Darryl Paulson: What is really “fair districting?”

voter discrimination districting

As someone who has testified many times in Florida reapportionment cases, the voters of Florida and then the state Supreme Court got most everything wrong when it comes to “Fair Districts.” I have been hired numerous times by the state or national NAACP to testify about the legacy of voter discrimination in Florida.

When you face hundreds of years of discrimination, the state has some obligation to right that wrong. If someone robbed your house, you would like to be made whole. If you have been denied the right to vote and had zero representation in legislative bodies for more than 100 years, you have a right to be made whole.

Democrats were in complete control of Florida from the 1880s to the 1990s, a period of 110 years. They never once proposed “fair districts.” In fact, Republicans proposed a similar plan in the early 1990s that the Democrats quickly rejected.

In 1992, the Democrats controlled both houses of the state Legislature by about 60 percent to 40 percent. They also controlled the governor’s office. They drew the legislative districts to their advantage, but could not agree on drawing the congressional districts.

Why? Because their most loyal constituents, African-Americans, wanted the Democrats to draw at least three black congressional districts. The Democratic leadership refused because that would mean drawing districts filled with black voters, which would leave surrounding districts more susceptible to Republican gains.

The Democrats told blacks that white Democrats could represent their needs as well as black Democrats. The NAACP and black voters said, “Nuts. We want to be represented by people who look like us.”

Blacks made up about 14 percent of the Florida population, but provided about 30 percent of the Democratic vote. Because the Democrats refused to draw black districts for their most loyal constituency, the task was left to the federal courts.

Judge Clyde Atkins presided over the case and ultimately created two majority-minority districts for blacks and one minority influence district (at least 40 percent black).  All three districts elected a black person to Congress: Corrine Brown, Carrie Meek and Alcee Hastings. I wouldn’t have voted for any of the three, but I believe that blacks do have the right to elect legislators of their choice, especially after more than a century of rampant discrimination.

I mentioned that Democrats drew the state House and Senate legislative districts in 1992 to their advantage. What happened? By 1994, Republicans won the state Senate, in 1996 they won the state House and in 1998 they won the governor’s office. The voters made the changes. No “fair districts” were needed.

Once Dems were out of power in Florida for 20 years, they fell in love with “Fair Districts,” a plan they previously rejected when they were in control. It was sold to the voters based on the notion that you can’t trust politicians to be fair in drawing districts. Perhaps. But, it was also sold by saying that “compact and contiguous” districts were better than strangely shaped districts.

It’s very easy to draw compact and contiguous districts. The problem is that both blacks and Hispanics will likely lose seats in both the Legislature and Congress. After having zero representation for 110 years, now they are being told after 20 years of political power that they are no longer needed. Four of the eight congressional districts ordered to be redrawn are either black or Hispanic districts.

Last hired, first fired.

To me, it makes no sense to say that having a compact district is better than having districts where minorities are properly represented. To me, that is “fair districting.”

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and resides in Palm Harbor.

Darryl Paulson

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

One comment

  • Doug Hicks

    July 20, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Mr. Paulson, as usual, the Republican blanket you live under obscures your vision. To argue against compact and fairly drawn districts is ridiculous and against the Founding Fathers’ intent.

    Promoting one wrong to correct another defies common sense. Gerrymandering, no matter which political party does it, is wrong. It is an Insider’s Game controlled by money. If the Legislator plays the game, rigged districts guarantee re-election and grease the slippery slope to corruption. We the people are forgotten.

    Only you people want to keep the status quo with your foot on my neck. Thanks to the courts, we now have a chance for real competition and accountability, both currently absent

    FYI, between the lines is what I emailed one by one to all House Republicans (except Tobia) about ten days ago. None have answered my question.
    Regarding the Gerrymandered districts you Legislators created, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled them unconstitutional in very clear terms.

    Now, what are you going to do?

    If you “play fair” and redraw them correctly and honestly then we the voters will be happy.

    However, if you “play games” and fight the ruling then we the voters will start a petition to have an independent commission draw the lines.

    It is time to consider the majority, not just your own self-interest in reelection and pleasing the few rich insiders who control you.

    We the people are watching carefully.

    Gatekeepers delete emails like this so Legislators NEVER see anything critical. They live in a big-money bubble and don’t think or care about the little people. The system is crooked.

    But you know that! That’s why you try to defend it.

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