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Guest column | Jim Flateau

State legislators deny voters' will on redistricting

It's been said that no one should watch the making of sausage or legislation.

If that's true, Florida voters must be wincing as they see state legislators grind into sausage both of the redistricting laws we approved overwhelmingly at the polls in 2010.

And voters should care: state legislators next year will rewrite boundaries for U.S. House plus state Senate and House districts based upon the 2010 national census. Those district lines will stand for a decade.

The Legislature's decisions on splitting counties into multiple districts will determine the strength of their voices in Tallahassee and Washington. That's because legislators decide if adjoining neighborhoods, communities and municipalities of common interest are kept together to increase their impact, or divided and their impact lessened.

Pasco's population grew from 344,771 residents in 2000 to 464,697 in 2010. That's an increase of 35 percent, compared with Florida's growth of 18 percent and the nation's 10 percent, all according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The best redistricting plan for Pasco is, first, to keep it as whole as possible in creating the state's House and Senate districts. A congressional district can be created including all of Pasco plus neighboring communities in adjoining counties of similar rural and suburban interests.

State legislators know that is exactly what our voters want. In 2010, more than 60 percent of voters statewide and in Pasco County approved two state constitutional amendments. We said we want state and federal district boundaries that are compact and maintain communities of interest, respecting municipal and county boundaries as much as possible.

But if legislative actions are any indication, don't count on that happening. Some cynic might even suggest legislators prefer to continue their decennial public-be-damned policy of creating districts designed to ensure the re-election of favored incumbents. Stopping that age-old practice of gerrymandering is exactly why Floridians passed the amendments in 2010.

A horde of 30 state legislators descended upon Wesley Chapel this week for a public hearing on redistricting. With straight faces, they asked what the 200 attendees at Wiregrass Ranch High School expected in the redrawing of lines — as if the legislators had suffered collective amnesia and forgotten the redistricting direction that voters gave them in 2010. As at previous redistricting hearings around the state, legislators offered little and promised less at Wiregrass.

It is one thing for legislators to play their cards close to the vest. It is quite another for them to show up without the deck — or, in this case, without any maps suggesting alternatives on how Pasco lines might be redrawn, while educating attendees on the process. They might even have allowed voters to critique plans and offer their suggestions for improvement.

In the absence of maps, legislators also declined to describe how the lines might be redrawn. Maybe that's because legislative leaders instructed members not to offer their opinions on redistricting, even while holding hearings on redistricting.

Legislative leaders gagged their members because they said they don't want their comments to come back to haunt them when the expected legal challenges are filed after the maps are finally released to the public.

In the absence of any meaningful hearings on redistricting, can we rely upon our elected representatives in Tallahassee to respect and honor the message voters sent them in 2010?

No. We cannot.

Two of Florida's congressional members — one Democrat and one Republican — filed a lawsuit within 24 hours after the polls closed on election day in 2010. They are challenging the constitutional amendment affecting congressional redistricting.

Two months later, the Florida House filed a motion to join the lawsuit to overthrow the will of the people. That allows state representatives to come down firmly on both sides of the issue: They can oppose the amendment in court, but tell constituents that they didn't start the lawsuit.

So who is picking up the tab for our elected representatives to sue Florida's voters?

PolitiFact.com, a part of the St. Petersburg Times, reports the House has so far spent more than $300,000 of our tax money to try to set aside our vote. The Florida secretary of state has so far spent $70,000 of our tax dollars to defend the ballots we cast.

And the grinder continues to turn, as our public servants make sausage out of the people's will.

Jim Flateau resides in Land O' Lakes. He can be reached at jim@flateau.net.

State legislators deny voters' will on redistricting 07/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:09pm]

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