Pedicini: Tampa Bay Times is wrong; new district boundaries will work

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The following is a guest post from political consultant Anthony Pedicini, a Republican strategist who has worked on dozens of legislative campaigns throughout Florida.

The people of Florida have spoken.  The directive was given.  Fair Districts Amendments 5 and 6 passed and directed the Florida Legislature to redraw congressional and legislative districts that neither favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party, that protect the voting rights of minorities and draw districts that are compact and where feasible follow political and geographic boundaries.

Proof that legislators followed both the spirit and letter of the law are abundant all across Florida.  However, the Tampa Bay Times refuses to point those obvious examples out to their readership.  The notion that the newly drawn maps did not comply with spirit and the letter of the new amendments is unfair.

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder
The Times notes what an improvement the current maps are as compared to the old districts.  And, they’re right.  Many legislators and congressmen were drawn into districts with other incumbents and, at least one, Brad Drake, a member of the majority party, has decided not to run as a result.   The resulting maps create a chess game of movement as legislative and congressional incumbents search for new houses in familiar and unfamiliar places.
Congressmen Rooney, West, Stearns, Mica, and Adams, all members of the majority party, all have to move or challenge one another.   And, in the case of Mica and Adams, one will be retired come August 14.  If these were unfair districts, would so many Republican incumbents be on the move?
Fairness does not mean Parity
 
But the Times also gets the new district maps wrong in an entirely different way.  They now assert a new extra-constitutional theory of requiring the achievement of specific electoral outcomes as a result of the newly adopted constitutional amendments, specifically the advocacy of more Democrats elected to the United States Congress and the Florida Legislature. This new assertion however specifically violates the constitutional principle of neither favoring nor disfavoring a political party.
The argument that Florida has more Democrats registered in the state than any other party or that George W Bush and Al Gore essentially tied in 2000 should therefore translate into legislative and congressional parity is simply ridiculous and fails to take into account the numerous factors that play a key role in the election of candidates, namely: party organization, fundraising, strength of candidates and parties, voter turnout efforts, cross party voting, political geography and more.
For example, it is widely known that throughout north Florida numerous counties are overwhelming Democratic in registration but have historically voted overwhelmingly for the Republican nominee for president.  These are the type of factors that Amendments 5 and 6 said must be ignored in lieu of the specific criteria now enacted in the constitution and stated above.
 
Minority districts do not mean “Packing”
This is where the Times betrays its true intent.  Asking for minority voters to be diluted into neighboring districts to increase competitiveness could jeopardize minority representation in both Tallahassee and Washington.  And, since there are no firm standards defined by the courts on retrogression, legislators were correct to err on the side of caution and protect minority voting rights and representation.
In fact, the State House, State Senate, and U.S. Congressional districts all increase Hispanic representation as that segment of the population has increased the fastest of any other in Florida.  Members of the Orlando Latino community showed up to meetings, sent emails, and saw their voices heard in all three new maps.  The Times would simply use Obama’s performance in minority districts, which would not ensure minority representation and could trigger court challenges on the grounds of retrogression.  Again, the legislature was right to err on the side of minority representation- the Times is wrong.
Tampa Bay
 
Tampa Bay could do well under the new maps. The Bay will now be represented by at least six members of the United States Congress.  US Reps. Buchanan, Ross, Rooney, Young, Bilirakis, and Castor will all have an interest in Tampa Bay, its issues, and its people.
To claim that this new additional representation only serves one person again is a ridiculous claim.  The Times uses Representative Ross as an example but fails to point out that in a district of 697,000 residents, Ross already represents approximately 497,000 of them and the district has more registered Democrats than Republicans- exactly what the Times stated it would prefer when it stated, “The minority voting-age population in those districts could be reduced- and some of those residents spread to adjoining districts to make those districts more competitive…”
Again, proving the maps to be fair, The Times points out the new maps have caused at least one Tampa Republican, Mark Sharpe, to suspend his Congressional bid.  If the maps truly favored Republicans wouldn’t Sharpe have a better, more competitive district?
The Times fails to bring to light the many changes to the Tampa Bay State Legislative delegation that could ultimately see more competitive legislative races like in newly minted Senate District 22, which is an evenly matched district for both parties. House Districts 58, 59 and 63 not to mention every Polk County district, and at least three of the Pinellas districts all become competitive or give Democrats the registration advantages the Time seeks.
Since the courts are accountable to no one, they should stay out of the map drawing business.  Voters can hold legislative leaders accountable while there is no recourse against an activist judiciary.  Many people, including this one, aren’t happy with the new maps, and that fact alone indicates they probably are as fair as any political process could have produced.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.