Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Victory for voters on districts

A circuit judge's decision to invalidate Florida's congressional map is a victory for voters who demanded fairly drawn districts and a defeat for powerful legislators who still rigged the game to help their friends. Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis' order is a sweeping indictment of the secrecy and insider dealing that characterized the redrawing of the congressional districts. His decision is certain to be appealed, but the Florida Supreme Court should promptly affirm his decision and direct the Legislature to try again.

Voters could not have been clearer when they amended the state Constitution in 2010 to require that congressional and legislative districts be drawn without regard to protecting incumbents or political parties. Yet Lewis heard more than enough evidence to reasonably conclude lawmakers ignored those rules in 2012 and order that two congressional districts be redrawn, which would create a ripple effect and require other districts to be adjusted. One of the invalid districts has been held for more than two decades by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, an African-American Democrat from Jacksonville. The other is an Orlando area district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a white Republican.

Brown's sprawling district, which runs from Jacksonville to Orlando and at one point narrows to the width of a road, has been problematic since it was first drawn in 1992. The 2012 version increased the black voting-age population in the district even though Brown has always held it, and Lewis found Republicans packed the district with more black voters to benefit the Republican Party in surrounding districts. Brown predictably is critical of Lewis' decision, but federal voting rights protections for minority voters are not intended to act as permanent incumbent protection and do not require lawmakers to draw such bizarre districts.

Republican legislative leaders have fought redistricting reform at every step. They opposed the constitutional amendments, and voters approved them. They argued they should not have been required to testify in this lawsuit, and the Florida Supreme Court disagreed. They sided with a Republican consultant who did not want to testify or produce documents in the trial, and the Supreme Court ruled against them even though it kept those documents and the testimony secret for now. Lewis said those documents provided no smoking gun but were "very helpful" to him and "evidenced a conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature into a violation of its constitutional duty.'' No wonder the consultant has tried so hard to hide behind the bogus claim of trade secrets. Those documents and his testimony should be unsealed by the Supreme Court so Floridians can fully judge for themselves what went on here.

Even the public trial testimony paints a disturbing picture of Republican legislative leaders who created a facade of openness during redistricting when something else was going on entirely: secret meetings between now-Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, secret meetings and emails with Republican operatives, destroyed public records and a publicly submitted congressional map under the name of a college student who knew nothing about it.

Voters demanded better, and the Legislature failed them. The outcome of the redistricting trial is the first step toward making lawmakers follow the state Constitution. The next step should be the Supreme Court upholding Lewis' decision and directing the Legislature to redraw the congressional districts.

Comments

Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17