Legislators' cries on redistricting ring hollow

Opinion Staff | Palm Beach Post | 08/14/2015

The Republicans who run the Legislature are in a foul mood. Not only have they had to stumble back to Tallahassee in the heat of August, they have to deal once again with that pesky redistricting problem, a chore they thought they settled twice already, in 2012 and again in 2014.

And who has made them do it? Why, that nasty old Florida Supreme Court.

“How does the court get that sort of latitude, to come in here and run roughshod over the Legislature?” moaned Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president, on the second day of the two-week special session.

Note to unhappy legislators: This is basic civics. When the evidence shows that the party in power is making a mockery of a public process for the sole purpose of maintaining power, it is up to the courts to protect the people. Who else is there?

Lee and his allies had many gripes. To prevent repeating the missteps that got them in trouble with the court, the legislators have set up strict ground rules to record every meeting — every conversation — dealing with redistricting. And every time they suggest a tweak to the political map, they need to clearly state a nonpartisan, politically neutral reason.

This has some members saying their freedom of speech is being abused.

And then the Legislature’s own counsel advised the legislators to stick close to the court’s ideas on how to fix eight problematic U.S. House districts, lest they get slapped again. So the legislators may decide they have little leeway other than to largely ratify what the court has suggested.

This has Republicans complaining that the court is trampling on the separation of powers. Or acting at the behest of Democrats.

Oh, such misery! And such hogwash.

The legislators brought this on themselves by snubbing Florida voters, who in 2010 overwhelmingly passed the Fair Districts amendments, making it illegal to engage in politically motivated gerrymandering. The voters clearly believed some fix was needed in a state where Democrats hold a majority in voter registration, and yet the congressional delegation is 17-10 Republican, and both chambers of the Legislature have two-thirds GOP majorities.

After the amendments passed, legislators made “a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting,” as the trial judge said, by letting Republican consultants submit self-serving maps and later deleting “almost all of their emails.”

This Legislature has a bad habit of ignoring the voters. Think of last year’s Amendment 1 (approved by 84 percent of Palm Beach County voters), which dedicated $750 million for land and water conservation in its first year. The Legislature’s response? Dedicating under $18 million to the land-buying program Florida Forever.

The Legislature is just as disdainful toward court rulings that don’t go its way. Odd, how some of the same politicians who love to declare their reverence for the Constitution voice outrage when the courts actually do their job under our system of checks and balances.

All this bloviating is probably directed toward a more bitter battle to come. In October, the Legislature must meet for yet another special session, this one to redraw the map for state Senate — a subject that for these folks is going to be extremely personal.

This process has dragged on for so long that the state now has 1.5 million more people than were here for the 2010 census. Those are people who won’t exist as far the map goes. This is no way to figure out representative government.

What’s crystal clear is that the political partisans are having a terrible time living with the law. The best-case scenario is that leadership gets so sick of the court’s involvement that they decide to chuck this process altogether — and outsource it to an independent, nonpartisan commission.


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