Subverting the will of people with false claims

Editorial | Bradenton Herald | 07/31/2011

Honest Abe would be appalled. The party of Lincoln here in Florida has not been entirely honest with citizens in its zeal to consolidate control in Tallahassee.

Like a body in motion tends to stay in motion, a party in power tends to stay in power — especially since the party gets to determine legislative and congressional boundaries every decade based on new census figures.

This time, though, the conditions are vastly changed from previous redistricting power plays. A pair of constitutional amendments passed by an overwhelming majority of voters are geared toward preventing gerrymandering — or business as usual in political mapmaking to retain the dominant party. Districts cannot favor political parties or incumbents nor hinder minority representation.

And Florida Republicans are not pleased, to say the least. Deception is the order of the day as the GOP fights the amendments, which is odd considering the truth could not be hidden.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate, led by a GOP majority, are traipsing around the state ostensibly to solicit public feedback during hearings on redistricting, but without showing any map options with redrawn boundaries. That alone has drawn sharp criticism from citizens about whether this is a sham exercise by lawmakers determined to subvert the will of the people.

Plus, legislative leaders instructed redistricting committee members to remain silent during the hearings, lest they provide comments that could instigate lawsuits. This road show makes a stop Aug. 30 in Sarasota.

Here’s how the GOP has been less than honest with Floridians.

Back story: The Florida House joined a lawsuit that seeks to overturn Amendment 6 as unconstitutional attacks on minority districts. Hearings in the case began Friday in Miami.

Since the Florida Department of State is defending those new standards, taxpayers are stuck with the cost for lawyers on both sides — essentially, we are suing themselves. The House budgeted $30 million for this litigation while the Senate banked $9 million as its share.

The assertion: Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the House redistricting chairman, denied that a $30 million pot of money existed to fight the amendment. At the June redistricting meeting in Panama City, he stated: “Your tax dollars are not being spent on anything like that.”

During the public hearing in The Villages in mid-July, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, stated: “Your tax dollars are not being used to sue you, the people who voted the 63 percent.”

The finding: Earlier this month, PolitiFact Florida ruled Weatherford’s claim “False” with House Speaker Dean Cannon providing the clinching statement. Indeed, a total of some $30 million has been set aside in two House accounts. More than $1 million has already been spent on this litigation.

Hays also earned a “False” ruling from PolitiFact. The assertion: Hays also stated the House joined the lawsuit as an intervenor “seeking clarification,” not to fight the lawsuit.

The finding: But the House filed a motion asking the court to rule Amendment 6, which covers congressional districts, be declared unconstitutional. (Amendment 5 pertains to legislative districts.) Hays’ statement is not true.

The Legislature’s tight timetable for reapportionment further suggests GOP displeasure with change. Tentative new maps won’t be revealed until early next year, likely in March, and the public will only have a few days to comment before the Legislature votes on the new boundaries and sends the maps to the state Supreme Court for review. That leaves little time for candidates to qualify before overseas ballots for the August primary are mailed.

The Florida League of Women Voters is rightly worried, with president Deirdre Macnab stating:

“Misrepresentation of the House’s purpose in this lawsuit gives the league grave concern and should be of the same concern to every Florida citizen. It is time for this committee and the Legislature to come clean: drop the lawsuit, stop spending taxpayer dollars and follow the law of the land.”

“It is no wonder that the vast majority of citizens who have been attending these hearings have expressed suspicion about the true motives of the legislators.”

Suspicion indeed. The will of the people, not politics, must prevail.

© 2011 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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