Every 10 years, Florida’s political power brokers drool over their next opportunity to rig a decade’s worth of elections. This is all quite legal, of course, and is done through the prospect of redistricting. Florida, like many other states, allows the Legislature and the Governor complete control over the process. Before Republicans begin to cheer; however, they would do well to remember the decades when Florida’s Democrats dominated the process. Regardless of who is in charge now; however, it’s not just about what party is in control—it’s also about ensuring that voters within the state have true choices when they go to the polls on Election Day.
Redistricting drives everything, from the Florida House and Senate to the US House of Representatives. For years, conservatives in Jacksonville have bemoaned the one district that they felt best exemplified the practice of gerrymandering—US House District 3, represented by Democrat Corrine Brown. What conservatives fail to acknowledge is that Ms. Brown’s district was left in place by the Florida Legislature during the last redistricting process, and for good reason. By piecing together a high concentration of Democrat and minority voters in one district, Republicans effectively ensured that Ander Crenshaw (R-Jacksonville), John Mica (R-Winter Park) and Cliff Stearns (R-Ocala) would face no real Democratic opposition in their races. The three Republicans won re-election in 2008 with 65%, 62% and 61% of the vote, respectively.
US House District 11 is even more curious, perhaps, than District 3. This congressional District, represented by Democrat Kathy Castor, shares parts of three counties and shares no land borders. Before Republicans point to this as another example of gerrymandering that benefits Democrats; however, they should remember that Republicans drew these borders. This, of course, begs the question, “Why would Republicans draw a border to ensure a Democratic seat in Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas Counties?” One reason. By giving Ms. Castor a “safe district”, they also ensured that Rep. C. W. Bill Young (R-Indian Shores) could hang onto the seat he has held since before Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Uncompetitive races (both at the federal and state level) do nothing to benefit voters and one organization has taken shape in Florida to change that. FairDistrictsFlorida.org has been collecting signatures for a petition that would work to bring logical fairness to the process of drawing boundaries.
While protecting minority voting rights, the standards would prohibit drawing district lines to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party. Districts would have to be compact and utilize existing political and geographical boundaries. In other words, natural competitiveness and fairness would be required.
Each congressional district represents roughly 650,000 people. Jacksonville, a city of of roughly 800,000 residents, has three US Representatives sharing pieces of the City. (In addition, John Mica represents portions of St. Johns County.) Why shouldn’t the City be represented by one Representative who was truly focused solely on Jacksonville? Why shouldn’t this race be a true competition that pitted the best candidate Jacksonville Democrats could put forward against the best Republican candidate? Why shouldn’t the voters of the City be able to claim the same representative in Congress?
Redistricting is truly a powerful force. In 2004, Texas Republicans utilized it to redraw boundaries that guaranteed Republicans would remain in the control of the US House. No doubt Democrats will attempt to do the same in the states they control. This shouldn’t be the case. Redistricting should not be dependent on party affiliation, rather it should depend on logical boundaries that truly define our counties, cities and areas of the state.