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Democrats Divided on Redistricting

April 21, 2010 - 6:00pm

It appears that Floridians will vote in November on competing ballot initiatives on redistricting -- and Democrats are divided on which option is better.

More than 1.7 million Floridians signed petitions calling for changes to the ways the Legislature draws up congressional and state legislative seats. Sponsored by Fair Districts Florida, the petitions placed two amendments on the November ballot that require legislators to create geographically compact districts and prohibit them from creating districts that favor certain incumbents or political parties.

Republicans -- and some key Democrats -- in the Legislature oppose the amendments and have moved their own through committees that would clarify the Fair District measures and have redistricting follow existing federal guidelines.

Democrats from both the House and Senate spoke out against the clarifying amendments on Thursday morning. Theres no need for it, said Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation. Its going to cause confusion.

The Democrats argued that the clarifying amendments would not help minority voters.

The notion that this will help minority voters is a farce, said Thurston.

Quoting Malcolm X, Rep. Geri Thompson of Orlando, said, We will not be bamboozled or hoodwinked.

But Florida Democrats are far from united in their support of the Fair Districts amendments.

Some prominent African-American Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee, and Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, favor the Republican measure instead of the Fair Districts amendments.

Lawson, who has handled redistricting twice in his 28-year career in the Legislature, has come out strongly against the Fair Districts amendments, saying they would not do as much for minority representation as the current process.

In regards to the clarifying amendments, Siplin said, It clarifies the Legislatures duty to apply federal law while balancing it with existing state standards and case law.

My review of the proposals suggests that the amendments set forth by Fair Districts Florida do not do enough to create or preserve majority-minority and minority access districts within the state, said Siplin.

I am very disappointed by the plan being put forward by Fair Districts Florida, Brown said in when she testified to the state Senate against the Fair Districts amendments.

"If passed, the ballot language being proposed by Fair Districts Florida will set Florida back to where it was 17 years ago, said Brown. In the Florida state Senate alone, it is estimated that as many as five of the seven state Senate seats held by African-Americans could be endangered.

The Democrats at the media event Thursday lashed out against Brown, Lawson and Siplin.

Its an obvious attempt to use minority members to do the dirty work, said Thompson.

Were not personally attacking them, said Thurston, but theyre wrong.

Republicans backing the clarifying measures agreed with Brown, Lawson and Siplin.

The proposed amendment is essential to the protection of minority rights, said Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, in reference to the clarifying amendment working its way through the House. It is designed to preserve the ability of the Legislature to advance the rights and interests of minority citizens.

In the last two redistricting cycles, however, the Legislature has exercised its discretion discretion which the Voting Rights Act does not protect to go well beyond that mandatory minimum, said Cannon. It is this discretion to afford greater protection for minorities that the amendments undermine.

Reach Kevin Derby at or (850) 727-0859.

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