‘Fair District' amendments on Nov. ballot

Two amendments are aimed at preventing gerrymandering when Leg. redistricts its seats.


Published: Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Two proposed state constitutional amendments designed to prevent gerrymandering when the Legislature redistricts its seats as well as Florida's congressional seats will be on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning on Friday certified that each of the citizen initiatives had received the necessary 676,811 signatures from registered voters.

The petition campaign was conducted by a bipartisan group called FairDistrictsFlorida.org, whose leaders include former Gov. and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, and former Comptroller Bob Milligan, a Republican.

"Florida's legislators are choosing their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives," Graham said in a statement. "There are presently no rules to stop this self protection plan."

Graham said the proposed amendments would change that. Each sets the same redistricting criteria that lawmakers must follow, Amendment 5 for the Legislature and Amendment 6 for congressional seats.

If approved by at least 60 percent of the voters, the amendments would prohibit the Legislature, now controlled by Republicans, from drawing districts that "favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party."

They also would bar district maps that deny "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."

The amendments as well would require maps to follow existing city, county and geographical boundaries where feasible.

The proposals have drawn opposition from state and federal lawmakers of both major parties who say they would reduce minority representation and result in turning redistricting over to the courts.

The critics include U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, who each appeared before a joint meeting of state House and Senate reapportionment committees last week.

Brown told the lawmakers it's not possible to "take politics out of politics" and that she's afraid the proposals would turn the clock back to before 1992 when she was one of the first blacks elected to Congress from Florida in 129 years.

Brown represents the 3rd Congressional District that snakes more than 100 miles from Jacksonville down through Alachua County all the way to Orange County to pick up enough black voters to form a majority.

Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American from Miami, represents the 25th District, which includes a large Hispanic base on the east coast but stretches across to the west coast.

The proposals put minority districts at risk through "standards that are conflicting," Diaz-Balart said.

FairDistrictsFlorida.org chairwoman Ellen Freidin said the critics are misconstruing the amendments because their minority representation provisions clearly override other requirements such as following political and geographic boundaries.

"It is an argument being made by legislators to hold on to the power to gerrymander," Freidin said.

Graham and Milligan are among the organization's six honorary co-chairs. The others are former state Sen. Daryl Jones and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, both Democrats, and former Assistant Interior Secretary Nathaniel Reed and Tallahassee lawyer Thom Rumberger, both Republicans.

"These critical reforms will finally end the legalized conflict of interest that allows legislators to design their districts and those of Congress for their own political purposes," Milligan said.

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