State lawmakers begin reapportionment road show

South Florida Sun-Sentinel | South Florida Sun-Sentinel | 07/05/2011

State lawmakers insist they are following the letter of the law, and the will of the people, on redistricting. They say so even as they're poised to fight a very popular constitutional amendment requiring new congressional and legislative boundaries be drawn with competition in mind, not lawmakers' own job security.

Talk about playing both sides against the middle.

It's hard to keep a straight face regarding the lawmakers' empty vows of support for the Fair Districts amendment to the Florida Constitution in the face of their outright opposition. The fact that House Speaker Dean Cannon has ordered his chamber to join a federal lawsuit designed to keep the state Legislature in control of drawing congressional districts hasn't helped either. Now Florida taxpayers are on the hook for both defending and opposing political reform.

Cynicism aside, this is bare knuckles politics. The overwhelming majority of the Republican controlled Legislature want to maintain their power to draw Florida's political districts, and they've made no bones about it. They do so just as Democrats did when they had a majority.

Many lawmakers in both the Florida House and Senate opposed the idea of a constitutional mandate for compact and contigious districts even before the organizers of the Fair District amendment collected the necessary signatures to take their proposal to the voters.

The voters have a different take. They have resoundingly stated their preference for competitive races. Sixty-three percent of the voters approved last fall's ballot initiative that saw the passage of Amendments 5 and 6 to change the way state legislators draw new districts. The two amendments make it more difficult for the Legislature to draw boundaries favoring incumbent politicians or party interests over the voters.

In fairness, drawing new political boundaries to offset population growth is a complicated process. Lawmakers must balance a myriad of demands, from federal laws to prevent minority voting disenfranchisement to individual ambitions of fellow lawmakers seeking higher office. So, the Legislature's listening tour, an apt description of the 26 public hearings scheduled throughout the state by the Legislature's Reapportionment Committee, are indeed welcomed.

"This can't be about individuals' political agendas," says state Sen. Don Gaetz, R.-Niceville, a committee co-chair. Actions still speak louder than words.

BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers' redistricting priorities should be with the voters.

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