I am writing in response to the guest essay on Florida’s redistricting process by the respective presidents of the League of Women Voters of Florida and of Collier County.
As a former member of the League of Women Voters of Collier County and a current member of the Florida House of Representatives’ Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, I am disappointed by the league’s statements and I feel compelled to set the record straight.
The Florida Redistricting Committee researched the redistricting process of every other state in the country, and I can honestly say the Florida Legislature’s engagement of its citizenry in the once-a-decade process of redistricting our legislative and congressional boundaries is more open and transparent than in any other state.
For example, this summer the Legislature is hosting 26 meetings throughout Florida, including one in Naples on Aug. 31, to take public input. The Legislature has also made its redistricting software and data available online to the public via www.floridaredistricting.org. Furthermore, the Legislature is using an unprecedented level of social media to give Floridians an opportunity to participate throughout the redistricting process.
The bottom line is that the Legislature is offering Floridians the opportunity to start the redistricting conversation without any preconceived notions on the table, yet the league continues to berate the Legislature for not providing maps of the proposed districts before hearing from the public.
This position is perplexing because 10 years ago the league proposed legislative and congressional maps for consideration prior to the time that the maps were drawn by the Legislature. In fact, for more than 30 years the league has campaigned for many of the redistricting standards adopted by Florida voters in November 2010, Amendments 5 and 6. Yet just last month, the league’s first vice president, Pamela Goodman, emailed the chairman of our House Redistricting Committee to say, “I want to make it very clear that no local league, or the Florida state league, is currently planning on developing any redistricting maps.”
So after 30 years of campaigning and drawing maps during the previous redistricting, suddenly the league’s leadership has issued what appears to be a “gag” order on its members from offering specific suggestions in this redistricting.
For years I have greatly respected the mission of the league, encouraging “informed and active participation in government.” That is why I am troubled by the league’s recent comments that its members will not fully participate this time.
I am also disappointed in the league’s comments because I can now say with confidence that we need the direct input of Florida’s many diverse communities. Recently I attended redistricting meetings in the Northeast, North Central and the Panhandle of Florida. We heard from hundreds of Floridians who supported Florida’s new redistricting legal standards. Yet, from one meeting to the next we also heard how different communities believe those standards should apply to their communities.
It would have been nothing short of pure arrogance to have arrived at those communities with maps in hand before hearing from the citizens in those communities. Interestingly enough, this very point was agreed to by the framers of Amendments 5 and 6. In 2009, a principal author of Amendments 5 and 6, Jon Mills, wrote that the intent of the new redistricting standards is for the public to “have the opportunity to comment before and after the Legislature draws the initial maps.” In 2010, the chairperson for FloridaFairDistricts.org, Ellen Freidin, told a joint legislative committee that it would be impossible to draw “compliant” or “appropriate” maps until after the Legislature has first heard from the public.
As a citizen legislator, my basic goal with this issue and any other is to represent the voice of my constituents. With the issue of redistricting, opportunities for citizens to guide their legislators’ decisions only come once a decade. To date, I can report that we are in receipt of 12 proposed maps from Florida residents, an additional 68 proposals in writing and we have heard the testimony of approximately 470 Floridians from the first nine of our 26 public hearings.
I am proud that the state of Florida is taking the lead on offering its citizens the opportunity to make a real difference in deciding how their districts are to be drawn.
Going forward, I hope that the League of Women Voters and all other groups who are interested in this very important process will join with the Legislature and the citizens of the state of Florida to draw our new districts in accordance with the standards and principals of our representative democracy.