The best opportunity to bring fundamental change to Tallahassee and Washington is in a pair of constitutional amendments, not in a race for a particular office. Voters have the best chance in decades Tuesday to improve Florida's political culture by passing Amendments 5 and 6, which would ensure future legislative and congressional districts are drawn fairly and not to protect incumbents.
The so-called Fair Districts proposals would force legislators to draw political districts that aren't rigged to favor one party or another. That will create more competitive legislative and congressional races and encourage moderation over extremism. Now state legislative leaders — in the once-a-decade reapportionment that next takes place in 2012 — draw state legislative and congressional districts to favor incumbents, their friends or political parties to create safe seats. The result? Most voters in Tuesday's election won't have any viable opportunity to oust an incumbent state legislator or member of Congress.
Amendments 5 and 6 would change reapportionment rules and bar self-interested gerrymandering in favor of requiring compact and contiguous districts, preferably ones that follow the same boundaries as cities and counties. They would prohibit districts that favor or harm a specific political party and bar maps that diminish opportunities for racial or language minorities to participate or elect representatives of their choice.
The Legislature's Republican leadership — and the special interests that fund their campaigns — don't like these measures. After more than a decade consolidating power, including drawing the 2002 maps, the GOP controls 60 percent of legislative seats even though only 36 percent of Florida voters are registered Republicans.
Democrats, for more than a century before the Republican takeover, were just as willing to protect their own interests. The issue is not about which party is in control of the Legislature or Congress. It is about creating fairly drawn political boundaries so that voters can better hold elected members from both parties accountable for their actions. Too many incumbents from both parties have no fear of losing elections because their districts are drawn to protect them. That undermines democracy and is one reason the Legislature and Congress can so easily get out of step with the majority of voters.
Don't believe the attack ads on television. A Republican-backed group inaccurately called Protect Your Vote is fighting redistricting Amendments 5 and 6 with a misleading ad claiming the amendments are designed "to elect more liberals so they can support the Obama-Pelosi agenda, more taxes, more spending, more debt."
These amendments don't favor liberals or conservatives. The measures are aimed at ending legislative leaders' ability to draw legislative and congressional districts to benefit themselves, their friends or their political parties. That would be good for electing a representative government that better reflects the will of the voters.