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.