Fair Districts: Balart Bros. Show Redistricting Matters

September 8, 2010

In 1992, a Freshman Republican was elected to represent the Miami area in the US House. The GOP majority in the Florida legislature district had just designed his district as a safe Republican South Florida “Hispanic access seat.” His name: Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

In 2002, a Freshman Republican was elected to represent the Miami area in the US House. As the chair of the redistricting panel in the GOP led State House in 2001, he had personally designed his own safe Republican South Florida “Hispanic access seat.” His name: Mario Diaz-Balart.

The Balart brothers might have been elected anyway, but the districts that were drawn for / by them virtually guaranteed them easy wins.

Historically, the rules for drawing new districts have been very loose – districts needed to have the same population and be contiguous, and factors such as race and party could be used to create safe seats.

Traditionally, the party in power colludes with the minority party, throwing them a few safe districts and segregating their voters in the process. This leads to a bunch of safe incumbents who can not be held accountable.

Republicans had the legislative power in 1991 and 2001 and, largely due to their mad redistricting skills, they are virtually guaranteed to retain a legislative majority for the 2011 redistricting process.

The current Republican drawn map is full of districts like FL-11, US Rep. Kathy Castor’s Tampa area district which includes part of the city of Tampa, carves out a slim piece of shoreline in Hillsborough County, pops down to Sarasota, and then jumps across the entire Tampa Bay to include a chunk of South St. Petersburg.

Out of 420 elections for legislative seats in Florida in the last 6 years, a grand total of three incumbents have been defeated. Three.

This November, Florida voters will have a chance to enact meaningful changes to a redistricting process that has historically been a gerrymandering free for all.

Amendments 5 and 6 are citizen initiatives that will enshrine fair redistricting rules into the state constitution, forcing an end to the practice of lawmakers custom designing their own voter pools.

Aside from Amendment 5 covering Legislative districts and Amendment 6 covering Congressional districts, the ballot summaries and language are identical. Here’s Amendment 5:

STANDARDS FOR LEGISLATURE TO FOLLOW IN LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING

BALLOT SUMMARY: Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Full text:

In establishing Legislative district boundaries:
(1) No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.
(3) The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of one standard over the other within that subsection.

Simple. Easy to understand. Fair.

The GOP, of course, hates everything about these amendments, but they have failed in multiple attempts to derail the process, including a recent court smack down of their clumsy attempt to confuse voters with dueling amendments, and it looks like Amendments 5 and 6 will be on the ballot in November.

Fair Districts Florida needs help right now with volunteers and money. They have been fighting this fight for years and are very close to victory. A win could make a real difference. A sixty percent super majority is required for passage.

Our present system permits politicians to choose their voters instead of voters having a fair chance to choose their representatives. Legislators use sophisticated computers, voter registration data and past election returns to predict how particular voters will vote in the future. Then they choose which voters are most likely to vote for them and their party and place just enough of those voters in “safe” districts — ones they are sure they can win. Those in charge also pack large numbers of unfavorable voters in into a few districts so the unfriendly voters will have a chance to win in fewer districts.

Each district is rigged to accomplish a particular result. Districts are set up to be either Democratic or Republican and opposing party candidates do not have a chance. Only 7% of Florida’s legislative elections are really competitive. Voters do not have a real choice in selecting their representatives because the elections are rigged before they even start.

Another result is that there are rarely serious challenges to incumbents. In the last 6 years, there have been 420 elections for State Senator and State Representative. Only three incumbents have been defeated! After all, their districts are specially designed for them! With virtually certain seats, legislators have no incentive to be responsive to their constituents and they see no reason to compromise for the public good.

The new rules or standards proposed by FairDistrictsFlorida.org will prohibit drawing districts to favor an incumbent or a party. The standards will require that districts be compact and community based. Communities — like Seminole County — will not be divided among multiple representatives. And Florida will have strongest constitutional language in the country to ensure that redistricting is not used to reduce the representation of racial and language minority voters.

Politicians like Mario Diaz-Balart will no longer be able to pick their own pool of voters. They will have to compete fairly and attract support from a wide cross-section of their communities.

Districts like Kathy Castor’s FL-11 will be redrawn to include entire communities based on existing political and natural boundaries instead of being cobbled together from bits and pieces of 3 different cities and counties.

The races for Senate and Governor are sucking all the air out of the room right now, but Amendments 5 and 6 could be far more important for the long term health of representative democracy in Florida.

Join with organized labor, the ACLU, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Democracia Ahora, the vast majority of Democratic politicians in the state, over 600,000 Florida voters who signed petitions to get these measures on the ballot, and some moderate and former Republicans to support Fair Districts Florida.

This really is a BFD.

ACTION: Support FairDistrictsFlorida.
Florida Voters: Vote YES on Amendments 5 and 6.

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One Response to Fair Districts: Balart Bros. Show Redistricting Matters

  1. Jake on September 20, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Actually, the Dems controlled the process in 1991 and 1992. Diaz-Balart did get something carved out for him, but so did Karen Thurman, who is now in charge of FDP, as did Peter Deutsch.

    But that shows the problem with the current system just as well as anything. The big difference in 2001 and ’02 wasn’t so much that the GOP was in charge but that they had crazy computer software to gerrymander to an even more offensive degree.

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