Florida Lawmakers Stall Redistricting

By DEIRDRE MACNAB | The Ledger | 08/18/2011

Did you ever hear the story by Mark Twain in the famous American novel "Tom Sawyer" about how he pulled a fast one on the town boys?

Young Tom is charged by his Aunt Polly with whitewashing the fence. See if you observe any similarity to what is playing out this summer with our Florida legislators, and the job they are given and paid to do by Florida voters: drawing new political districts.

It was a beautiful summer day. "Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence and all gladness left him, a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high."

Just like Tom Sawyer, our legislators have taken stock of what they are paid to do and have started to look around. Through clever machinations, Tom was able to persuade his friends to pay him with their marbles, their kites, their ice creams — pay him to take on his job. Some of our legislative leaders are now writing op-ed columns exhorting citizens to do the same. They are calling on the citizens of Florida to draw the districts and blaming the League of Women Voters, an organization of civic-minded volunteers, for not drawing maps.

"But Tom's energy did not last. He began to think of the fun he had planned for this day, and his sorrows multiplied. … At this dark and hopeless moment, an inspiration burst upon him! Nothing less than a great, magnificent inspiration."

Let's ask the people, and the League of Women Voters — well, anybody — to draw the maps.

Legislators' summer-long, 26-city, all-expenses-paid-by-taxpayers "listening tour" is carefully designed to unnecessarily delay the redistricting process. With the current schedule, it is highly likely that candidates will not know their districts until after the filing deadline, which will not give voters enough time to get to know the candidates before Election Day. In the words of the Legislature's own attorney, Miguel de Grandy, the present time line will create "chaos and confusion in the 2012 elections."

"Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash.

"He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while — plenty of company — and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn't run out of whitewash, he would have bankrupted every boy in the village."

Does the Legislature really believe citizens can't see through this avoidance tactic? The voters spoke when they passed Amendment 5 and Amendment 6, now in our state Constitution, setting rules for the redrawing of districts. The Legislature is getting paid to draw these maps. Their refusal to do so now means Florida citizens will have almost no time to review and provide substantive input before final approval.

Floridians spoke last November when 63 percent of voters passed the redistricting amendments. Perhaps we all must speak again to remind legislators that they are receiving a paycheck to perform this duty.

It is time to get to work so Floridians can have competitive elections in 2012 and a real opportunity to get to know their candidates before casting their votes for our state's future leaders.

Legislative leaders must accelerate the schedule, draw maps and present them to voters for real input. Otherwise, just like Tom Sawyer's crafty dodge, they will bankrupt our democratic process.

[ Deirdre Macnab is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, Tallahassee. ]

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