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Sarasota Friday, Sep. 6, 2019 2 months ago

Our View: Who's playing politics now? Draw new county districts now

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Sarasota County voters overwhelmingly approved single-member districts in the 2018 election. There are many compelling reasons to implement them.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

If  you have followed the protests over the Sarasota County Commission opting to proceed with redistricting before the 2020 elections, sorry, but we can’t help it: The protesters are making this drama laughable.

Try this out: 

Those opposed to the commission moving forward with redistricting, we’re guessing, are mostly activist Democrats. They’re among those who campaigned hard to persuade county voters to pass in the 2018 general election a charter amendment that called for redistricting the County Commission into five single-member districts.

Contrary to anything they say, this has been the Democratic Party’s obvious efforts to break the Republicans’ lock on the five County Commission seats. It’s part of the Democrat Party’s national playbook — start at the grassroots to turn red and purple states blue.

Now here’s the laughable part: These opponents to redistricting now are accusing the Republican commissioners of gerrymandering and, get this, of playing politics!

The irony is, as we said in June, “is priceless.” Indeed, we’re reprinting an editorial in the Sarasota Observer that shows: 1) redistricting now is far from a precedent; and 2) how in 2017 a Democrat School Board member gerrymandered board districts to protect her seat. Apparently, it’s OK if they do it, if they “play politics.”

And let’s be real. Democrats squawking about gerrymandering is incredibly disingenuous. For starters, even U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in a landmark ruling in June on gerrymandering: “You can take race out of politics, but you can’t take politics out of politics.” 

Roberts also noted that “partisan gerrymandering is nothing new.” People don’t like it, but the framers of the Constitution were aware of it and accepted it when they ratified the Constitution.

Beyond that, if you want to talk about gerrymandering, go back prior to the 1980s in Florida. For a half-century, Florida Democrats ruled the Legislature. Do you think that just happened because they were so brilliant at governing the state? Get real.

Now let’s look at some facts before accusing Republican county commissioners of playing politics to protect their seats:

  •  In November 2018, 60% of Sarasota County voters approved a charter amendment to create five single-member districts. Unfortunately, the ballot measure did not specify when that would or should occur.
  • State statutes require that new districts may be drawn only in odd, off-election years.
  • In 2010, Florida voters added to the state constitution provisions that: 

1) Forbid districts that “favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent”; 

2) Forbid districts from being drawn to deny equal opportunity to racial or language minorities; 

3) Require districts to “consist of contiguous territory”; and

4) Require districts to “be as nearly equal in population as is practicable” and to “utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.”

Combine those facts, and you have a compelling argument to complete the redistricting now and not wait, as the Democrats want, until after the 2020 census is completed.

When voters overwhelmingly approved redistricting, the message was decisive: Single-member districts now, not three years from now. And as Commissioner Nancy Detert told us: “The reason we’re doing it now is we have an election coming up. And it would be nice if we have fair and balanced districts” — as the constitution requires.

Commissioner Nancy Detert: “The reason we’re doing it now is we have an election coming up. And it would be nice if we have fair and balanced districts” — as the constitution requires.

As the districts are now, there is a 12% differential between at least two of the districts, which makes it worth noting that one of the County Commission’s consultants said redistricting typically is triggered when there is a 3% differential.

“The main thing voters need to know,” Detert told us, “it should be about the numbers” — equal numbers.

Indeed. If redistricting does not occur before the 2020 commission elections, you can predict there will be lawsuits from the losing political parties or candidates citing the fact the County Commission did not abide by the state constitution.

Opponents to redistricting, on the other hand, keep making an issue over having population figures from the 2020 census. But when you think about the urgency of having equal-population districts for the 2020 election, there is enough reliable data from credible sources (e.g. the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, for one) to create equally populated county districts now. After all, let’s remember: When Democrat School Board member Shirley Brown sought to redraw the board’s districts for her benefit, the school board used voter-registration data — with no outcries of faulty figures.

If redistricting does not occur before the 2020 commission elections, you can predict there will be lawsuits from the losing political parties or candidates citing the fact the County Commission did not abide by the state constitution.

What’s more, given the other mandates in the state constitution, it’s a red herring to say that the Republican commissioners are going to create unfair districts via back-room gerrymandering. The League of Women Voters will be ready to stop that, to be sure.

Also, Commissioner Detert repeatedly has insisted the process of drawing new districts will be open, transparent and debated. She wants public hearings in all five districts and wants them televised. Likewise, she has invited any group that wants to participate to submit maps of how the districts should be drawn.

We hear and read frequently how lawmakers in Tallahassee subvert the will of voters by not implementing constitutional amendments and playing politics. How ironic: We have a case of local lawmakers wanting to implement the will of the voters, but they are being thwarted by a tiny minority that, unequivocally, is playing politics.

Draw the new districts now.

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