Sunday, October 17, 2010

Because You Might Ask: Vote Yes on 5 and 6

I'm going to take a moment to step away from church politics, religion, and all things Episcopal to address a key ballot issue that Florida voters face this election.
Amendments Five and Six: Standards for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting. Pardon me while I go sit in the corner and rock back and forth for awhile!
Back in 1992, my boss at Florida Public Radio gave me a choice: I could focus my coverage on our earlier-than-usual legislative session on the lawmakers' task of drawing the new political boundaries in the state for both the legislative and congressional districts, or I could cover the state budget. I absolutely detest "number stories", and I have always enjoyed maps, so I thought this was a pretty easy pick. Now, I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from witnessing what was the worst-of-the-worst of the legislative sausage making process!

That 1992 session was the beginning of the turn that Florida has taken toward having a public that is mostly registered Democrats and yet has a state legislature that is disproportionately Republican. How, oh how, did this happen? Easy. Republicans made an unholy alliance with African-American and Hispanic lawmakers who argued for more minority-majority districts. This led to “bleaching” many parts of the state. Blacks, who usually vote for Democrats, were being lumped together through the craziest configurations to create districts that would “guarantee” the election of an African-American. It also meant that there were lots of very white and Republican areas now concentrated and able to elect several knuckle-dragging neo-cons to the state legislature. The session was marked by accusations and name-calling: "uppity Spics" and labeling the white male Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives "Pharaoh". (This from now Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown who proclaimed, "Peter and Peter: let my people GO!")

The most telling comment I heard during the debate was when then-State Rep. Betty Holzendorf was whining outside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee, “I just care about MY district.” Clearly, for the members of the state legislature, this wasn’t about you and me: it was about them keeping their seat and cherry-picking who would be the most likely people to vote for them.

Amendments Five and Six take up the clarion call of many public interest groups that have long advocated that legislative and congressional districts should try to keep communities together in compact and contiguous districts. What that means is that we shouldn't be drawing district lines along highways so that we can pick up a neighborhood of African Americans living in a county and put them in a district with African Americans who live in a county over 150 miles away in the wrong-headed thought that, somehow, this will yield an African-American candidate. It might do that, but it's been shown over and over that white voters WILL cast ballots for black candidates; hence it makes more sense to keep communities in tact and thus allow places like Tallahassee to have stronger representation.

For people who are LGBT, this is an extremely important issue. We are not a protected class; even though people have the ability to pinpoint neighborhoods, most of us don't live in a gay ghetto. But we are one group of citizens who have suffered from the skewed lines that have elected a majority Republican legislature. The GOP-controlled chambers have squashed almost every pro-gay bill that has been proposed in the past fifteen years. The anti-bullying bill could be seen as the exception; however, that legislation did NOT specifically offer protection to students being harassed for their sexual orientation and gender identity. Why? Because the Republicans wouldn't allow that in the bill. And while I do not accept that Democrats will pass lots of gay-friendly legislation, they aren't as nasty as the neo-cons in their speech about gays. And, as I have expressed over and over, words DO matter.

The state legislators have shown that they are incapable of doing this important work of drawing district lines that are fair to the population. It's time to clip their wings by putting some stricter rules in place. Vote Yes on Five and Six.


Phoebe said...

Good to get background.. that happened when I was out of the country.

Anonymous said...

Boy, you are right on the ball on this one too, my dear. Hope your Florida friends and many down there see this message.