Well, it’s time to follow a developing story again, at least for a while. I should probably update an older developing story, too, but I’ll do it when I bloody well feel like it, thank you very much.
It is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that the state of Florida’s method of drawing political boundaries is broken. The same could be said for, oh, about 40 other states as well, almost certainly including your own state, dear reader. (Don’t you hate it when columnists get all smarmy and address you as “dear reader?” What the hell is that all about anyway? I’m not Miss Manners. But I'll try to be better mannered after the jump.)
Here’s what happens. Every ten years, the legislature sits down with a bunch of census data and, these days, expensive computer programs, and commences to choose from among all the voters in the state those that each legislator would most like to have to face in elections for the next ten years. It doesn’t matter which party is in power; both parties do their best (some do better than others) to alleviate the common problem of competition during elections. In Florida during the 2004 elections, of 120 state representatives, 51 faced no opponents whatsoever; 8 faced only write-in opponents; 17 saw their election decided in the party primary; thus only 44 actually faced opponents who both had a chance of winning and who presented voters with an alternative.
Furthermore, of 20 state senators, 11 faced no opponent, and only 6 races featured members of the two major parties squaring off against one another.
Worse still, of the state’s 25 Congressmen, 4 faced no opponents (including, to no one’s surprise, Tom Feeney and Mario Diaz-Balart, who both drew their own districts in 2001), 5 faced only write-in or token opposition, and only 1 (that’s right, just one) faced an opponent who managed to gain more than 40% of the vote. That one, of course, was Krazy Kat Harris--her district is so Republican that only a clearly psychotic person who makes use of Homer Simpson's makeup shotgun could possibly do as poorly as... well, as Harris. No district in the state is designed to be competitive; on average, Republicans who faced "serious" opposition won their districts with 66% of the vote; the two Democrats who faced non-token opposition won with 65.9%.
Now, the jackanapes in Congress and the state leg of course claim that this is actually a GOOD thing, because it shows that the people in each district are happy with their Congressman or woman. This is a lie. No recent poll places national approval of Congress higher than 30%. What's more, few Congressmen can claim better than 50% name recognition in their own districts, so clearly the voters are not in love with their Congressmen. And in the current clime, it’s relatively rare to see a sitting member of either party face serious opposition to re-election in his or her primary; it does happen, absolutely, but only to a handful of office-holders. In short, folks who are in the minority party in any given Congressional or state house district face little to no chance of electing someone from their party. This is disenfranchisement.
So comes the idea, this year, of having an “independent” bipartisan commission draw up our legislative lines for future censuses. (I always think that word should be “censes.”)
Here is an exciting article about the effort from yesterday’s Times.
Let’s see, what does it say there… well, it seems the commission doing the line drawing would have six Republicans, six Democrats, and three members chosen by the state Supreme Court who must have no party affiliation or be members of third parties. That sounds reasonably fair.
Politicians immediately say, well, you can’t claim that a body chosen by politicians will be nonpolitical. Good point. And, by saying it, the politicians are admitting that redistricting is entirely a political process when they do it. So can it get any worse? Probably not.
Former supporters of independent redistricting, like current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Congressman/beneficiary-of-partisan-redistricting Ander Crenshaw, no longer support the idea. Why? Because their party is now in power. Woo-hoo! Crist cravenly says, when questioned, “Can’t I change my mind?”
I don’t know, Charlie. You’ve been criticizing your opponent Tom Gallagher for changing his mind about abortion and other issues ever since you jumped into this race. So as far as I’m concerned, no, you can’t change your mind. You lost that right you cast the first stone at Gallagher for doing the same thing.
Meanwhile, our current governor Jeb Bush goes out to Miami to help Arnold Schwarzenegger raise money for his campaign to create an independent commission to redraw California’s districts—because an independent commission would likely give more seats in California to Republicans. But does Bush support the Florida plan?
No. Why not? Good question. We’re still waiting on a real answer.
Now today comes word that one of three separate ballot measures the group pushing independent redistricting (a branch of Common Cause) may not be legal in the first place. Why? Too many words.
Of course, the state division of elections, which is supposed to monitor for things like that, approved the ballot initiative’s wording months ago before the group could start collecting signatures (of which they have about 200,000, a third of what they need). Now, it’s too late; odds are the state Supreme Court will invalidate the ballot measure regardless of how many signatures they collect. The only way to fix the matter now is to resubmit the application with corrected wording (it’s only six words too long), get that approved by the state, and then go back and try to get the 200,000 people who already signed the thing to sign the revised petition. This is a massive expenditure of funds and, in the end, it’s more likely that the measure will simply be left off the ballot.
The measure that the six words will invalidate is a measure requiring that congressional and legislative districts be drawn so that they favor no one party or candidate. This is, of course, the most important of the three measures, as it would have come into effect with or without the bipartisan commission and would have permitted citizens to sue the state legislature if they drew districts blatantly favoring one candidate or party. This is, of course, also the most unpalatable of the three measures, as far as the state, the legislature, and the individual politicians, are concerned.
Now, it’s true that the state Supreme Court has never yet invalidated a ballot measure because of wordiness. That said, this is a very, very unpopular ballot measure among sitting officeholders. Almost every politician in the state is going to come out against it, and you can bet that the GOP guys will be criticizing those awful “activist judges” on the state Supreme Court if they don’t invalidate the measure, precedent be damned.
You know how when you see bug flipped over on its back, struggling to right itself, before you squish it you have to sort of watch for a minute? That’s what’s happening right now; the politicians are struggling to stop this thing, and before we squish them, we sort of want to watch them struggle.