Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Romano: Legislators learn redistricting decisions have a price

Before delving into the legal jargon and minutiae, it might be helpful to begin with this simple caveat:

They're full of hooey.

I'm speaking, of course, of your state legislators. The ones who insist their hearts were pure and their motives were virtuous.

When it comes to the question of what they were thinking when they drew up new maps for voting districts, it seems obvious they had at least one eye on their own self interests.

Emails suggest this is true. So do depositions. Not to mention the zigzag borders that make some districts look as if they were drawn by a doodler with a drinking problem.

Now I realize the term "redistricting controversy'' sounds like an oxymoron. And it's true that few things seem less intriguing than a battle over which Senate or House district your street ends up in.

So allow me to boil the issue down to its very essence:

They're making your vote virtually meaningless.

By rigging districts with an overwhelming set of demographics, lawmakers are practically guaranteeing the outcome of an election before the first ballot is cast.

If you think that seems undemocratic, unconstitutional and un-American, you're undoubtedly right.

That is why the League of Women Voters, among others, filed a lawsuit that alleged the redistricting maps violated a constitutional amendment. And this is why, two years later, legislators are whimpering about a recent state Supreme Court decision requiring them to explain the thinking behind their maps.

Those same lawmakers were also acting oh-so-innocent when it was revealed this week that some pertinent documents had been destroyed.

So why might they have hit the delete button?

Maybe because after an early brainstorming session that included Republican Party leaders, political consultants and legislative aides, it was pointed out that official discussions with nonelected types might be subject to judicial inquiry. And maybe because earlier documents revealed that lawmakers and aides were using personal emails to send drafts of maps to professional consultants.

I should also point out that while this issue involves partisan bickering, it is far from a one-party problem. Democrats would be just as sneaky as Republicans if they only had the power. If you don't believe that, then you should read the email from a Democratic operative who was inquiring whether Debbie Wasserman Schultz's congressional district could be padded with more Jewish voters under a new map.

So, yeah, it's hard to find sympathetic characters here.

And I do agree with attorneys for legislators who pointed out it might be dangerous to mess with legislative privilege, which keeps lawmakers from having to defend their decisions in court. It's an important concept in the separation of branches and the avoidance of nuisance suits.

But, in this case, legislators brought this problem on themselves. More than 60 percent of Florida voters agreed they were tired of maps being drawn to favor incumbents when constitutional amendments on redistricting were approved in 2010.

And yet, months later, lawmakers were already contacting political gurus to seek opinions before proceeding on new maps.

Legislative privilege? It should cease to exist when lawmakers cease to deserve it.

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