ORLANDO – In November 2010, Florida voters approved two amendments to protect voting rights and prevent political gerrymandering of voting districts. But now Florida state legislators and two members of the House of Representatives are stalling their implementation.
Amendments 5 and 6 were passed by a 63 percent majority of the voters of Florida (Democrats, Republicans and independents) who were fed up with decades of gerrymandering. According to FairDistrictsNow.org, these amendments added rules to the Florida Constitution to halt politicians from designing districts that favor themselves. The amendments also include protecting the rights of minority voters and disallowing political favoritism, and require the new districts to be compact, contiguous, and follow municipal boundaries where achievable.
In what appears to be a personal job protection plan, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D and Mario Diaz-Balart, R, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, R, and the Florida House of Representatives have filed a lawsuit to challenge “Fair Districts” Amendment 6. As a result, the citizens of Florida, who overwhelmingly voted for 5 and 6, are now paying for both the lawsuit by the legislators and the defense of the constitutional amendments. Shockingly, the person who will be charged with the defense of 5 and 6 for the voters of Florida – Secretary of State Kurt Browning – headed the “Nix 5 & 6” campaign in 2010.
Currently, legislators are conducting a two-month statewide “Redistricting Tour.” Approximately 40 politicians are holding community meetings and asking for public comments and questions. So far, the voters have asked tough questions and received few answers.
At the public redistricting meeting in Orlando on July 27, the 40 legislators were met with a crowd of over 600. Local labor leader, and retired teacher, Marion Cannon asked how the lawmakers can justify setting aside $30 million for the legal battles over 5 and 6 while slashing the education budget and laying off thousands of teachers. Many other participants asked the same questions. “Where are the sample district maps for public comment?” “When will the public see the new maps?” “Will the new districts be approved in time for the June 8, 2012 candidate filing deadline?”
Although the majority of voices at the hearing were demanding that the legislators adhere to 5 and 6, some were asking for specific districts to remain the same or that they be drawn to capture new populations in Florida. Representatives from the local NAACP asked for a district that specifically incorporates the African American community, like the congressional district of Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat. Leaders from the Latino community asked that a district be drawn to specifically capture the growing Latino vote. And with Florida to gain two seats in the U.S. House of Representative, the two constituent groups appeared to arguing for their right to one of these new districts.
After two hours of questions, it became clear that the new districts would be drawn and approved in Tallahassee, the state capital, during the spring 2012 legislative session, which lasts from February to June. With the way the Florida Legislature hammers measures through, and the geographical isolation of Tallahassee itself, the voters will have to remain vigilant to ensure gerrymandering is defeated in their state.
The “Redistricting Tour” continues its road trip with stops in Stuart, Miami, Tampa, and Key West, concluding in Clewiston Sept. 1. The Florida AFL-CIO, League of Women Voters, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Organize Now are urging Florida voters to continue to ask questions and share their outrage about how legislators are stalling the implementation of Amendments 5 and 6. For a complete schedule of the Redistricting Public Meetings, go to www.floridaredistricting.org.
Photo: Meeting on redistricting, via Florida Redistricting.