political party is found to have knowingly manipulated a public process specifically against the intent of constitutional law, they get a redo?

Not that it joys us to see people locked up. But the law was broken. There were secret meetings and fraudulent maps. Public records were destroyed and emails were deleted.

There were political consultants and partisan hacks who had more sway over the system than any other citizen.

And had it not been for the vigilance and persistence of citizen groups led by the League of Women Voters, the crooks would have gotten away with it all. Had it not gone to trial, the public wouldn’t have known any of it ever happened. Even now, no individuals are being punished. That’s hardly a thought that instills faith, optimism and an overwhelming sense of civic pride in our system.

For the sake of Reubin O’Donovan Askew, is this what we’ve become? A place where blatant partisanship carries more clout than millions of citizens? Welcome to Florida: The Sun-slime State.

Nevertheless, the voters groups are still fighting. On Thursday, Lewis will hear their argument that the illegal districts should be redrawn immediately — before November’s election. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have agreed to have the Legislature redraw — after the 2014 elections. The voters groups say we can’t risk another election with an invalid map. The legislators say it’s too late in the year’s election cycle. Neither situation is ideal.

Gaetz and Weatherford have valid points, though it’s tough to take them seriously after being either shamefully complicit or shamefully ignorant to their party’s schemes. Ballots have already been printed. Military absentee ballots have already been mailed out. Political campaigns are well underway.

But none of that changes the fact that the map, as it stands, is unconstitutional. Do two illegally drawn districts render the whole map void? If so, would that open the state up to further lawsuits and election-inspired litigation, not to mention the associated legal defense costs to taxpayers?

We hope Lewis will clarify some of this after Thursday’s hearing. Perhaps there were publicly submitted maps from 2010 that rendered the contested districts legally, thus providing a relatively quick correction before November. Unless of course, such maps were destroyed along with legislators’ emails. We hope not, but we can only hope.

We implore all registered Republicans to hold the party accountable. When the party does wrong, it does so in your name.

Your family members have marched, fought, bled, prayed and died for the sanctity of our right to vote. If we now permit that right to be so grossly defiled without punishing the politicians who did it, it’s not just their crime against liberty. It’s our own.

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