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Florida incumbents worried over 'fair district' movement

Maybe you think the Florida Legislature is doing a bang-up job. Some people do, I suppose.

My thinking is that our Legislature is fundamentally broken, incapable of governing Florida wisely, and needs at least four fixes:

• Fair voting districts to promote competition, instead of the rigged districts the Legislature draws to protect itself.

• Honest campaign money reported openly, rather than dishonest, no-limit, money-laundering "committees."

• Longer terms (I hate to admit this) than our eight-year limit, which accelerates the mad race for power, and heightens the influence of money and lobbyists.

• Voters who remember the track record and hold the Legislature to account at election time. More on that theme as the new year progresses.

Of these four ideas, the first is closest to becoming reality. There's a citizen petition drive to change the way Florida draws voting districts, aiming for the 2010 ballot.

This effort is called Fair Districts Florida. Its Web site is www.fairdistrictsflorida.org. It is circulating two petitions, one for congressional races and one for the Legislature.

Under these two constitutional amendments, voting districts could not be drawn "to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party."

Districts could not be drawn to disadvantage a minority. Districts would have to be compact, and where possible, based on existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

None of this is as easy as it sounds. We could gather the Wisest, Smartest People in the State (as opposed to, say, the Legislature) and they would still have a hard time of it.

And although the Legislature would still get first crack at drawing the maps, these amendments would give more specific standards to the courts, which is the idea.

In recent days, the Fair Districts movement has come under new attack from the Legislature and from some members of Congress.

The next generation of leaders of the Legislature (Dean Cannon in the House, Mike Haridopolos in the Senate) are thinking about going back to court, even though the Florida Supreme Court already has approved the ballot language.

Meanwhile, two members of Congress — Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from South Florida — wrote a joint letter to the Legislature posing 18 legal questions.

They say that the Fair Districts amendments seem to be "internally contradictory" and might violate both federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

How, they ask for example, can we both protect minority interests as required by federal law — and yet at the same time not "favor" an incumbent? How can we break up the districts we have now without "disfavoring" those incumbents?

My own thinking is that the Fair Districts amendments do not violate federal standards and contain adequate protections for minorities.

And if somebody wants another whack at Fair Districts in court, it would be better if it were someone besides the Legislature or an elected official using tax dollars.

Lastly, if somebody is determined to try, then get on with it. Once enough voters sign this petition, they are entitled to an election, and the courts should reject any attempt to run out the clock as a cynical, if not wicked, ploy.

Florida incumbents worried over 'fair district' movement 12/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 8:00pm]
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