Editorial: The redistricting disgrace

Editorial Board | The Tampa Tribune | 07/30/2015

Give the Florida Senate’s leadership a small measure of credit for finally giving up on the farcical stance that its 2012 redistricting maps were not designed specifically to keep the ruling party in power.

The Senate settled a three-year-old lawsuit with the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, which claimed district boundaries violated the voter-approved constitutional amendments that require lawmakers to design boundaries fairly, without seeking to protect incumbents and the ruling party.

The state Supreme Court earlier this month ruled the Legislature’s congressional maps were “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents.”

Now lawmakers, who already have spent more than $8 million defending their gerrymandered districts, will have to hold two special sessions on new districts.

The session on congressional redistricting will be Aug. 10-21; the session on Senate redistricting is scheduled Oct. 19-Nov.6.

It is unclear how many state Senate seats will be affected. As the Tribune’s James L. Rosica reports, at least three local senators — Pinellas’ Jeff Brandes, Tampa’s Arthenia Joyner (who is term-limited in 2016) and Pasco’s John Legg — are likely to see their districts revised.

Many more districts also could be affected.

Lawmakers have no one but themselves to blame for this costly embarrassment. Rather than trying to draw boundaries that fairly represented voters, they sought to manipulate the numbers for their benefit. Democratic voters were crammed in select districts, making other districts safe for Republicans.

Testimony during a civil trial over the process found secret meetings were held, documents were destroyed and Republican consultants influenced the process.

In this case the GOP benefited, but all voters, regardless of party, should be infuriated by the subversion of the democratic process.

The priority here clearly was amassing — and maintaining — political power, not representing the people.

Indeed, this obsession with gaining partisan advantage by whatever means possible undermines government, making elected officials virtually indifferent to the public’s concerns.

This was painfully apparent this year when lawmakers arrogantly ignored Amendment 1’s directive to bolster conservation spending, though the measure had received 75 percent of the vote in November. The Senate even assigned Sen. Alan Hays of Umatilla, a relentless opponent of land preservation, as its point person on the amendment.

It was a disgraceful episode, and one that would not have occurred if lawmakers genuinely felt accountable.

Too often the redistricting controversy is viewed as a partisan matter, with “fair districts” seen as helping Democrats.

But we doubt equitably drawn districts would dramatically shift power. Fair districts, though, should result in elected officials having to attend to the concerns of all their constituents, rather than simply marching in lockstep with party leadership.

We hope lawmakers have learned from their legal comeuppance and are transparent and honest in the special sessions. They have been forcefully reminded they are elected to serve voters, not manipulate them.

Legal battle over state Senate districts coming to an end

TALLAHASSEE - A contentious battle over Florida state senate districts is coming to an end. read more »

Senate won't appeal redistricting ruling

Clearing the way for elections later this year with a map that could boost Democrats' numbers in the Senate, Republican leaders decided Wednesday not to appeal a Leon County judge's ruling setting districts for the chamber's 40 seats. read more »

Florida Senate won't appeal ruling on new districts

TALLAHASSEE — Senate leaders said Wednesday that they will not appeal last month's court ruling that sided with a voters' coalition in setting new district boundaries. read more »

Florida Legislature won't appeal redistricting ruling

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature is giving up the fight and will not contest a court ruling that redraws all of the state's 40 state senate districts for the 2016 election cycle. read more »

Editorial: Republicans should accept redistricting defeat and drop talk of appeals

For a brief moment last week it appeared the Florida Legislature had come to its senses and was willing to accept a judge's ruling on the boundaries for new state Senate districts. read more »

Renumbering state Senate districts triggers political scramble

TALLAHASSEE — It may sound like a simple process, but the Florida Senate's random renumbering of all its districts statewide Tuesday touched off a series of complicated twists that one key lawmaker said only adds more chaos to a continuing redistricting saga. read more »