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A Times editorial

An end run around will of the voters

Florida voters made their intentions clear when they amended the state Constitution in November to change how legislative and congressional districts are drawn. Yet Gov. Rick Scott — under the guise of reviewing all new regulations — quietly and abruptly halted the state's effort to have the changes blessed under the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Amendments 5 and 6 aren't some rogue agency's misguided rulemaking; they are constitutional amendments approved by nearly 63 percent of voters in November. Scott and Republican lawmakers should respect the will of the people instead of throwing up legal and procedural roadblocks.

For years now, the state's Republican leadership and associated special interests have tried to thwart the citizens petitions put forth by Fair Districts Now. The self-interested reason is obvious. The changes under Amendments 5 and 6 ban legislative leaders from drawing legislative and congressional districts to benefit a political party or candidate. That means a fundamental change when the once-a-decade reapportionment takes place next year. Ambitious lawmakers won't be able to ensure their continued election to the Legislature or promotion to Congress by tailoring districts to benefit themselves.

Now Scott has joined the stalling tactics and invited litigation from Amendment 5 and 6 backers. Three days after taking office, the governor wrote a letter to the U.S. Justice Department withdrawing the state's Dec. 10 application for "preclearance," a requirement under a 1965 federal voting rights law that applies whenever there are voting changes proposed in five Florida counties: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe.

Days later Scott named Kurt Browning, who campaigned against Amendments 5 and 6, as secretary of state. And while Scott hasn't ruled out resubmitting the application for preclearance, the delay appears to conflict with federal law that voting changes be submitted "as soon as possible after they become final." That would be Nov. 16, the day the Nov. 2 election was certified.

News of Scott's actions didn't break until this week, after state House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, once again thumbed his nose at voters by joining the self-interested lawsuit filed by two Florida U.S. House members who claim Amendment 6 will undercut minority representation in Florida's congressional delegation. The NAACP and the overwhelming majority of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators reject that notion.

Cannon was also the mastermind behind the Legislature's earlier scheme to put a poison pill on the November ballot to kill Amendments 5 and 6 even if they were approved. The Florida Supreme Court appropriately removed that amendment because it was unclear, and now Cannon is taking his anger out on the judicial system.

What do Cannon and other Republican legislators fear? Competitive elections. The changes under Amendments 5 and 6 are radical only because voters would finally see more choices on the ballot in more competitive districts. That is what Florida voters overwhelmingly approved in the same election where they more narrowly elected Scott. It's time for the governor to respect all of the election results, not just the ones he likes.

An end run around will of the voters 01/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 10:02am]
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