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Silence! Thwarters of democracy at work

Being the dedicated public servants of the people that they are, members of the Florida Legislature have begun a grand tour of the state to gauge the hearts and minds of the citizenry, which, of course, they treasure about as much as the CIA seeking out the advice of the Pakistanis on how to track down terrorists.

The purpose of the road show is to gather public input on redrawing the district maps for state and congressional legislative seats. This means some people will gain power, while others lose some juice. It also means the elected folks in charge of this process will embrace it with all the fervor of contemplating a bowl of cold peas.

But not to worry about your voice being heard. Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Marcel Marceau, who will become speaker of the House after the 2012 elections after serving for all of 20 minutes in Tallahassee, insists everyone's vote is of incredible value, especially on Republican ballots.

That probably explains why your voice may be the only thing that's heard, since current House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Emmett Kelly, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Be Vewry, Vewry Quiet, have ordered their members to take a vow of silence during the public redistricting hearings.

Members have been told not to utter so much as a request for a legalized bribe or ask any questions at the forums. And, in a classic Tallahassee homage to transparency and open government, legislative staffers have been forbidden to draw proposed legislative district maps that include any individual legislator's home.

Whew, for a minute there one might have suspected these glad-handers were trying to cook the books.

The gag order on the legislators is predicated on fears if they say anything at all, such as: "Where's my check?" or perhaps even nod in the general direction of a constituent, the remark will only fuel the expected legal challenges to the new maps.

So lawmakers will adhere to the caution often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak out and remove all doubt." The result: Attendees at the redistricting events will likely be confronted by legislators posing as Easter Island statues. Think of this as sort of the political equivalent of the Miranda rule.

While legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years using census data, this time around the process is fraught with danger for politicians since voters in 2010 approved two constitutional amendments requiring districts to be more fairly mapped out so that no one political party is unduly favored.

And that means legislative districts should no longer be gerrymandered to look like a blood splatter scene from Reservoir Dogs. This fairness stuff can only go so far.

This does take some of the fun out of the exercise of raw political power by the likes of Cannon and Haridopolos to reward friends and punish enemies if they are now required to be fair and reasonable.

Cannon took the lead in attempting to have the redistricting measures removed from last year's ballot, arguing if they were passed it would ultimately be undemocratic, socialist, union-loving, teacher-friendly anarchist judges deciding how districts would be drawn rather than a bunch of conniving, self-serving, partisan panhandling ideological pols.

When the Florida Supreme Court in effect told Cannon he was a silly person and left the measures on the ballot to eventually pass, the pouty speaker reacted by trying to break up the high court, essentially replacing it with the American Idol judges.

That didn't work either.

In the end, whether legislators babble on like a sobbing Glenn Beck will have relatively little effect on the likely litigation stemming from the redistricting exercise. Someone is always going to feel shortchanged or mapped out of the existence.

Take Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown's district, which stretches from Jacksonville all the way down to west of Orlando and includes much of the Ocala National Forest. As we all know, as the Ocala National Forest goes, so goes Florida.

The district, which looks like a melted Dali watch, was clearly carved out to give Brown as many black votes as possible while preserving safe Republican districts. Under the new rules, Brown could conceivably lose her safe district if it is reapportioned along more logical contiguous borders. The same could happen to stacked-deck Republican districts, too.

There's a genuine risk of an outbreak of democracy. Little wonder then that chaps like Weatherford, Cannon and Haridopolos are telling their underlings to clam up. If the public catches on that real representative government might be in the offing, no good can from this.

Now if the political leadership in Tallahassee would take a vow of omerta during the legislative session we might be onto something. But that's probably a wish too far.

Silence! Thwarters of democracy at work 06/20/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 20, 2011 4:50pm]

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