Miami Herald Editorial: Poison pill

Apr 22, 2010

The Miami Herald publilshed this editorial on April 21, 2010.

OUR OPINION: Incumbents in Tallahassee try to usurp voters’ rights to fair representation

Backers of Florida’s “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment proposals, which seek to stop the creation of gerrymandered districts that put incumbents first, are calling the Legislature’s counter-amendment a “poison pill.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon insist their counter-proposal to “fix” the way the Legislature designs state and federal districts would help maintain and create minority districts and only seeks to “clarify” fair-district amendments 5 and 6. But that’s a sham, as the NAACP has pointed out.

As it stands, amendments 5 and 6 will be on the November ballot thanks to thousands of frustrated Florida voters signing a petition. They’re rightfully fed up with districts that snake through several counties, splitting neighborhoods and stacking partisan votes to ensure the victory of incumbents or the majority party.

Ignores voters’ will

So what does Sen. Haridopolos do? The Indiatlantic Republican is proposing Senate Joint Resolution 2288, maintaining that it’s the only way for the Legislature to protect “racial and language minorities” and “communities of interest” as if federal law and proposed amendments 5 and 6 don’t do that already. But that’s the least of it.

┬áThe resolution, and its House counterpart, in essence would abolish amendments 5 and 6. So even if voters approve the proposed amendments, the Legislature could use its resolution to ignore the will of the people and keep drawing districts that protect politicians instead of voters’ best interests for fair representation.

If you don’t think that’s true, consider that Florida has more Democratic than Republican voters and the majority voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Yet not one incumbent in Tallahassee lost, as districts were drawn a decade ago to make it harder for new blood to win.

Legislators failed to quash the state petition drive that will put amendments 5 and 6 on the ballot. Their lawsuit failed, and now they’re betting on legislative tactics. Blaming the Republicans in charge is easy, but the truth is this is about power, and the Democrats have their own sorry history on gerrymandering to stay in control.

Stakes are high

The U.S. Constitution requires states to redraw their federal and state lawmakers’ districts every 10 years, using new U.S. Census data. There’s a good chance that Florida will get at least one new congressional seat, so the stakes are high.

Amendments 5 and 6 would make it much harder to manipulate redistricting to serve any special interest. Districts would have to be compact, contiguous and ensure fair representation for minorities and communities so that cities like Fort Lauderdale wouldn’t be split up into four congressional districts. If new districts don’t meet those requirements, voters could — and should — take the issue to court.

Redistricting reform is long overdue in Florida. The Incumbent Protection Act that Messrs. Haridopolos and Cannon have devised is shameful.