Publisher’s Perspective: Get angry at the real abuse

By : Tom Dyer
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TomDyerHeadshotSome co-workers just tried to suck me into an animated office discussion about airport security. Some think full body searches are an outrageous violation of privacy rights. I think it’s complicated, but either way I can’t get worked up about it. At least TSA’s intent to keep air travel safe is honorable.

These days, with so many affronts to choose from, I parcel out righteous indignation like a single ketchup packet on a large order of fries. Consider:

* We live in a gilded age where the top one percent of millionaires and billionaires owns 34% of America’s private net worth, and the bottom 90% owns just 29%. Yet with a mounting deficit, attempts to return tax rates for our wealthiest to reasonable pre-2002 levels are decried as “job-killing socialism.”
* Like his Tea Party cohorts, newly-elected U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) wants to repeal health care legislation that covers 50 million currently uninsured Americans. But during his congressional initiation last week, Harris expressed outrage when he learned there would be a 30-day gap before his free comprehensive health plan begins.
* Former President George W. Bush is promoting his new book and subjecting himself to questions for the first time since leaving office. But the media is giving him a pass, especially on the indefensible decision to wage war against Iraq—a country that posed no real threat and had nothing to do with 9/11. The war killed or injured tens of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

It’s 2010—bad times—and the list of infuriating things is long. But right now I’m willing to spill my entire ketchup packet of indignation on a single French fry: the attempt to thwart desperately needed redistricting reform in Florida.

And if you think that doesn’t impact the LGBT community, think again.

Gerrymandering has long been practiced by both parties, but with sophisticated computer programming it has been refined to a science. Using detailed voter registration and polling data, legislators can now carve up districts block-by-block to include or exclude voters of a particular persuasion and thus ensure their reelection—and the majority status of their party.

Florida has more registered Democrats than Republicans, and most statewide races are close. The 2000 presidential race was historic in that regard. The state went for Obama in 2008. This year, Rick Scott was elected governor by a mere 70,000 votes.

But due to effective gerrymandering by the Republican-controlled legislature, 109 of 160 state seats and a whopping 20 of 25 congressional seats are held by Republicans. Democrats, packed into as few voting districts as possible, routinely garner more than 70% of votes in their district. In 420 state legislative races over the past six years, only three Florida incumbents of either party have been ousted.

In the past, voting districts just had to be nearly equal in population and contiguous, meaning touching in all places, and even this was interpreted loosely. Congressional District 11 includes three separate counties and is “contiguous” only by stretching over the Gandy Bridge to both sides of Tampa Bay. Congressional District 3 snakes from Jacksonville all the way to Orlando, but is only a few blocks wide in places.

Even in a year when they favored Republicans, Florida voters gave the existing districting plan the smell test and threw it in the dumpster. They passed Amendments 5 and 6 by an overwhelming 62%. State (5) and federal (6) voting districts must still be contiguous and nearly equal in population, but now they must also be compact, utilizing existing political and geographical boundaries, and drawn so as not to favor any incumbent or political party.
The long term impact will be profound; far greater than any mid-term gain or loss. Fair redistricting will add Democrats to the equation for the first time in decades, better reflecting the state population.

More importantly, it will vastly improve political discourse. Gerrymandering means that the winning party is rigged in advance. Incumbents fear only the primary, so they play to their party’s most extreme elements. Moderation and compromise are perceived as weakness, not productive leadership.

Overdue progressive social legislation, like overturning the ban on gay adoption, doesn’t stand a chance.

But now fearful incumbents are doing everything they can to thwart redistricting reform that was approved by close to two-thirds of Florida voters. Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Corrine Brown have filed a lawsuit to block 5 and 6. Both represent heavily gerrymandered congressional districts.

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have appointed vocal opponents of 5 and 6 to head redistricting committees in their respective chambers. And Cannon, who lives in Winter Park, recently issued a warning to the Florida Supreme Court not to overstep in the upcoming battle. The court has the ability to veto state legislative redistricting plans, but whether that extends to congressional districts is uncertain.

So yeah… this arrogant and cynical attempt to treat Florida like a fiefdom for incumbent legislators infuriates me. Next time you’re at the airport, think about who’s really abusing you and let the security guards pat down your junk.

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