Henry Kelley: It’s time to fix high court’s districting overreach


Welcome back to another Special Session! It’s been fun blaming the Florida Legislature for gerrymandering and all that, but GOP state Rep. Mike Hill from Pensacola wrote penned an interesting letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. In part, he wrote:

“Under the guise of interpreting Sections 20 and 21 of Article III of the Florida Constitution — Florida’s new Redistricting Amendments — the court is systematically rewriting the Constitution,” Hill wrote. “Most significantly, the Court has cast aside the notion of separation of powers so vital to our Republic and indeed our State. We must act now.”


It’s probably a bit awkward for the League of Women Voters to admit, but the Fair Districts constitutional amendments are possibly the worst-written possible. Oh, the intent was perfectly valid, but the actual language of the amendments was incredibly poor.

How do I know? I drew and submitted maps that I thought applied as much of the amendments’ opposing forces’ intent as possible. As a private citizen, with no party ties or lobbying money or any payday of any kind, I submitted maps.

In fact, I felt honored when a portion of my Florida Senate maps, focusing on Northwest Florida, was accepted by the Reapportionment Committee and then signed into law. I also wore it as a badge of honor when the politically motivated Florida Supreme Court struck them down, and decided how they felt they should be drawn.

Why do I say “politically motivated”? I drew my districts east-west because the failed language of the amendments made for geographical boundaries to be used, but no one defined what that actually meant. The Panhandle is unique in that our roads run east-west generally, not north-south. With Eglin Air Force Base stretching across the middle of three counties, we have a very unique split region with a clear farming north area, and a southern tourism-based economy.

Further, the lack of definition of “geographical boundaries” in the amendments should be addressed. In our region, one may or may not always know whether they are in the city limits, but they do know if they are north or south of the railroad tracks. Or a river. Or Eglin Air Force Base. So to arbitrarily decide on “counties” as the boundary, is, well, arbitrary.

The 1965 Voter Rights Act mentions “communities of interest” as a key component of the VRA. The communities along the I-10 corridor have far more in common with their neighbors east-west than they do with the tourist locations such as Destin, South Walton, and Panama City Beach north and south.

Yet the Supreme Court in Tallahassee dismissed the submittals by a citizen that were put through the committee process, the legislative process, and finally to the governor and decided we need a north-south alignment. They even overrode the people who voted for Fair Districts, but didn’t actually know what they were voting for.

Well, now, in their latest ruling the Supremes decided to “encourage” the Legislature to draw the Northwest Florida Congressional Districts, wait for it, along east-west guidelines! And voila! The Florida Legislature just released an east-west configured congressional map and has promptly been sued by noted Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Gerrymander), who wants to continue to violate the intent of the Fair Districts amendments. (Side note: I enjoy the jaw jacking by Florida Democrats on this issue while they try to twitter-convince us of their moral high ground on redistricting, while actually being quite complicit in the outcome.

Well, I agree with Representative Hill. The courts, long the last bastion of what is good and right in our Republican form of government, have for reasons known only to themselves, decided with one ruling to rule directly against a previous ruling. It’s time for the Legislature to decide what is right for the people of Florida, since they are who we can vote for. Let’s see their communications in the Sunshine.

If you are going to “encourage” east-west Congressional Districts, then the Legislature should be able to make east-west Senate Districts because, hey, in the Panhandle, east-west is what actually makes the most sense.

The bottom line is this: Florida’s Supreme Court clearly is playing politics that are the role of the citizen’s body – the Legislature – and not following the rules laid down in the Fair Districts Amendments. The Legislature may have gerrymandered because both parties agreed to it, but the Florida Supreme Court is also gerrymandering, and as a citizen, I’d rather have the shenanigans done by the people I can vote for.

Henry Kelley is owner of NWF Farms Winery Inc. 

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