Once every 10 years, the Florida Legislature is required to redraw maps for the House, Senate and congressional districts. Whether led by Democrats or Republicans, the result has always been the same: maps drawn taking into account the wishes of incumbents. It was a perfectly legal and generally tolerated practice — until this year.
As a result of two constitutional amendments passed by Florida voters, the Legislature was given new guidelines for drawing maps. Floridians spoke loud and clear. The first requirement was to ensure districts preserved the right of minorities to participate equally in the political process. Voters asked us to produce maps that did not favor incumbents and were drawn more compactly. They also asked, where feasible, to use existing city, county and geographical boundaries.
In its redistricting effort, the House Redistricting Committee undertook a deliberate effort to include Floridians in the process. From offering free mapping software to conducting public meetings around the state, we sought input from Floridians. More than 4,700 citizens attended our 26 statewide public meetings, and more than 1,600 appeared before the committee.
There were thousands of others who participated online via Facebook, Twitter, email and by watching the Florida Channel online. The committee received 300 written suggestions for redistricting maps and 177 public submissions of redistricting plans — up from only four in 2002. We also received more than 34,000 visitors to the redistricting website, 520 page likes on Facebook, 800 Twitter followers and sent out more than 1,700 informative updates. In Tallahassee, we held numerous committee and subcommittee meetings over the course of the last several months and considered several amendments that enhanced the maps and made them more legally compliant.
We produced maps that elevated the input of voters over the requests of politicians. In fact, as many as one-third of all House members currently share a district with an incumbent under the current House map. These changes impacted Republicans and Democrats alike. This is because drawing districts for specific members was not our goal. Our purpose was to follow state and federal laws and take partisanship out of the process.
The new maps embody the changes that voters wanted. Don't just take my word for it. One major newspaper described the new maps as "a record-breaking shake-up in incumbency." Another stated the "legislative maps minimize distortions. They were devised in a transparent process that did seem to follow the principles of Amendments 5 and 6."
The maps now move through the final steps of the approval process, which include the Florida attorney general, the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Justice Department. Floridians can follow the progress online at www.floridaredistricting.org.
Voters may wonder whether their input has any impact. When you speak your mind at the ballot box, will your voice be clearly heard in the halls of the Capitol? I invite you to take a look at the newly adopted maps passed out of the House of Representatives. It won't take long for you to see the difference you made in your government.
Rep. Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, is speaker-designate of the Florida House of Representatives and chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.