A Times Editorial

Florida's political system is broken

A recent statewide poll has confirmed what many Floridians already knew: The state's Republican-led Legislature is out of synch with voters, including most of those in its own party. The party's disconnect helps explain Gov. Charlie Crist's strong standing in the poll as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate. But the results also are a reminder that Florida's political system is horribly broken. Not until the state changes how it draws political maps will there be any clear hope that the Legislature will reflect the voters it serves. • Three controversial issues that were among those that dominated the recent legislative session clearly are not nearly as popular with voters as they are among Republican lawmakers, according to the poll conducted earlier this month for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13:

Voters are divided on offshore drilling, with 44 percent supporting drilling and 44 percent opposing it. Yet for two years, the most powerful Republican leaders have pushed to allow drilling in state waters as close as 3 miles from shore.

Fifty-five percent of voters want Crist to veto HB 1143, which inserts government into women's health care by forcing nearly every woman seeking a first-trimester abortion to have an ultrasound, view its images and have it described to her.

Fifty-three percent support Crist's veto of SB 6, which would have banned school districts from offering tenure to new teachers and based teacher pay raises in part on student performance on standardized tests.

The poll also showed more Republicans (49 percent) than Democrats (43 percent) are dissatisfied with the state's direction, even though the Republican Party has controlled both chambers of the Legislature for 14 years.

The poll did find that legislative leaders and a plurality of Floridians agree on one thing: Crist's defection from the Republican ranks was about political opportunism. But the majority of voters (52 percent) still approve of his job performance — probably because he is more willing to reflect the mood of the voters than arrogantly push issues for special interests, including the right wing of the Republican Party.

The status quo is the inevitable fallout from a political system that overwhelmingly favors incumbents by gerrymandering districts in a way that makes them noncompetitive. Lawmakers elected in such safe districts have no incentive to compromise, because they need to placate the base of just one party.

That could change if 60 percent of voters in November approve two constitutional amendments. The two citizen petitions would prohibit gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts to favor individuals or political parties in the once-a-decade reapportionment process that occurs next in 2012. The amendments would require lawmakers to draw compact and contiguous districts, preferably following the boundaries of cities and counties.

Republican legislative leaders feel so threatened by this proposed reform they put another measure on the ballot, Amendment 7, that would trump Amendments 5 and 6 if all measures passed. It's another example of how Tallahassee is out of touch with what Floridians really want: pragmatic, middle-of-the-road government, not ultraconservative ideology from entrenched power fueled by special interests.

Florida's political system is broken 05/30/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 30, 2010 5:30am]

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