Tainting with a Muddy Brush: Democratic Contributions to Florida’s Congressional Map

Tainting with a Muddy Brush: Democratic Contributions to Florida’s Congressional Map

There’s this transition that occurs at some point in childhood, as Tinkerbell and her kind apparently die off because another child stops believing.

First, we learn that the toys we see in ads exist, not to maximize our happiness, but to maximize profits. We learn the basic strategic imperatives of advertising and come to view ads with a jaundiced eye.

Next, we come to question the veracity of the accounts we have been given of a man in red’s activities in the wee hours of December 25, as well as those of a very large hare with a peculiar fascination with eggs in early spring.

Usually somewhat later, we encounter a movie, a novel or a news account in which apparent heroines and/or heroes turn out to be villains (like Hans in Frozen). Later still, we are immersed in the complexity of real human experience, in which the application of either designation tends to become uncertain and almost no one earns the former title all the time.

But something of that childhood love of clarity lingers in many of us. We want our champions pure, our causes just, and the result of a bitter fight simply to be right.

Alas for us . . .

This was my reaction to the news that leading plaintiffs in the challenge to Florida’s congressional maps had sought the advice of Democratic consultants and party committees.

In fairness to me, I understand, as you probably do, that many (all?) of the plaintiffs probably bring perspectives to the litigation that are inconsistent with that of the Republican-controlled House and Senate on more than the maps themselves. It’s possible that those perspectives are explicitly partisan, but it’s also likely that they are not, or not simply, based on party allegiance. Ideology, a public service philosophy, and views of selected policies undoubtedly play an important, perhaps a dominant, role.

In other words, the advocates for Fair Districts aren’t simply Democrats in public interest clothing.

When one seeks to champion the public’s cause, one would be wise to be hyper-sensitive to the appearance of special interest. Winning in court isn’t enough; one needs to win the larger contest for public opinion, or all the court victories will be at risk of being ignored, circumvented or outright overruled by subsequent actions of litigants, legislators and courts.

This is not a new lesson. The struggle over FDR’s New Deal illustrates the point well, as (arguably) do the political consequences of Roe v Wade and Kelo v City of New London.

It is very difficult to preserve one’s hero bona fides in an era of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. False allegations abound; rebutting them all simply may not be a realistic goal.

But when a champion hands his adversary his own lance and shield, well . . .

One might suggest that the plaintiffs had to secure help to engage in the business of drawing maps. That’s a fair point. And it’s likely, for obvious reasons, that the folks with the most skill at this would be those with the most to lose, namely the two major parties and their allies in the private sector. It’s also likely that they would have had a hard time getting any Republican Party committee or consultant to provide much assistance on this project, for obvious reasons.

One also can say something for the relatively quick acknowledgement by the various plaintiffs, when questioned, that they had secured such assistance.

Still, I am deeply disappointed.

There is a battle raging (and still to rage) over both the congressional and Senate maps. It seems highly likely, at this point, that the maps that result from court action and/or the Senate’s anticipation of further court action will demonstrate, by the way they shuffle the state’s legislative deck, that the old maps (and previous maps) had much to do with Florida’s one-party dominant state political system.

But these maps only will be in effect, if all goes well, for six more years. By 2022, with the 2020 census data showing again how Florida grows differentially even as it grows dramatically, a new round of map drawing will ensue.

If the plaintiffs, on behalf of a public that really wants the process to change, secure a clear victory on principal, if the courts make clear that they will do what they must do to ensure the public’s will is honored, then the exact configuration of the map for this decade will matter relatively little. The future direction of redistricting will have been set, with strong public support and firm judicial action.

But allow critics of the Fair Districts amendments to taint plaintiffs with the mud-soaked brush of partisanship, and all bets are off.