Publisher’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Katy Burnett our newest writer to The Florida Squeeze site. Katy who is a Florida native will become a familiar name to our readers over the course of the next several months as she discusses hot-button issues in the state as well as election 2014.
If you are a follower of The Florida Squeeze, chances are that you are following the redistricting case in Tallahassee fairly closely. The intrigue, the lies, the revelations, and the sheer drama of human emotions makes for incredibly riveting politics. Naked greed and ambition, sheer incompetence of officials, and a bold disregard for the law are so obvious that it is astonishing there is even an attempt to hide guilt. It should be a reality show. Even with the doors of the court firmly closed, the suspense is simply overwhelming.
But what is this case actually going to accomplish? Legally, gerrymandering is an intensely gray area. Although the US Supreme Court case Davis v. Bandermer established in 1986 that the courts did indeed have a voice over the redistricting process, subsequent rulings have yet to come up with a clear rule to determine the constitutional stance on the practice. Vieth v. Jubelirer in 2004 actually ruled the partisan gerrymandering did not warrant a constitutional violation. This was upheld even under the infamous Tom Delay redistricting in Texas that was challenged in LULAC v. Perry in 2006. As Justice Kennedy points out, there is no “lemon test” for gerrymandering for the court to work off of and no clear line for determining how much partisan politics should play in the map drawing. Until the court takes on a case and makes a clear standard, the Constitutional legality of gerrymandering is fuzzy at best, no matter how many people complain against it.
While the US Supreme Court seems to be simply waiting for the perfect case to come along to determine the legal standard for gerrymandering, the Florida Supreme Court may actually get some where for us in the great state of Florida. In 2010, Florida passed the Fair Districts Amendment, which states that “No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.” This drew a line in the sand and now it is up to the lawyers to determine exactly how much partisan influence should determine districts against the US Supreme Court rulings. This lawsuit will help etch out the boundaries of this constitutional amendment. Make no mistake, the outcome of this case will undoubtedly set the tone for years to come in the Florida redistricting process. However, what will this trial really mean for politics in the state of Florida in the short term?
Turns out, probably not much.
Does this lawsuit mean that maps will suddenly appear that are fair and competitive? No. A resounding-standing-ovation no. Oh-so-very-no. Sure, what the Republican Party did was clearly masterful manipulation and deception to ensure the safe Congressional seats. Sure, the tricks that they used were dirty. All of that was completely expected. And yes, the congressional maps will probably have to be re-drawn and a few more seats might be competitive. Will the public remember this when Will Weatherford inevitably runs for his next office? Probably not. There is no legal basis to bring charges against Weatherford or Gaetz and both of them have left the state house and in a few months more than likely they will have retreated far into the private sector. Neither of them faces any real consequence, so there will not be any significant change in behavior for future misbehavior. The only real consequence came out just this morning: there is a possibility that districts may even have to be redrawn before the election in November, which means that the fall slate of elections could be completely rearranged later this summer.
Are Democrats in any position to take advantage of this?
Florida Democrats need to have a plan and a strategy to get that plan accomplished. Republicans do not dominate solely because they have gerrymandered safe districts: they win in the state of Florida because they have a vision and resources that are dedicated to leadership development. They attract drastically more investment because donors can see exactly where that money goes because they have a clear plan. A clear vision invites investment much more than rhetoric does. This lawsuit is not going to make a level playing field and yet, the game must go on. Democrats just have to learn how to be competitive. The Florida Democratic Party is still struggling to get names on the ballot before the filing deadline latter this month. Would more competitive districts motivate the Florida Democratic Party to actually get out and do more candidate recruitment and leadership development? Considering the number of winnable districts that sit uncontested with just a weeks before the filing deadline, it looks doubtful. What could they possibly accomplish with more districts? Probably just continue to be incompetent.
Democrats do not need more districts. Democrats first need a vision and a plan.
The reality is that while all of this ugly underbelly of state politics is wildly entertaining, the outcome will more than likely be a mere hiccup in politics as usual. Yes, the Republican Party went to great lengths to manipulate the process. And yes, this trial is important in the long run for gerrymandering laws in the state. However, it does not mean that Florida Democrats can go any longer without some sort of plan forward. It is important to keep the focus on the election coming up later this year and not get lost in the courtroom antics. If there is any hope to be had in this redistricting process, it should motivate the Party to get their act together.