Redistricting – Incumbent Protection or Citizen Input? You decide.
Fred and I attended the Florida Redistricting Public Meeting conducted at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton today, August 16. We didn’t know quite what to expect – eg. who would be attending, or to whom we would be addressing our comments. As it turned out, the majority of the speakers were from various interest groups, with the League of Women Voters being the best represented, as well as the most aggressive about their issues. The committee consisted of a panel of 40 state representatives and senators, arranged in a double row facing the crowd. The chairman is Senator Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Senate 27 – a district likely to change
Both George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post, and Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel did a good job representing the gist of the meeting. However I’d like to capture a few of my personal observations and concerns.
First – it alarms me greatly whenever, as a political conservative, I find myself agreeing with most of the comments made by the very liberal Boca crowd who took the time to get organized, come out in force, speak and stay until the end of the meeting listening to others’ comments.
– Timeline: I agree with the concerns, best expressed by Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, that the timeline to completion of the redistricting effort is extremely late in the election cycle. Incumbents and those who are considering running for office will not know the boundaries or district makeup until well into 2012, which will not allow those non-incumbents to campaign or solicit donations, or even file for office. Ms. Bucher should have been allowed much more than the 2 minute (doubled for her) allotted time to express the issues as she saw them. At the end of the meeting, her issues were dismissed by Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, the vice chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. He said that most county election supervisors said that the information would be there in plenty of time for proper preparation for upcoming elections. He cited Seminole County (population 423,000) as an example. The population of Palm Beach County is 1,320,000 – considerably larger. – Advantage: Incumbent?
– No Florida Legislature proposed maps were presented for public comment: The rationale given was that the panel would solicit public input, and then use that input (along with maps submitted by the public) to devise new legislative boundaries. But three months of public meetings throughout the state dedicated to input prior to seeing any official maps, while only allowing a fraction of that for future public comment on the official maps, only in Tallahassee, sometime in the future, smacks of self-protection by incumbents of either party. (It is too similar to what is happening on the national level where our President or the Democrat party refuses to present a serious budget.) Once a redistricting plan is out there – it is immediately subject to criticism and attack. So why not take the safer route and not present anything until the last minute. Advantage: Incumbent?
– Perceived arrogance by the legislative panel: At least one representative was not in his seat for the bulk of the meeting. Another key leader seemed to get up and leave frequently, cell phone in hand. This is a common occurrence by our elected officials at County Commission meetings. Apparently it also is common practice at higher levels of office. We had to remain seated, if we wanted to ensure our turn to speak. Please do us the courtesy of remaining in place to hear us out. We think the Republican Majority in Tallahassee is doing good work, but we also remember it was arrogance that brought down the 2006 Congressional Majority. Think about it.
I am not one of the 70+ percent of the voters who voted FOR amendments 5 or 6. I believe that there is a clear agenda behind those two amendments and that there will possibly be valid cases against these in the courts. However, as several proponents of the measures said at the meeting, Redistricting is one of the most important roles of this Legislative session in Tallahassee, and I’d feel better served if I felt that my Tallahassee representatives were looking out for my interests as a citizen, rather their own.
One last point – the purpose of redistricting is to balance the districts to reflect the 2010 census. The overwhelming majority of the speakers were more concerned with the ramifications of the Fair Districts Amendments, as if they could be used to redraw the districts on a blank sheet of paper and “right the wrongs” of the past 100 years. It would be a mistake to attempt such a thing, full of unintended consequences. Redistricting works best when adjustments are made on the margins of existing districts. We hope both sides remember that.