REDISTRICTING WITH FAIRNESS JUST MIGHT HAVE A CHANCE
The Supremes have done something quite brave, giving the go-forward nod to an organization that wants to help take the politics out of redistricting our legislative and Congressional seats.
This occurred on Thursday, when Florida Supreme Court justices ruled favorably on two proposed constitutional amendments aimed at preventing — though probably not bringing to a dead stop — gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering isn't anything new, and it's beloved by incumbents because it keeps possible challengers with their noses pressed against almost unbreakable glass.
It was brave for the high court to rule as it did, given that it is effectively going against the wishes of leaders in the Legislature, from which it needs more operating funds. The court did order a more specific dollar estimate of what additional costs the amendments might incur, if any, which the GOP controlled Legislature did argue for.
What happens next is that the amendment's sponsors, a bipartisan organization called FairDistrictsFlorida.org, must now begin collecting enough signatures to get two amendments on the ballot — 676,811 signatures each.
If that's achieved, then the task will be to get 60 percent of voters on Nov. 2, 2010 elections to agree to clean up this menacing map-drawing system that we tolerate, but shouldn't.
The petition drive has a lot of high-powered organizations and people behind it and they're not all from the same party, either. The chairman is Thom Rumberger, who practices law in Tallahassee now, but has been a force statewide for many years, working years ago for the inscrutable former Republican governor Claude Kirk and more recently championing Everglades protection and restoration.
"Not being cocky," Rumberger told the Associated Press last week, "it's just that the people are fed up."
Everyone acknowledges that the leaders and elected officials of whichever party is in power is fond of the current apportionment system, which makes districts so utterly in line with voting patterns that an interloper from the out-of-power party can almost never get elected.
Anecdotally it's been said that map-drawing is so technologically refined these days that you can almost draw a district line down the middle of someone's living room in a house where the wife is known to vote Democratic and the husband goes for the GOP.
They can also pack a large number of voters they don't want to have any real power into just a few districts. These minorities win seats in the Legislature, and keep getting re-elected, but there aren't enough of them to have any real power once they have that seat at the table.
It's a form of legal segregation that also has the affect of keeping everyone's interests narrow. If you don't have to please a broad array of people with varying interests to get elected, you become narrow of mind, which isn't good for the state as a whole.
Right now the Legislature does the redistricting work itself every ten years, but these constitutional amendments would change the way it's done, setting out standards for redistricting that would help stop favoritism for any party or incumbent and would prevent denying equal opportunity for racial or language minorities.
Though there are many tricks in the book of redistricting, with this change districts would have to follow existing political and natural geographic boundaries when feasible.
So it's good news that these amendments are now going to be moving forward. You will likely have an opportunity to sign one of the petitions and get involved in the money-raising needed just to get the petition drive big enough to do its job.
When the mapmakers, with their sophisticated computing skills, have more effect on the way the Legislature is elected than the voters do, something's wrong. And wrong it has been. A bipartisan effort to make what Rumberger calls this "necessary sea change" would be more honorable.
We have a lot of serious problems with the way Florida is governed — term limits, no run-off primary, toothless campaign financing rules, and presiding officers who have too much power and can't help but use it ruthlessly. But this is a step in the other direction, towards good government, not more of the same.
For more information visit online at www.fairdistrictsflorida.org.