Fair Districts Florida amendments 5 and 6 seek to stop gerrymandering
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10/21/10 Seán Kinane
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Leon Russell is vice president of the national board of directors of the NAACP and supports Amendments 5 and 6.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Florida voters are deciding on two proposed amendments to the state Constitution that establish new rules for redistricting. Some say the current system is unfair and point to the statistics: over the last six years, only three incumbents have been defeated out of more than 420 races for the Florida Legislature. But opponents say minorities could lose seats.

If passed, Amendments 5 and 6 would establish more guidelines for the Legislature to follow when districts are realigned. They call for contiguous, compact districts that make use of existing municipal boundaries and don’t favor or disfavor incumbents, parties or minorities. Florida ACLU President Michael Pheneger says the measures would reduce gerrymandering.

"Right now there’s only one rule, and that is they have to be equal in size. Given that they only have one rule, they can literally draw districts anywhere they want and any way they want. They basically draw them to insure incumbency. That’s why we have a professional politician class, because right now in large measure, politicians in Florida are running in districts where they’re largely safe from actually losing an election."

According to the Florida Division of Elections, 650,000 more Democrats are registered to vote in the state than Republicans. Yet the GOP holds a commanding advantage in both the state Legislature and Congress. Pheneger is a long-time Republican, but even though the current gerrymandered districts favor his party, he wants the amendments to pass. Organized labor is on board as well. Aaron Carmella, with the West Central Florida Central Labor Council told a small gathering at a Unitarian Universalist church in Clearwater that some citizens don’t get fair representation from their legislators

"It’s really about accountability for the representatives back to their constituents. And right now, there’s nothing in this state really forcing them to do that as they’re picking their voters, not so much us picking our representatives right now."

Some elected officials have come out against the redistricting amendments, perhaps fearing they will lose their seats. One is U.S. member of Congress Corrine Brown, a Democrat. But Pheneger from the ACLU says her district is a poster child for gerrymandering.

"Well, Corrine Brown’s district is kind of notorious because it begins in Jacksonville and snakes through nine different counties, parts of nine different counties, not all of them, and comes all the way down to the outskirts of Orlando. Nobody would draw a district that way unless they had an ulterior purpose. And the ulterior purpose is either to exclude voters that they don’t want in their district or to include voters that they want in a district to ensure somebody’s election or reelection."

Critics, including former NAACP Chair Benjamin Chavis, argue the amendments could affect minority representation. Representative Brown agrees.

"For one time we have a voice in every level of government. And this [Amendments 5 and 6] will take these voices away. You’ve had at-large, square districts, but did not represent communities of interest. And I think communities of interest is key. And to think that for 129 years, a state that has 30% African-Americans and we didn’t have any [elected representatives], and you’re talking about going back to that. It is unacceptable. It’s crazy."

But supporters say the amendments would safeguard civil rights protections. Leon Russell is vice president of the national board of directors of the NAACP and is chair of the legislative committee of the Florida state conference of NAACP.

"Corrine Brown right now has a 47% minority district; she doesn’t have a majority district, yet she’s been elected for 17 years to her Congressional district. So these amendments would continue to protect that district. It might not look like it looks today and there might be some different constituents in it. But it still has the ability to influence the election of candidates of the folks’ choice."

Supporters like Pheneger also point out that right now the Voting Rights Act only applies to five counties in Florida but if the so-called Fair Districts amendments pass they would add similar language to the state Constitution.

"The Black Legislative Caucus has voted by majority vote to support the Fair District Amendment[s], as has the NAACP, Democracia, things like that, because they understand that we don’t need to draw districts that way to ensure that we have African-Americans [elected]. In fact the Amendments 5 and 6 each say that you can’t redistrict in ways that have the tendency or the effect of actually diminishing the rights of racial- and language-minorities to basically vote for Legislators of their choosing. That basically parallels the Voting Rights Act."

There is some bipartisan support for the measures, and Fair Districts Florida, the group behind the amendments, has raised more than $4 million. The financial backing comes from a few big donors, including the Democratically-aligned SEIU and National Education Association and a combination of thousands of individual donors. Another political action committee, Protect Your Vote, formed to defeat the measures.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature added a third amendment that, if passed, would have canceled out the other two. But the Florida Supreme Court tossed it off the ballot because it found the wording misleading. Early voting and absentee voting has already begun in Florida. Amendments 5 and 6 need 60% support to pass.

The text of Amendment 5

Text of Amendment 6

Fair Districts Florida

Protect Your Vote

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Comments

DEMOCRATS DID THIS.. NOT REPUBLICANS..

There is much manipulation of the facts when it comes to Florida's two gerrymandered districts. One in South Florida for Hispanics, and the other in North Florida for Blacks. All of the HYPE blames this on Republicans... Nothing could be further from the truth. THESE DISTRICTS WERE CREATED BY DEMOCRATS.... THE DEMOCRATS PLANNED IT, AND WON IN 1989... However, IT DIDN'T QUITE WORK OUT THE WAY THEY PLANNED.... The Democrats got their Black, and Hispanic districts, but to do so, they had to create them in weird shapes to gather enough people to make them viable.. Doing so, left the remaining districts more Republican... NOW THE DEMOCRATS ARE BLAMING THE REPUBLICANS FOR SOMETHING THAT THE DEMOCRATS DID... I should know, as I sued them all... And I won... ... I AM ONE OF THE 28 PEOPLE WHO SUED IN STATE AND FEDERAL COURT IN 1990 TO FIGHT THE DEMOCRATS, FROM GERRYMANDERING DISTRICT 3. ... In 1989, WHEN THE "DEMOCRATS" WERE IN POWER IN TALLAHASSEE, IT CAME TIME TO ADJUST BOUNDARIES IN ALL FLORIDA VOTING DISTRICTS due to the 1990 census... The DEMOCRAT MAJORITY IN THE LEGISLATURE in Tallahassee refused to cooperate with the Republican minority to create "FAIR" boundaries, and kept GERRYMANDERING every district so that THE DEMOCRATS COULD CONTINUE THEIR 25 YEAR CONTROL OF THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE.. However, the Republicans, along with some Democrats, were able to prevent most of the Gerrymandering... THE DEMOCRATS WERE UNHAPPY THAT THEIR PLAN WAS DEFEATED...?????... !!!!! So, like all cowardly Democrats, they CHEATED and USED a LOOPHOLE to get around the Republicans, AND THE NORMAL DECISION MAKING PROCESS... THEY SUED... The DEMOCRATS SUED IN STATE COURT, AND ARRANGED FOR THE "DECISIONS" TO BE MADE BY A "3 JUDGE PANEL" of the FLORIDA SUPREME COURT.... THATS RIGHT, "3 STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGES CREATED DISTRICT 3."... All 3 Judges were DEMOCRATS, AND THE 3 JUDGE PANEL WAS "HANDPICKED" TO MAKE THE DECISION.... As a result, the Judges decided that they wanted to STACK a MINORITY District in North Florida that would ALWAYS BE WON BY A BLACK PERSON... Unfortunately, there WERE NOT ENOUGH BLACKS IN NORTH FLORIDA TO CREATE A "NORMAL CIRCULAR SIZED CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT"... So, The Court CREATED DISTRICT 3 by "GRABBING BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS, AND NEIGHBORHOODS WITH MAJORITY DEMOCRATS AND INDEPENDENTS", AND "STRINGING THEM TOGETHER TO BUILD DISTRICT 3"...... In most places, the DISTRICT EXISTED AS "3-FOOT-WIDE SECTIONS" GOING DOWN "SIDEWALKS, AND RAILROAD TRACKS", IN ORDER TO "STRING" THE SECTIONS TOGETHER... The resulting upside-down "U" shaped District stretched from St Augustine, going North with the railroad Track, grabbed the NORTHWEST QUADRANT IN JACKSONVILLE, then moved out west, grabbing little towns going South thru Waldo, Gainesville, Ocala, and FINALLY ENDED IN THE "ALL BLACK" TOWN OF EATONVILLE, JUST NORTH OF ORLANDO... Frankly, I wouldn't have CARED, if they HADN'T of "STOLEN ME.".....!!!!!! YOU SEE, I WAS AN "INDEPENDENT", AND MY WIFE WAS A "REPUBLICAN".... As the Judges "stretched District 3" down a sidewalk on Normandy Blvd, they would periodically "GRAB ANY DEMOCRATS OR INDEPENDENTS" that lived within a "BLOCK" of the SIDEWALK.... SO, THEY GRABBED ME.... I WAS AN INDEPENDENT....!!!! THEY EXPECTED ALL "INDEPENDENTS" TO VOTE FOR A BLACK PERSON...!!!!! I had always been in District 6..... Then, SUDDENLY I AM IN DISTRICT 3....!!!!!....???? My WIFE WAS LEFT IN "DISTRICT 6".....?????...!!!! get it ???? My WIFE and I "live in the same house", and "SLEEP IN THE SAME BED", "BUT WE ARE IN "DIFFERENT CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS"..????....???? That was patently illegal... We used to joke that we could "CHANGE THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF BOTH DISTRICTS 3 AND 6 BY SWAPPING OUR SIDES OF THE BED.".... I contacted an attorney, and I, and 27 others filed SUIT to "UNDUE WHAT THE DEMOCRAT JUDGES DID".... It TOOK 3 years, BUT WE WON IN FEDERAL COURT.... The Federal District Court in Atlanta decided that District 3 was "gerrymandered to suit a single RACE of people, and declared it needed to be "RE-WRITTEN".... IT WAS REWRITTEN, THIS TIME BY THE "DEMOCRATS", AGAIN.... AND AGAIN, THEY GERRYMANDERED IT AGAIN... THEY MADE SURE THAT I, AND THE 27 OTHERS THAT SUED WERE NOT IN THE NEW DISTRICT 3, AND THEY "WAITED TO SEE IF ANYONE IN THE NEW, GERRYMANDERED DISTRICT 3 WOULD SUE.."... No One sued the second time... So, District 3 has remained GERRYMANDERED since it was reapportioned by the DEMOCRAT CONTROLLED LEGISLATURE IN 1994 "because no-one with any LEGAL STANDING sued to stop it....... District 3 "WAS NOT CHANGED AFTER THE 2000 CENSUS, AND REMAINS AS IT WAS CREATED BY THE DEMOCRATS IN 1994...." Those are the facts.... That corruptly created District is what Corrine Brown is trying to keep unchanged. All people living in District 3 are just SLAVES to Corrine Brown. Robert Ellison

For or against??

Forgive me .. Ellison gave a long story. He points out some crazy tactics in the past of gerrymandering... but what is the final conclusion? For or against the amendments? Maybe I just don't quite understand .... If the ACLU, teh NEA and SEIU is in favor .. I certainly strongly tend to be against. And then Corrine Brown is against so I then tend to be FOR them. Still undecided.

Vote for Amendment 5 & 6

I read a very interesting letter to the editor (at St. Pete Times) from Rick Dantzler, a former state senator. He supports voting for Amendments 5 & 6 because he saw first-hand the abuses by legislators in drawing these ridiculous districts. It would be great if Rob Lorei could get Mr. Dantzler on the radio to talk about his experience. Here's the letter: I'm writing in support of Amendments 5 and 6 to our state Constitution that would create commonsense rules in legislative and congressional redistricting. When I was in the Florida Senate in the early 1990s, I opposed similar measures because I believed it was possible for the Legislature to redistrict without undue partisanship. I was wrong. I was in the room that housed the computers and data banks used in the redistricting effort when individual senators would direct staff to draw boundary lines in various configurations for the express purpose of affecting the partisan makeup of the district. The result was that the boundaries of many districts had little relation to worthy concepts such as cohesion, and often didn't respect natural geographic features and the boundaries of existing political entities. Even though I saw this happening, I stood behind the principle that legislators would be judged by their constituents for such gerrymandering. They weren't. I can't think of a single legislator who ran in one of the severely gerrymandered districts who didn't win. Amendments 5 and 6 would impose the discipline needed to redistrict in a way that creates state legislative and congressional districts that make common sense. I intend to vote for them, and I encourage you to do likewise. Rick Dantzler, Winter Haven

FloridaFlower

Because of the way voting districts are drawn in Florida my vote does not count. Currently, politicians and special interest lobbyists can go behind closed doors to draw districts to ensure they retain power. I want elections to be competitive and fair based on ideas and accomplishments of the candidates. I want my elected representative to live and work in the community represented and to have a vested interest in addressing my community's issues and concerns. I want to pick my elected representatives not have them pick me!! So, I am voting Yes on Amendments 5 and 6 to "protect my vote."

VOTE "YES" ON 5 AND 6

My apologies. I thought my earlier post was clear that I am "FOR" 5 and 6. Mr. W. Sterling is correct when he talks about WHO is for and against these bills. When these districts were first created, the ACLU and the NAACP were FOR THEIR CREATION... and you would think that they would therefore be AGAINST 5 AND 6... But that is not the case.. The ACLU and the NAACP have learned their lesson. They realize that the creation of these two corrupt districts "DIDN'T HELP BLACK, OR HISPANIC PEOPLE", but in fact HURT THEM by stacking all of the other districts with Republicans as a side-effect. The ACLU and the NAACP now believe what the rest of us believed all along, that, IF GIVEN NORMAL DISTRICTS, BLACKS HAVE A HIGHER POSSIBILITY OF CONTROLLING MORE THAN JUST ONE DISTRICT... So the ACLU and the NAACP have come over to OUR side.. On the other hand, CORRINE BROWN is still fighting against 5 and 6 so as to KEEP HER JOB.... It is as simple as that... This vote does have strange bedfellows... 20 years ago, i sued the ACLU and the NAACP in the original District 3 case.... I BEAT THEM IN COURT and won back then.. Now the ACLU and the NAACP are on my side... What a hoot.....