Redistricting hearings called a “charade” by criticsby John Kennedy | June 14th, 2011
Supporters of the Fair Districts constitutional amendments guiding redistricting blasted Florida legislative leaders Tuesday for what some called a ”charade” of more than two-dozen public hearings scheduled to begin next week.
Former Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and lawyer now representing Fair Districts, was joined by the Florida NAACP, the state’s League of Women Voters, and Democracia, an Hispanic voters’ organization, in denouncing the Legislature’s slow-developing time frame to redraw political boundaries for state House, Senate and congressional districts.
Twenty-six public hearings are scheduled through the summer, including an Aug. 16 session at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. But the discussions are not intended to focus on line-drawing.
Instead, the Legislature won’t begin drawing maps in earnest until January. With legal challenges, Gelber and others said it was likely Floridians and candidates won’t know their districts until close to the beginning on candidate qualifying in June.
“That these are transparent hearings, that’s just a sham,” said Deirdre Macnab of the League of Women Voters.
The organizations have written House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and House and Senate redistricting chairs criticizing the schedule and urging that they drop what critics call a gag order in which the letter said lawmakers have been warned they “should not make public statements about redistricting lest they betray intent to engage in political favoritism.”
The organizations also called on U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, and Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, to drop their lawsuit challenging the Fair Districts amendments, approved by voters last fall. The measures prohibit lawmakers from drawing district boundaries to help one party or individual incumbents.
Taxpayers are picking up the legal tab for both sides in the lawsuit, which is scheduled for oral arguments in Miami federal court in July.
“It’s time we stop spending taxpayer funds to defeat the purpose of the voters,” said Leon Russell of the NAACP.
UPDATE: Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, responded to the Fair Districts criticism, saying all Floridians’ “viewpoints are heard,” in the process. He also urged critics to draw their own versions of the maps, a challenge Haridopolos earlier issued.
“I once again invite them to submit their own maps so everybody can see their concept of a ‘fair district.’ If the past is any indication though, they’ll come up with an excuse not to participate in this important process,” he said.