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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fair Districts chair: 'I am not going to be interrogated'



Speaking to skeptical lawmakers for the first time since their proposed constitutional amendments for redistricting secured a place on the November ballot, representatives of the Fair Districts initiatives on Thursday defended their proposed changes amid pointed questioning and a tense tussle of words.

"With all due respect, chairman, I came here at my own respect ... and I am not going to be interrogated," Fair Districts chairwoman Ellen Friedin told Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, following several critical questions from Rep. Dorothy Hukill.

To which Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, told Friedin: "With all due respect, if you are finding this mild environment difficult to take, I think maybe you should toughen up. Because it's going to be a rocky ride."

The meeting was the latest of several redistricting discussions held since the fall, but it marked the first time that Fair Districts representatives came before lawmakers to discuss their proposal to add several new standards in the process for redrawing state and congressional voter districts.

Friedin told senators and representatives that the more than 1 million voters who signed petitions to get the initiatives on the ballot are Republicans, Democrats and Independents "who are committed to eliminating Florida's distinction as a state with some of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation."

"The people want to see districts in our state that make sense, that are compact, and that keep communities together," said Friedin. "They want to see maps that ensure minority voters are protected from diminished representation."

Hukill spent several minutes lobbing questions at Friedin, reading Friedin's quotes from news articles and asking her repeatedly about her quoted statements on the legal ramifications of the changes. Would the amendment provide extra protections beyond what is guaranteed in federal law, Hukill asked more than once.

Finally, Frieden told Cannon, "With all due respect, chairman, I came here at my own respect...and I am not going to be interrogated."

Earlier in her presentation, she tried to debunk concerns that passage of the Fair Districts amendments would reduce minority representation and result in increased litigation against the state. Some lawmakers also worry the proposed standards conflict with each other and would make it nearly impossible to redraw districts.

Frieden said Florida is one of just three states in the union with such few standards -- that districts be contiguous, that they allow one person one vote, and that they comply with the Voting Rights Act.

She said 12 other states have a rule that districts not "favor or disfavor" incumbents, and that even more require districts be compact -- two standards the Fair Districts initiative seeks.

"These states all manage to get their maps drawn," Friedin said. "This Legislature has the expertise and the intelligence to draw these districts under these guidelines. ...It's not rocket science."

Sen. Mike Haridopolos begged to differ.

"You keep saying this 'isn't rocket science,' " he told Friedin. "Well how about we'll give you the software, and using the 2002 data you can take a week and you can draw the districts based on this criteria that you say 'is so easy to do,' and is 'not rocket science.' You can draw the 25 congressional districts. Would you like one week? Two weeks? Because the people of Florida are going to vote on this in November."

Friedin said "that cannot be done," and when she started to turn away from the podium, Haridopolos was not pleased: "Please look at me," he said. "I am speaking."


[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:19pm]


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