They use our money to fight us

Fred Grimm | Miami Herald | 05/08/2011

Don’t worry. Despite the most brutal budget cuts in state history, the taxpayers of Florida still have millions set aside for their epic battle against the taxpayers of Florida.

Both houses of the Florida Legislature managed to find plenty of money — also known as your money — for the slush funds underwriting their costly lawsuit against the Fair Districts amendments.

The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that the legislative leadership has figured on spending $20 million, and plenty more if necessary, to preserve their sacred right to re-draw state Senate, state representative and congressional districts in whatever squished-out, crazy-map shapes best protect their political self-interest.

You’ll be paying the legal costs to subvert a pair of constitutional amendments approved by 62.6 percent of the voters last fall.
You’ll also be paying the legal costs to defend those same amendments. The state of Florida is the named defendant in the lawsuit. That would be you, with the governor (however unenthused) secretary of state and attorney general standing in for the citizens of Florida when the case opens before U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro in Miami on July 29. Just to give the matter cosmic balance, the Florida Senate and House of Representatives are listed as both plaintiffs and defendants.

Oh my, but we seem intent to spending gobs of money, in a very lean year, cannibalizing ourselves in court. Apparently, we’re prepared to spend about as much over the next year suing ourselves as on Everglades restoration.

We’re cutting money for schools by eight percent, reducing reimbursements to hospitals by 12 percent, cutting funding to nursing homes, jacking up college tuition by eight percent, laying off 4,492 state workers and cutting the pay of those still left on the state payroll by three percent.

Yet the Legislature found enough money under the sofa cushions to spend $20 million, maybe $30 million, maybe more, to insure lawmakers aren’t forced to draw new legislative districts using the logical, non-partisan criteria voters approved last fall.

House Speaker Dean Cannon has led the charge into internecine warfare. “The litigation this year is likely to be more broad and complex than it has been in past decades,” Cannon complained when the Orlando Sentinel inquired about the prodigious amounts both houses have set aside to fight this nuisance lawsuit.

Except Cannon and his fellow pols, desperate to create (with the help of sophisticated computer programs) districts that essentially inoculate incumbents from serious political opposition, are the very nuisances doing the suing.

“It’s a little disingenuous for them to complain about the litigation,” said former state senator Dan Gelber, who represents the Fair Districts group, which shepherded redistricting reform onto the ballot last year. “It’s like the boy who murdered his parents and asked for mercy because he’s an orphan.”

Most of the money, of course, will go toward attorney fees. The Sentinel reported that House Speaker Cannon has already burned through $800,000 in the redistricting fight. And $700,000 of that went to GrayRobinson, the Orlando-based firm that also happens to be Cannon’s former employer. Small world, I guess.

Of course, when the elected representatives of the citizens of Florida decide to sue the citizens of Florida (and themselves in the bargain) they need expensive expertise to sort through the moral and legal morass.

And lots of your money to pay for it.

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