Florida Lawmakers Seek Public Input on Redistricting
Over the summer the Florida legislature will hold a series of meetings aimed at getting public input on the redistricting process. Redistricting happens once every 10 years and hold tremendous importance over the way the state will be governed for the next decade. Often districts are drawn to favor the party in power, which were Republicans 10 years ago, and are Republicans today. By making our districts drawn fairly, elections will be more competitive- which is a good thing. When we have competitive elections, our lawmakers will finally reflect the people of Florida and it will be easier to pass pro-equality legislation.
Check out this article from the Florida Capital News about the meetings happening this summer. I hope I see you at some of them!
Florida lawmakers to seek input about redistricting in a series of public hearings
By Jim Ash
Armed with terabytes of U.S. Census data and the limitless reach of social media, the Legislature is inviting the public this summer to help re-write the political landscape.
It's known as reapportionment, a once-every-decade exercise in which legislators redraw their own districts as well as those of the Florida congressional delegation.
It begins in earnest on June 20 in the Capitol with the first of 26 public hearings across the state. The series includes June 21 meetings in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, a July 28 meeting in Viera and Aug. 31 meetings in Naples and Lehigh Acres.
It hits warp speed in January, when the Legislature convenes its traditional 60-day session three months early to accommodate court review of the new districts.
"This will be the most transparent process in history," vowed Sen. Don Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville who is in charge of redistricting for his chamber and who is next in line to be Senate president.
But when it comes to the bizarro world of politicians choosing their voters, the public input is nothing but window dressing, critics warn.
The party in power has traditionally been able to draw districts that reward friends, punish enemies and, above all else, protect the status quo. Critics say one statistic from legislative races proves the point. Between 2004 and 2010, only three incumbents were defeated by challengers.
Republicans enjoy the upper hand at an uneven time. This year, they get to draw two new congressional seats as the Florida delegation grows from 25 to 27.
But they also must deal with new restraints.
Last year, a coalition of liberal-leaning groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters, convinced voters to approve Amendments 5 and 6. Flying under the banner of "Fair Districts," the amendments substantially erode the Legislature's power to draw whatever districts they think will pass court review.
The amendments prohibit lawmakers from giving an unfair advantage to an incumbent or political party when drawing districts, and they require lawmakers to consider minority interests.
Two minority members of Florida's congressional delegation, a Republican and a Democrat, already are in a Miami federal court fighting to overturn the amendments. They argue that the restrictions actually make it harder for legislators to draw districts that benefit minority candidates.
Former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democrat from Miami Beach who is representing Fair Districts, said the lawsuit is proof that the Republicans have no intention of giving up their power of self-preservation.
The redistricting committees are making a show of asking the public to submit redistricting maps, but lawmakers will have none of their own for the public to review during the meetings, Gelber said.
"It's no more than window dressing," Gelber said. "The Legislature has done everything it can to delay a good faith effort at redistricting."
Gaetz could not predict when the public will see the first maps that lawmakers submit. The point is to take public advice first, he said.
"His perspective would be to first come up with all the answers and then ask for public input," Gaetz said. "Every single map will be available for the public to see."