Bob Sparks: Even Florida’s nonpartisan congressional maps are deemed unfair

The end of the process for redrawing Florida’s congressional districts is in sight. It may be one cycle late, but if the Florida Supreme Court rules favorably on the recommended final map, candidates and potential candidates can make informed decisions.

Last week, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis signed off on one of seven maps proposed to him. The anointed cartography was submitted not by the Legislature, but a coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters, who brought the lawsuit last year.

The original findings of Lewis are well chronicled. He blasted the Republicans in Tallahassee for trying to circumvent the Fair Districts Amendment and “making a mockery” of the redistricting process.

(It should be noted Republicans would have appreciated the intercession of concerned groups when the other side was drawing goofy-looking districts. With the Fair Districts Amendment passing by a three-to-two margin in 2010, plenty of Republicans agreed with the concept.)

Due to the lateness of the court proceedings, Lewis allowed the 2014 elections for Congress to go forward using 1992 districts. Earlier this year, he gave the nod to a new and improved set of districts. The Florida Supreme Court reversed him, ordered new maps and took over the process.

The plaintiffs and Democrats posited that if someone other than the Republicans were drawing the district maps, the world, especially Florida, would be a better place. An “independent” group of citizen artists would remove the politics and ensure a fair result.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Miami Gardens) would beg to differ. In an op-ed published this week, Rep. Wilson argues the approved map is not fair and “threatens to plunge (Wilson’s) District 24 into economic apartheid” by placing some economic drivers into another district. Her proposed new Miami-Dade/Broward district is pushed westward and no longer touches any of the coast.

She opens her essay with a reflection on the “inherently partisan” nature of redistricting while acknowledging the approved map was drawn by the coalition of plaintiffs.

Fearing a deep negative economic impact, Wilson urges the Florida Supreme Court to again overturn Lewis and invalidate the map. Does the League of Women Voters feel they are aiding and abetting economic apartheid?

Wilson further argues that those drawing the maps are “duty bound to ensure that they do not intentionally separate races for voting purposes – or create a map that would reverse a district’s evolution.”

We have a major disconnect here. The Florida Constitution requires “equal opportunity of racial and language minorities to participate in the political process…and elect representatives of their choice.”

That certainly reads like a directive to create a district that ensures a minority winner.

The purpose here is not to criticize the congresswoman for showing concern for her district and constituents. She is looking at her new South Florida district that is now pushed farther west, away from the coast, leaving PortMiami and other economic drivers in another district. It is 87 percent black and Hispanic.

It must be remembered that the port, among other employers, are not being carved out and moved to the Panhandle. They will still have a large economic impact on the people and district she represents.

Her use of the term “apartheid” certainly draws the attention to the issue she seeks, but is over the top. Wilson’s passion is clear, but Nelson Mandela donated a chunk of his life by living in a prison cell to fight apartheid. How about those South Africans who actually lived under such a system?

Wilson’s displeasure illustrates the fact that there will always be those who are unhappy with a system that pleases others. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the green light to the states to appoint non-legislative redistricting commissions to handle reapportionment.

Lewis has, in effect, approved the product of a similar commission.

The ball, again, is in the Supreme Court’s court.

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Last updated on May 17, 2016

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @BobSparksFL.


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