Friday, December 20, 2013

Meanwhile Back In Florida: The Dog Ate Their Homework Excuse

One of the big news down here in Crazystate has been the recent state Supreme Court decision that state legislators and their staff MUST testify in the court cases filed against them over the (alleged) partisan nature of how the state voting districts were drawn in 2012.

State amendments passed back in 2010 - thank you, voters - required that districts for both state and federal congressional elections had to follow population density and respect city and county borders (and also be "continguous", rather than disconnected which some previous districts were) when forming those voting districts.  In short: no gerrymandering to stretch out districts across counties and dividing up cities to favor one political party over another.

So of course, when 2012 rolled around and new districts were drawn up... the districts still stretched out funny, still divided portions of cities out towards less populated areas to where the city voters were in the minority of those districts, and still favored Republicans (in the state House, 75 Republican to 45 Democrat: in the Senate: 26 Republican to 14 Democrat) by roughly 65 percent to 35 percent.  Even though Democrats outnumber Republicans (as of 2013) 4,660,000-plus to 4,160,000-plus.  The only way the numbers favor the GOP is if they took the No-Party guys at 2,634,000-plus and lumped them all in with the Republicans in order to get a 3-to-2 advantage over Democrats... and that's not right because the No-Party voters shouldn't count that way (what if most of those No-Party registered voters are just Democratic trying to avoid getting purged by the GOP?).

Simple logic would have it the districts even out closer to 51-49 percent, with the No-Party registrants providing variation.  Although to be fair, in the real world it might not line up that way, but at least it ought to be withing a 55-45 range.  But 65 percent?  Favoring the party that's got fewer registered voters?!

Take a look at the state House map.  While a lot of the rural counties tend to be lumped together to fill the population equation, you'll notice the city/urban areas get carved up and portioned out in ways that do not favor city or county lines (what's with Ft. Myers and Naples' coastline all being one district when they've got perfectly good counties in Lee and Collier to earn representation?).

Hence the lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and others that the 2012 districts are violating the constitutional amendments that passed voter approval.

The state legislature, still in charge of the district drawing and thus controlled by the party in power (guess who), tried to avoid testifying under oath what was discussed and planned with the map drawing.  The state Supreme Court said "nah, you still gotta testify."

And now it's coming out that a lot of the documentation, such as memos and e-mails, that went with those meetings and decision-makings had been destroyed.

To refer to columnist Daniel Ruth with the St. Pete sigh Tampa Bay Times:

But any doubts about the legitimacy of the redistricting process could be easily cleared up before you could say "Where do I drop off my campaign check?" if Weatherford and Gaetz and all the other Republicans involved in redrawing districts would simply submit themselves to testifying under oath to sort out any misunderstandings. They could merely hand over all the documents, emails, voice messages and notes created during redistricting to prove once and for all that this effort was so apolitically Simon Pure, it made the Founding Fathers' Constitutional Convention look like a Raccoon Lodge meeting...
...Tragically, a series of unfortunate events happened. In a sort of "my dog ate my evidence" scenario, it seems untold numbers of emails, notes, voice messages and other Republican materials related to what went on behind the scenes in the redistricting toga party have been — alas — destroyed...
...The legislators' legal brain trust argues that such vaunted elected officials and their factotums can't be required to testify about their actions and (egad!) turn over all manner of communications, lest there be a "chilling effect" on the redistricting process.
But that is exactly the point. Lawmakers should know they will be subject to legal review under oath resulting in punitive sanctions if they attempt to finagle legislative districts to protect a disproportionate political advantage.
Federal courts have stipulated that when a party has a reasonable expectation of litigation it has an obligation to preserve any and all relevant records. Since redistricting efforts are almost always subject to legal challenges, Republicans certainly had to know that everything from complex documents to pizza receipts would be sought by various parties who viewed the process as if the Grand Old Partitioners of the Florida House and Senate were divvying up the early Italian city-states.
If Florida's Sunshine Law is supposed to allow the public open access to meetings, legislative bills, financial records and all the other elements of government and governance, then certainly citizens should also have a right to know how a bunch of self-interested partisan pols arrived at the decisions they made to draw squiggles on a map. And they should see the paperwork and digital records to boot...

This reeks to high heaven.  For starters, the state's own Sunshine Laws make it clear documentation from meetings involving state agencies and committees need to be made and held for public record.  For any body of state government to immediately destroy such documentation is telling me - and ought to be telling everyone else - that those officials wanted to hide what they did.

This ought to come to one resolution: hold those officials who destroyed those records accountable for what they did.  Force those officials to testify what those documents pertained to.  Force them to prove they were not colluding to violate the state constitution by gerrymandering those districts for partisan gain.

And re-draw the damn maps so that the Democratic majority in this state has a better chance (not a permanent chance: let the voters - hi, No-Party guys! - decide) of getting majority representation than the pathetic 35 percent that has been allotted to them.  That makes no goddamn sense at all for a voting majority to be so under-represented.  No goddamn sense at all.

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