First of two parts
Feeling overwhelmed by all this talk of redistricting?
Well, the topic may sound complex, even boring. But you have a lot at stake.
That's why I've produced: "Lies, secrets and shenanigans: The top 10 ways redistricting affects your money, your votes and your life in general."
Yeah, I know it's a long title. But there's a lot of stuff going on. So let's get started.
•Right now, the system's rigged. Instead of voters choosing their politicians, the politicians choose their voters. The pols predetermine which districts should be Republican and which should be Democratic — and then carve out snake-like districts to suit their fancy, often splitting communities in two. This unites politicians from opposing sides because they have the same self-centered goals of protecting themselves and their buddies.
•This is why your "representative" can live 100 miles away. That's how it works for both U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and John Mica. The Democrat Brown lives in Jacksonville — yet represents parts of Orlando. And the Republican Mica must drive more than 100 miles from his Winter Park home to get to his congressional office in St. Augustine. Neither wants too many members of the opposing party in their districts. So you end up with two districts that make political sense … and geographic nonsense.
•This system leads to extremism. When a district is drawn specifically to elect a Democrat or a Republican, there's little reason for moderate candidates to run. The race usually gets decided in the primary. That's good for the party extremists — not so much for the moderate majority.
•You and I are trying to fix things. More than 3 million of us voted to end gerrymandering last year when we supported the Fair Districts amendments to the constitution. More than 60 percent of voters demanded that future districts be drawn based upon compact, geographical sense rather than party affiliation. It was a very good day for democracy.
•Corrine Brown and Dean Cannon hope that good day never dawns. Brown and a Republican Congressman from South Florida — both beneficiaries of gerrymandered districts — sued to try to overturn your Fair Districts vote. Then, in a galling act, House Speaker Dean Cannon decided the state Legislature should join the lawsuit — and spend your money trying to overturn your vote.
•This is still America, right? Think about that last part for a moment: If a Cuban dictator or some other third-world leader spent the public's money trying to overturn its own vote, Americans would be appalled. Here in Florida, though, it passes for business as usual. Cannon's office reported paying lawyers up to $300 an hour to fight your will. And they've set aside as much as $30 million for all the legal issues they expect to come along with the once-a-decade redistricting process.
•Many opponents of Fair Districts are big fat liars. Anyone who claims the entire Fair Districts movement is about hurting Republicans is lying. Good-government groups and the media have been calling for fair districts for decades — way back to the days when Democrats ran the state and played the same dirty tricks. In 1993, this very newspaper called for change after describing the Democrats' own version of gerrymandering as "a spectacle of self-serving politicians protecting their turf…" Just because many of the politicians are hypocritical hacks doesn't mean everyone is.
•Your state districts will change, too. Most of the hubbub involves congressional districts, because they look the loopiest and are the only part of the Fair Districts vote being challenged in court. But the Legislature must redraw state House and Senate districts as well.
•Watch out for timing tricks. Legislators have planned a listening tour to get comments from residents. That's good. But they have also stretched the timeline out so far that residents won't know what new districts will look like until the deadline for declaring a campaign is close. That's designed to help incumbents and limit challenges. Most states will complete redistricting this year. Cannon's office said Florida definitely won't finish until 2012.
•The pictures tell the true story. I can write words until I'm blue in the face. But nothing tells the story of gerrymandering as well as the maps themselves. So that's what I'll share with you Sunday — the pictures that show everything from a district so narrow that it encompasses only a highway to another district drawn specifically around a certain politician's house.
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