Activist dissects Florida's congressional redistricting process
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06/02/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Progress Florida, Mark Ferrulo, redistricting, Florida Legislature, fair districts

The hearing to determine whether or not lawmakers violated the 2010 Fair Districts amendment in Florida when they re-drew congressional districts in 2012 continues this week.

The state is being sued by some individuals and the League of Women Voters. They allege lawmakers intentionally drew district lines to favor incumbents or political parties. If a judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, lawmakers could have to go back to the drawing board.

WMNF's Janelle Irwin spoke with Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo Monday about the hearing.

"What we've learned is that the intent of the Fair Districts provisions in our constitution which explicitly say that no plan or political districts should be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party; what we're learning is clearly that's exactly what happened in this process is that the Republican leadership in the legislature in an effort to maintain their grip on power in Florida connived behind closed doors and conspired with political consultants and paid experts in the shadows, behind closed doors to draw districts that would allow politicians to pick their voters instead of the voters picking who our politicians should be."

Now we've heard about secret emails. We've heard that there were people who saw the maps before they were released to the public, why are things like this something that voters should be concerned about?

"Voters should be concerned because as voters we voted overwhelmingly in the state of Florida to amend our constitution so that political districts would be drawn in a way that promote a real competitive energized democracy. We amended our constitution in Florida so we no longer have the situation where every 10 years the party in power, whether it's republicans or democrats, can use very sophisticated computer software to basically rig elections."

Even just looking at the districts and ignoring whether or not they encompass certain groups of people in those areas, it seems like it would be hard to ignore that something was at play here. I mean you take the one district for example that snakes from Jacksonville through the state all the way to Orlando. It looks like a dragon's tail or something. How could they have gotten away with drawing a map that's just so obviously from a visual perspective, skewed?

"That's really a good question and we hope that they don't get away with it. I think the mindset of Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Gates and the people that were in power who control the legislative process, they probably assumed that no matter what we do we're going to get sued. They basically threw, not just threw caution to the wind but ignored our constitution and went forward and drew some of these outlandish districts in a way that benefits their own political party."

Let's say hypothetically that once this hearing is over the legislature has to go back to the drawing board and redo this process, what might we see as a result of that?

"Depending on the ruling by the current judge listening to this case the chances are that there will be appeals. There are a number of higher courts that likely if the Republican party loses this case, they will appeal that ruling. So the chances of, in my estimation, the chances of the legislature being forced to redraw Congressional districts for this upcoming election in 2014 are pretty slim. Not impossible, but pretty slim."

Whatever the outcome is, do you think that there's going to be anything substantial taken away from this hearing process that's going to maybe make voters take a stronger look at what's happening in Tallahassee as far as partisanship is concerned?

"We hope so, we hope so. I think the media has done a fantastic job at providing a behind the scenes look at how these political districts were drawn in a way that flew in the face of the Fair Districts amendment to out constitution. We hope and would urge our voters in Florida to demand accountability and to hold those who perpetrated this fraud upon the people of Florida, hold them accountable at the ballot box."

If you had to pick one moment from this hearing so far, I know we've got a couple days left but so far, that really just stood out as the most shocking or impressionable or just key component of the hearing itself, what would you say that would be?

"Well there's been a number of them. There's been a few shockers during this trial. I'd say certainly that one of the biggest ones was that one of the maps that was supposedly submitted by a member of the public, I believe an FSU student, a map that was submitted in his name with an email supposedly from him, he's now saying he had nothing to do with it. And no one's claiming responsibility for where this map that wound up being the final map signed into law originated from. That was just a real eye opener. On an entirely different level the fact that a lot of the testimony and the emails and the communications between these hired gun consultants and the Republican leadership, the public has been barred from seeing those. The courtroom was closed and the media were required to leave the courtroom, the public was required to leave the courtroom while these emails and communications were discussed. We think it's a real threat to transparency and government in the sunshine. We think that was a bad ruling by the court to close out the public out of that process."

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