You may recall, dear reader, that the Senate’s first cut at redistricting after the 2010 census was in obvious violation of Florida’s Fair Districts requirements. Just the numbering of the districts (which systematically granted to certain incumbents the privilege of running for three consecutive Senate terms rather than
two, and the potential to serve a total of 10 years, rather than the eight years state term limits were designed to enforce) made it obvious that the maps were drawn (and numbered) to benefit those incumbents and a certain political party.
The second cut passed initial review. But it has become the subject of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of groups, led by the League of Women Voters, on the grounds that the map still privileges certain partisan and incumbent interests in violation of the state constitution.
The trial on the merits of these allegations was scheduled for late September of this year. Given the long and winding process we have witnessed for the suit against the way the congressional districts were drawn, one could have anticipated that, even if the petitioners prevailed, we might not have seen new districts until shortly before the next census.
And, it should be noted, one also could have anticipated the expenditure of many millions of dollars of taxpayer money (in addition to the millions already spent) to pursue the defense of the map in court.
That’s the background.
The news from yesterday: it’s over.
Here, I want to pause to praise the leadership of the Florida Senate. Based on the results of the state Supreme Court case related to the congressional district map, I think most neutral observers were fairly confident that the Senate map also would be found to be unconstitutional, and in substantial ways. Of course, the Senate could have insisted on every one of its days in court, fighting to the bitter end, delaying the effect of any judicial action for another election cycle or two.
But they chose not to.
Instead, in a settlement with the plaintiffs, the Florida Senate has agreed to redraw the map. Because the map must be approved by both chambers, of course, the Florida House also has agreed to participate in a special session beginning in mid-October for this purpose.
In deciding to settle and to redraw the maps, the leaders of the Florida Senate will save the plaintiffs and the taxpayers a lot of money (it is worth noting, I think, that not only will taxpayers be saved the cost of paying for attorneys to defend the map and the Senate, but they also will not have to expend limited tax dollars going to the judiciary to deal with the trial and the appeals. Those tax dollars can be spent on handling other cases, advancing the cause of justice rather than the cause of delay). They also will move more quickly to establish the new political landscape, which should be in place for the 2016 election. This will be a boon not only to candidates and prospective candidates, but to citizens, who will have more time to learn about their choices among the candidates for the Senate.
And, perhaps most important to those of us who believe in both the intent and the design of the Fair Districts amendments to our state constitution, the citizens of Florida will receive better representation, with districts that better reflect the geography and the communities of Florida, not the interests of entrenched incumbents and the dominant party.
Because the truth is obvious. Florida’s congressional and Senate districts were drawn to promote those incumbent and partisan interests. Some Democrats benefitted. More Republicans did. But the citizens of Florida did not.
This is not to say that incumbents in the U.S. House and the Florida Senate inherently are bad representatives. I’m confident that many will find their way back to their respective chambers (or to some other office) after the maps are redrawn.
It is to say that representation means more than having a vote. The Russians have that.
It means having a choice. And that choice should be between competitive candidates who actually know the communities they seek to represent. That’s what the Fair Districting amendments were about. And the truth is, they’re working.