Florida's legislators forced to behave, crying about it

Daniel Ruth | Tampa Bay Times | 08/12/2015

Here's a simple question to ponder. Suppose you found yourself sitting next to a member of the Florida Legislature in a saloon. Would you feel comfortable leaving your bar change unattended within arm's reach of one of our elected officials if nature suddenly called?

Scary thought, isn't it?

And that explains why the House and Senate have been ordered by the state Supreme Court to conduct yet another special session, this time to redraw Florida's hinky congressional districts simply because a conniving, duplicitous, scheming Legislature was deemed to be more untrustworthy than Lord Voldemort meets Lance Armstrong.

In 2010 voters approved a Fair District amendment to the Florida Constitution that required the Legislature to draw congressional and state legislative voting districts without intentionally favoring and/or disfavoring any one particular party.

To be sure, the Fair District Amendment was indeed a wonderful nod to democracy.

But entrusting such a highly politicized and partisan group as the Republican-dominated Legislature to actually adhere to the will of the people was a bit like expecting Emily's List to honor Donald Trump as its Feminist of the Year.

So it was that the members of Florida's Tammany Hall South were plenty steamed over being slapped around by the state Supreme Court for attempting the cook the electoral books. Really now, where's the fun in being the dominant political party in the state if you can't abuse your power without having a bunch of fuddy-duddies in robes start spouting legal mumbo jumbo?

Just how far out of touch with reality are Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Black Spot, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Omerta? Consider their arguments why being forced into a special session by the high court was so blatantly unfair.

Corcoran, Lee and their fellow crybabies claimed the Florida Supreme Court has violated their First Amendment rights by requiring the Legislature to justify its map-drawing decisions in an open and transparent manner. We'll pause here so you can slap your forehead.

As the speaker-designate of the House, Corcoran was especially pouty toward the Supremes, noting: "We are under direction by a court that continues over and over again to exceed their constitutional authority."

Or put another way, Corcoran, who himself took an oath (with fingers crossed?) to uphold the Florida Constitution, got his bloomers in a wad after the state Supreme Court ruled that using unaccountable Republican political henchmen to interfere with the redistricting process, in secret, behind closed doors, to corrupt the electoral process was an unconstitutional violation of the Fair Districts Amendment.

How dare the Florida Supreme Court! How dare these justices do their jobs! Oh, the oppression of it all!

But Corcoran was hardly alone in his addled delusions. He had Lee to keep him company, who argued his free speech rights were violated, too, when the court ordered all map-making deliberations need to be made in the open, in the sunshine, for all to see. That onerous provision guaranteeing the public ought to have access to open government, Lee whined, violated his right to speak freely to his legislative colleagues?

But why? Why would Lee fret that conducting the people's business in public view was somehow compromised unless he was attempting to short-sheet the process in favor of the GOP?

"Who are they?" a petulant Lee asked of the court. Who are they, senator? Well they are the folks who stand between the hustlers, grifters and flimflam artists in the Legislature and the citizenry that is entitled to a fair vote. Little wonder Lee doesn't grasp that distinction.

To his credit, state Senate President Andy Gardiner ordered that any discussions regarding the drawing of new maps between any senator and staff members must be recorded. Issuing a Miranda Rule warning might not be a bad idea, too, but let's take it one step at a time.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Skull and Bones, objected to the recording requirement, noting such scrutiny would have an undue "chilling effect" on the redistricting process. One can only hope.

What Negron and the rest of his Tallahassee winkers and nodders still don't seem to comprehend is that the public and certainly the Florida Supreme Court doesn't trust the Legislature to do the right thing by honoring the intent of the Fair District Amendment.

And that is why the court virtually required every member of the Legislature to have a ruler-toting nun serving as a chaperone during the duration of the special session.

Amazing and troubling, isn't it? That the very elected officials who are supposed to defend the state's Sunshine Laws are so allergic to transparency.


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