Lawmakers use your cash to overturn your vote

Scott Maxwell | Orlando Sentinel | 05/01/2011

Right now, legislators are waging a wicked war — against democracy itself.

Sound extreme? Well, consider the following:

They're using your money to pay lawyers $300 an hour to try to overturn one of your votes.

They're trying to shorten the amount of time you have to vote in the future.

They want to make it harder for you to get your issues on the ballot.

They even want to reshape the Supreme Court to silence the jurists who stand up for your rights.

At the root of all of these petulant and sinister schemes is Fair Districts.

You folks really ticked them off last year when you passed that constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering.

You overwhelmingly rejected the politicians' shady practice of carving out snakelike districts that protect incumbents and their friends — plenty of black Democrats for Corrine Brown and lots of white Republicans for John Mica.

You thought that stank. And you were right.

But the last thing legislators want is a fair fight. So they want revenge.

House Speaker Dean Cannon first tried to undermine Fair Districts with a deceptive amendment of his own — one that essentially said, even if Fair Districts passed, legislators could ignore it.

The Supreme Court saw Cannon's ploy for what it was and rejected it.

This infuriated the Winter Park Republican. He declared war on the judiciary and then launched a campaign to remake the Supreme Court with a new division and new justices.

Forget separation of powers and generations of precedent. Cannon wanted the legislative branch to take on the judicial.

His next target: Florida voters.

Cannon wanted to overturn the citizens' vote, and he had an ally in Congresswoman Brown, whose top priority was protecting her own rear end.

So after Brown and a Republican congressman from South Florida filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the Fair Districts vote, Cannon decided the state House should join the lawsuit … using your money.

How much? Well, at first, Cannon's office claimed not to know — that he couldn't track the public's money that specifically.

It was a fascinating claim for a lawyer. Most attorneys who can't accurately track their bills aren't attorneys very long.

So I got my hands on the receipts for all the legal matters associated with redistricting.

There were firms charging taxpayers $300 an hour and $70,000 a month.

Altogether, the bills totaled more than $700,000 — with most of it going to Cannon's former firm, GrayRobinson.

That was in January. I checked again last week and found more than $100,000 worth of additional bills — again, with most of the money going to GrayRobinson.

Suddenly, Cannon's office had more specifics. It estimated that only 50 percent of those legal bills dealt with fighting Fair Districts.

But the legislative attacks on democracy don't end with your money. There's also the crackdown on voting itself.

Legislators have talked about reducing early voting from 14 days to six. They also want new obstacles for those who have recently changed their names or addresses — something that would particularly impact college students and newly married women.

Even elections supervisors say this a bad idea.

There is also an effort to make it harder for future citizen-led amendments, like Fair Districts, to get on the ballot.

Do you get the picture now?

Legislators don't want you speaking up.

Most Democrats have told Brown she is wrong. And a handful of Republicans have stood up to Cannon and the House. GOP state Sen. David Simmons courageously summed up Cannon's assault on the Supreme Court in six words: "There's no reason to do it."

Of course there isn't. These attacks are affronts to the basic tenets of our democracy.

They shouldn't offend certain partisans. They should offend all Americans.

If you want them to stop, write your lawmakers and tell them to stop playing games.

Tell them to let your vote stand on Fair Districts.

Tell them to stop spending your money to overturn your will.

Tell them not to make it harder for Floridians to vote or get issues on the ballot.

Tell them their personal grievances aren't grounds for making bad decisions that will affect generations to come.

Tell them we have enough problems in this state without them wasting their time — and your money — creating more. or 407-420-6141

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