March 22, 2023

Coalition demands Florida lawmakers take a ‘Fair Districting’ pledge – few have

As post-Census reapportionment begins, a coalition of voters groups is asking Florida’s 120 state representatives and 40 state senators to sign a pledge to conduct the once-in-a-decade process in a transparent, fair manner.

The Fair Districts NOW coalition, which spearheaded a 2010 ballot measure that requires the state’s Supreme Court to review reapportioned legislative districts to ensure they don’t favor incumbents or political parties, called on all 160 state legislators to conduct the process in public.

The coalition, which includes Common Cause Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Rising, UnidosUS and Florida Conservation Voters, not only called own lawmakers to take the pledge – as of Tuesday, only 19 Democrats had done so – but to stream map-drawing hearings live, create more opportunities for public hearings before maps are drawn and allow public comment on draft maps.

“Now it is your turn to show the state and our country that Florida legislators actually respect our Constitution and are willing to put it ahead of their personal or partisan wish lists,’’ the coalition states. “The pressure will be great for you to succumb to partisan demands. But, in order to restore public trust, we implore all of you to put the people of Florida first and scrupulously follow the Fair Districts Amendments.”

The Senate’s Reapportionment Committee, led by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, convened for the first time Monday. The committee will reapportion the state’s 40 Senate districts with September, October and November meetings that will also serve as “public hearings.”

The House Legislative Redistricting Committee, led by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, meets for the first time Wednesday. It will reapportion the 120 state House districts

“The House deeply understands the large responsibility ahead of us, and we are committed to ensuring that the entirety of this process will follow all state and federal law,’’ Leek said Tuesday.

Leek said during “interim committee weeks” scheduled before the Legislature’s 60-day 2022 session kicks off Jan. 11 – Oct. 11-15, 18-22; Nov. 1-5, 15-19; Nov. 29-Dec. 2 – his panel “will educate members about the redistricting process, review available materials for constituents and train members on the map drawing software.”

Members of both panels will participate in drafting Florida’s 28 congressional districts when the Congressional Redistricting Committee convenes Thursday. As the country’s third-most populous state with 21.5 million residents, Florida gains a 28th congressional district in 2022.

The Fair Districts Now coalition said scrutiny is necessary because even after the 2010 Fair District amendments, Florida lawmakers’ proposed legislative maps fostered a three-year legal battle after they were challenged by the League of Women Voters.

The court case revealed then-Senate President Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, orchestrated a “shadow process” that allowed GOP consultants to draw maps and secretly share them with legislative staff.

During the legal battles, in which sitting legislators testified in a pending court case for the first time in state history, many admitted they routinely discarded redistricting records, phone records and met secretly to discuss strategy.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis concluded Republican State House leaders worked to “hijack” the process with “improper partisan intent.”

The Florida Supreme Court eventually drafted the legislative maps in time for the 2016 elections.

In its letter, the coalition asked “all records including draft maps” be retained and lawmakers “not destroy any documents that relate to redistricting.”

“As a result of all the litigation, the Legislature was proven to have acted intentionally to violate the Constitution,’’ Fair Districts NOW Coalition President Ellen Freidin told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday. “They lost public trust and it’s pretty clear that people don’t trust them to do the right thing.”

This article was originally posted on Coalition demands Florida lawmakers take a ‘Fair Districting’ pledge – few have

Sydney Boles