Editorial: Florida GOP must stop fighting fairness

Editorial Board | Pensacola News Journal | 10/26/2015

Voters owe a big round of applause to federal Judge Casey Rodgers who recently put the smack down on an absurd political move to undermine Florida’s Fair Districts amendment.

The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas reported last week that two Florida GOP operatives had sued Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August, “demanding that he not enforce the Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution.”

According to Klas, Tim Norris, the Walton County Republican Executive Committee Chairman and Randy Maggard, the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Chairman were trying to argue that Florida’s Fair Districts have a chilling effect on their free-speech rights “because, as members of a political party, it will be used to invalidate a map.”

Klas added, “Hoping to find a venue that was most favorable to them, they filed the case in the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola.”

Well, if they were looking for a judge who was a political tool, they picked the wrong federal courthouse. As Klas reported, “In a 16-page opinion, the chief judge of the district, Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who was appointed by George W. Bush, rejected their argument and dismissed the case.”

Rodgers wrote that “The problem with Plaintiffs’ position is that they have not shown that their speech or conduct is prohibited or even ‘arguably forbidden’ by the Fair Districts Amendments on their face or as applied.”

The chief judge explained the the Fair District Amendments are directed at the Florida Legislature — “no one else.” And to be clear, Rodgers wrote that “Plaintiffs have no First Amendment right to a partisan map.”

It seems ludicrous that any citizen would oppose voting districts that are free from shady political manipulation. And it’s a shameful waste of time and taxes to burden our courts who have more legitimate business to attend to.

But that’s become par for the course for some Florida Republicans who seem immune to shame.

Look at the state’s most recent special session to redraw legal Senate districts. As the map is redrawn and current district lines change, many voters will end up in new districts with a senator for whom they never voted.

Despite that fact, Bill Galvano, the Republican senator from Bradenton who oversees the map drawing, has tried to argue that senators in redrawn districts should not have to recompete for their seats. The Tampa Bay Times quoted Galvano: “There is a legal argument to be made that the members who have been elected to four-year terms have a right to those seats. We are balancing the rights of the members and the rights of the people who elected those members.”

The rights of members? Galvano should say what he really means and proclaim that Florida Republicans who cheated their way into office through rigged districts deserve to enjoy the spoils of their con-artistry. It’s outrageous.

Fortunately, not all GOP senators are so brazen. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, disagreed and said all seats should be on the 2016 ballot, just as they were in 2012 after the districts were drawn. The Times explained, “In that situation, half of the Senate seats are given four-year terms and half are given two-year terms so that only half of the Senate is on the ballot every two years.”

That’s fair, just and logical — three concepts that are foreign in the feckless brains of too many Florida Republicans. Hopefully, when the districts are properly redrawn, willful cheaters like Galvano will get worked out of the system and elected officials will have to truly compete for Floridians’ votes.

The more the redistricting process is clarified by the courts, and the more that political pointmen are set straight by justice-minded people like Judge Casey Rodgers, the better the chance of Florida becoming a more fair place to live and vote.


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