Editorial: Legal efforts by Florida House of Representatives to quash Fair Districts amendments expensive, unseemly

Editorial Board | TC Palm | 10/20/2011

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In November, 63 percent of Florida voters approved the "Fair Districts" amendments. Among other things, these citizen-sponsored initiatives are designed to restrict political gerrymandering of state legislative (Amendment 5) and congressional (Amendment 6) districts, make districts follow natural boundaries wherever possible, and ensure districts do not favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.

In other words, these amendments to the state Constitution will help root out the abhorrent politics that routinely mar the redistricting process.

Even before the November election, two members of Congress — Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami — filed a legal challenge to Amendment 6, claiming it violated the U.S. Constitution. The Florida House of Representatives joined with Brown and Diaz-Balart in filing the challenge.

Last month, federal Judge Ursula Ungaro, of Miami, threw out the lawsuit and ruled the amendments passed by a majority of Florida voters will stand.

Well, get ready for Round Two.

The two members of Congress are appealing Ungaro's decision. And, once again, they will have the leadership of the Florida House (and your hard-earned tax dollars) squarely behind them. Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon announced recently he will join Brown's and Diaz-Balart's legal effort in appealing the decision.

Can you say "unconscionable?"

Through June, the House already had spent almost $1 million from a discretionary fund to fight the Fair District amendments, according to a report by the Sun Sentinel. Let's be clear: This is almost $1 million of your tax money to fight constitutional amendments a wide majority of you approved in November! And, given Cannon's latest decision, the legal tab will continue to grow.

The people have spoken — in resounding language at the polls — on the Fair Districts amendments. Unfortunately, our elected representatives remain clueless on this issue. And rank-and-file members of the House appear to be playing "follow the leader."

The editorial board of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers asked the five House members in the Treasure Coast legislative delegation if they supported Cannon's decision to continue fighting Amendment 6. What a great opportunity for them to champion both the amendment process and the importance of creating "fair districts." Not surprisingly, the three House members who responded to our questions sided, ultimately, with the speaker. The others perhaps were too embarrassed to put their positions in writing.

"I agree wholeheartedly with the concept that legislative districts should make geographical sense to the extent possible," wrote Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, via email. "The voters spoke plainly to this issue in passing Amendments 5 and 6. It is our obligation as legislators to comply with the spirit and letter of those amendments."

However, Snyder then cited "House Rules" and defended Cannon's efforts as speaker to challenge Amendment 6. Snyder's response is similar to that of Reps. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. Mayfield wrote, via email: "House Rules charge the speaker with protecting the interests of the House. The language of Amendment 6 is untested, and the speaker is seeking the answer to a complicated question of constitutional law that will impact redistricting long into the future. I want to stress, however, that the litigation does not affect the current map drawing process, and the maps will be drawn to comply with Amendments 5 and 6."

How about protecting the interests of citizens instead of the interests of the House?

Since rank-and-file members of the House clearly have no interest in challenging Cannon on this issue, the public needs to speak out and demand the House cease and desist any and all opposition to Amendment 6.

The Legislature's legal attempts to quash the will of the people is both expensive and unseemly.

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