Lawmakers and influential business groups will do just about anything to hold on to power. So don't think for a minute that U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart and their deep-pocket allies are fighting for democracy and minority rights by opposing two constitutional amendments concerning redistricting. It is a cynical alliance driven by self-interest and aimed at preventing voters from having real choices in legislative and congressional elections.
Brown, an African-American Democrat from Jacksonville, and Diaz-Balart, a Hispanic Republican from Miami, are helping lead the effort to defeat Amendments 5 and 6 on the November ballot. Those amendments would prohibit state legislators from gerrymandering districts to favor incumbents, friends or political parties in the once-a-decade reapportionment process that occurs next in 2012. The amendments also would require the districts to be compact and contiguous, hopefully following many of the same boundaries as cities and counties. They would prohibit districts that reduce opportunities for racial or language minorities to participate or elect candidates of their choice.
These are commonsense changes to bring some sanity to the redistricting process. They would produce more competitive elections based on ideas and reduce the number of guaranteed wins by incumbents or political parties based on how the district lines are drawn. That's why it took a grass roots effort to gather signatures to put the amendments on the ballot. And that's why the Republican-led Legislature despises these two amendments so much that it put another amendment on the ballot that would have overruled these two. Fortunately, the Florida Supreme Court knocked the poison pill off the ballot.
Brown is particularly brazen in her quest for life-time job security. She was first elected to Congress in 1992 — the same year that as a state legislator she pushed for redistricting maps that included a tailor-made district for herself. Brown's original North Florida district was so bizarrely drawn and ran through so many counties that it became a national symbol for redistricting run amok. Now Diaz-Balart is running for a safer congressional seat long held by his brother. Congressional seats should not be wholly owned family businesses.
Actually, incumbents are not sole owners of public offices. Many seats in the Legislature and Congress are controlled by business interests such as Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They spend heavily to elect their favored candidates, and they expect a return on their investment. It's no wonder they oppose Amendments 5 and 6. They have no interest in competitive elections, where a candidate with different views than their self-serving agendas might actually win.
It is particularly disappointing that Kurt Browning, the former secretary of state and Pasco supervisor of elections, has joined the opposition. Browning, known for his even-handed competence in running elections, warns of a prolonged court fight if the amendments are approved. So what? It wouldn't be the first time that redistricting has wound up in court. The fight over Florida's 1992 legislative maps went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state survived.
The effort to defeat Amendments 5 and 6 is misnamed Protect Your Vote. It should be called Protect Our Power. And Florida voters should not let entrenched incumbents and big business get away with it.