Florida's Redistricting News
Roll Call: "Between
the Lines (excerpt)." December 3, 2001
Brown v. Thurman?
Republicans who run Florida's redistricting have floated the first two House maps, both of which shore up GOP Reps. Clay Shaw and Bill Young and take direct aim at Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown and Karen Thurman.
Introduced by state Reps. Andy Gardiner (R) and Frank Farkas (R), the maps create two new Republican districts, one east of Orlando and one in south Florida. Both proposals also increase the GOP's presence in Rep. Allen Boyd's (D) district and create a safe Sarasota-based district for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (R).
The maps are the opening salvo in Florida's upcoming redistricting battle, a closely watched remap that will formally begin when the state's GOP-controlled Legislature convenes Jan. 22. Other state legislators plan to submit their own maps, including state Sen. Daniel Webster (R) and state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), the brother of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R), who may run in the new district being planned for south Florida.
Nonetheless, the Farkas and Gardiner proposals offer the first insight into how Sunshine State Republicans may try to help House GOP leaders, who have been frustrated by their meager gains in states such as Texas.
Boyd, was re-elected last year with 72 percent, could see his Tallahassee-based 2nd district become more Republican. President Bush, who took the current 2nd by 1 percent, would have won by 14 points under Gardiner's plan and 17 points if the Farkas plan were implemented.
Brown and Thurman, widely considered to be the GOP's most likely redistricting targets, may be forced to run in the same north Florida district under both plans. State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite (R), a member of that chamber's redistricting committee, may run against Thurman.
Both maps help Shaw, who won re-election by just 599 votes last year, and Young, the Appropriations Committee chairman.
Gore, who won Shaw's Fort Lauderdale-based 22nd district by 19 points in 2000, would have carried it by just 8 points under the Gardiner plan and 9 points under the Farkas plan. The Democrat, who carried Young's St. Petersburg-based district by 9 points, would have won by just 1 point under both plans.
We need to give the voters an opportunity to vote for an independent reapportionment commission and to set additional standards for reapportionment.
The League of Women Voters has chosen to make this a priority issue, and priority it must be if we are to accomplish our goal.
This is a non-partisan, good-government issue.
The Florida Legislature draws legislative and congressional districts every 10 years following the census. I served in the Legislature during a redistricting year; it was not a pretty sight. The overriding objectives of redistricting are (and always have been) to protect incumbents and strengthen the party in power.
The method that we are proposing is fair to all concerned. Who knows what party will be in power in 2002 or 2012? We are advocating a long-term solution to be in the Constitution that will solve a problem that has been out of control for years. It is unrealistic to expect the legislators to be unbiased when it comes to their seat or their future plans. We need to relieve the legislators of this responsibility and have a system that will be fair to all Floridians. Our proposal will benefit the people, not the political party that is in power during the reapportionment session.
The first amendment establishes standards for redistricting that mandate that legislative and congressional districts be contiguous and compact, and that districts respect county and municipal boundaries to the extent possible.
It forbids redistricting decisions based on incumbency or party affiliation. The amendment also forbids the creation of districts that will dilute the voting strength of any group based on race, religion or national origin.
Amendment II calls for an independent commission appointed by the majority and the minority members of the Florida House and Senate. Those 16 members would then select a 17th member who could not be a member of either major party.
It would take a three-fifths vote to approve their reapportionment plan. You would have to have both parties involved to approve the plan. We used this method in the constitution revision process and it worked very well. Every member of the commission must sign an oath not to run for the Legislature or lobby for four years following their service. This should help to eliminate vested self-interest. All actions of the commission will be open and conducted in the sunshine. The Florida Supreme Court will have final review of the plan, which cannot be amended by the Legislature.
I firmly believe that the people will vote for these good government amendments if we can get the required signatures to get them on the ballot. This drive is an enormous grass roots effort, and I do mean effort. Please get to work now and stay the course until August. We can be a historic first, for People Over Politics, no more government as usual.
The author is a former state representative from Melbourne. This commentary was adapted from one written for the League of Women Voters.
In January, Florida's state legislators will start designing the districts in which they and their successors will campaign for the next decade.
The state's League of Women Voters and Common Cause don't think that's fair or wise. So on Saturday at the Boca Raton and Delray Beach green markets, league members will ask local residents to sign on to change the state's redistricting system.
The groups will circulate petitions calling for an independent, appointed commission -- instead of legislators themselves -- to draw state legislative and congressional districts, as is required every decade to reflect population shifts. The commission could not include state and federal officials and their employees, party workers, lobbyists and their relatives. Appointees could not seek office or become lobbyists for four years.
A second provision would call for "compact" districts that keep counties intact and are not designed to favor or disadvantage incumbents or political parties.
The good-government groups hope to get both questions on next November's ballot, having fallen short of the needed signatures last year.
"We have a ways to go," said Joan Karp, South Palm Beach County League of Women Voters president. And they have a short time to get there.
They need about 49,000 signatures just to get the state Supreme Court to review the proposals for legal particulars, and almost 489,000 names to get the questions on the ballot.
The deadline for getting all the signatures, as well as the Supreme Court's approval, is Aug. 6.
So far, the "People Over Politics" campaign has gathered about 19,000 valid signatures statewide for each proposal, according to state election officials.
In Palm Beach County, the groups have amassed about 1,300 valid signatures for each measure, local elections officials say.
Even if the proposals pass next year, they wouldn't take effect until the next round of redistricting -- in 2010, after the next census.
This round of redistricting is supposed to be finished by early May. But the process has a history of becoming a protracted battle to balance raw numbers, geography, minority interests, party politics and self-preservation.
In 1992, redistricting dragged on through six months and $10 million worth of legal bills, staff time and other expenses, leaving potential candidates little time to figure out where they were running. Although the 1992 election went forward, the district map wasn't settled permanently until the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in two years later.
Pointing to such shenanigans, the People Over Politics coalition says legislators shouldn't be entrusted with the job.
"The fact that legislators are able to draw districts that help them makes it more difficult for challengers to win," says Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida. "And when the Legislature draws these flawed plans, taxpayers end up footing the bill to defend them in court."
Although legislators have rejected the idea of replacing themselves with a district-drawing committee, the state's 1998 Constitution Revision Commission came close to recommending it. Several Western states already do so.
In Idaho and Arizona, the commissions went to work for the first time this year, after voters decided to take redistricting out of their legislatures' hands for some of the reasons the People Over Politics group cites.
Both the Idaho and Arizona commissions already have approved new district maps, although the Idaho commission's plan has been challenged in court. The Arizona plan is undergoing a required U.S. Justice Department review.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6636.
The League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other public-interest groups are working on a petition drive to place two constitutional amendments on the 2002 ballot. The effort is called People Over Politics. If approved by voters, it would remove the power to draw Florida voting-district lines from elected officials and give it to an independent commission.
The first amendment would create an independent reapportionment commission of Democrats and Republicans, eight each, appointed by legislative party leaders. Eleven of those 16 members would then agree on a 17th member from a third political party. To make this commission as independent as possible, state officials, legislators, lobbyists, party officers, relatives or employees would be excluded.
Members would have to swear not to seek office or be paid lobbyists for four years. A super majority would be required to approve a districting plan, insuring bipartisan support. Such commissions have worked well in other states, and resulting districting plans have been more balanced and less subject to legal challenge.
The second amendment would establish standards to guide the commission as it draws new district lines. They would require that districts respect city and county boundaries whenever possible, protect voting strength of minorities and religious groups and not favor or disfavor any incumbent lawmaker or political party.
Why is the League pursuing these constitutional amendments? Because of ``gerrymandering,'' which refers to an oddly shaped district designed to pack as many of one party's voters as possible into a district.
Every 10 years after the census, districts lines are redrawn. The process is underway now, and the stakes couldn't be higher. Political parties are pouring millions into the process, and gerrymanders can produce effective disenfranchisement.
Redistricting offers a unique opportunity to impact the political process at its core. How district lines are drawn affects our ability to elect candidates who will make decisions affecting our communities, state and nation.
League members and supporters will be gathering signatures for the amendments on Dec. 1 throughout Florida. Look for the ``Stop Gerrymandering'' signs. Reforms will eliminate the conflict of interest that elected officials face when drawing their own district lines and will give challengers a fair chance to make their case to voters. For further information or to download petitions, go to www.peopleoverpolitics.com or call a local League of Women Voters.
Jane A. Gross
The Miami backlash and the Puerto Rico blues have combined into some kind of bad karma. From Deltona to Kissimmee, Hispanics have lost political ground this year.
In Orlando's black and white communities, many look at Miami and fear brash ethnic politics and upheavals are on the way here. So the backlash against Central Florida Hispanics keeps growing, with the redistricting lockout a prime example.
Many in the Puerto Rican community, for their part, will tell you they're not interested. They've left behind their political passions on the island, where an 85 percent voter turnout is not uncommon. They've left behind the divisive racial politics of New York, where Hispanic voters this month were so turned off by black/Hispanic tensions that huge numbers of Latino Democrats bolted to the GOP's candidate.
So when local redistricting came up in Central Florida this year, what did Hispanics do? A few got involved, but it was nothing like the kind of fuss the African-American community created this summer in an effort to protect Corrine Brown's congressional district.
And when mayoral elections came up this month in Deltona, a city that's one-fifth Hispanic, what did voters there do when they had a chance to elect Joe Perez, a Puerto Rican with six years experience on the council? They stayed away.
"Hispanics didn't go out and vote," Perez told Democrats in Orlando on a recent Saturday. "They told me, 'Jose, we're behind you. We're there for you.' But when the time came, where were they?"
Perez, who left the Republican Party earlier this year, was among a group of several dozen prominent Hispanics who met recently at Brisas del Caribe restaurant in east Orlando to hear the Democratic National Committee's pitch to energize the Latino vote.
Andres Gonzalez, the DNC's Latino Affairs point man, acknowledged the obvious: Central Florida will be at the center of presidential elections to come. "We realize that either party, to be dominant in the future, must have the Latino vote," he said.
Juan Jose Rosario, a Puerto Rican who came to hear Gonzalez, hit a raw political nerve when he asked: "What are the Democrats doing for us?"
His question prompted Orange County Democratic Party Vice President Evelyn Rivera to challenge the audience. "If nobody wants to work -- to run for precinct leaders, to volunteer in campaigns -- then we can't complain," she said.
Round and round we go.
The Democratic Party locally hasn't done enough over the years to gain credibility with Hispanic voters, which is probably why so few Hispanics feel connected to it. In Osceola County, Dalis Guevara and Armando Ramirez, among others, fight for fair representation for Hispanics. In Orange County, Rivera's very active on education issues. Belinda Ortiz is an up-and-comer with economic-development credentials who lost to an out-of-touch incumbent in Orlando's District 2 last year. Norberto Katz and James Auffant, both lawyers, have a long list of community service. Others come and go.
The Florida Republican Party, meanwhile, aggressively courts Hispanics to run for local offices, and will put good money behind those candidates.
By contrast, when Democrat Tony Suarez ran for a state House seat in a majority Republican district in a special election in 1999, the state Democratic leadership resisted spending a penny until the very end. Suarez won that election in spite of the party.
And so we've come to this: The area's highest ranking Hispanic elected official is Orange County Commissioner Mary Johnson, but the Democrat doesn't stick her neck out for anyone. At the DNC meeting, she told the crowd that they must unite to elect Hispanics. Yet her policy is not to endorse candidates for local offices -- no matter how qualified they are or how hard they've worked for her own campaigns. So much for unity or loyalty.
This year, Suarez and community activists Marytza Sanz, Carlos Guzman, Edwin Nieves and others formed Latino Leadership in an effort to get Hispanics politically informed. So far, the organization has held several well-attended forums, and it's shaking things up. The test will be a year from now when voters will pick the governor and other key officials. Will Hispanics make a difference?
Call it a backlash, the blues or bad karma. Whatever may ail the Hispanic community this year is no excuse to stay put and not vote in 2002.
Reach Myriam Marquez at [email protected]
St. Petersburg Times
Republicans in the Legislature promise that the redrawing of legislative districts will be the most open in Florida's history. But what happened Monday didn't make Democrats feel any more confident about that.
Rep. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, wondered aloud what Republicans plan for a recently refurbished third-floor Capitol office.
She said "the rumor on the street" is that Room 327 is where Republicans will redo the state's political map for 2002, so she decided to pop the question to Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, chairman of the House Procedural and Redistricting Council.
"I'm wondering if all of us will have access to that office," Gannon asked at an afternoon meeting.
"I don't know what's up there," Byrd answered. "I think there's a press room up there. . . . Could you be more specific?"
The office was used for a couple of news conferences, but now it has a huge printer capable of printing large maps of districts.
A staffer in the office, Jennifer Chester, works in a room with colorful maps of the current districts on the wall. Yes, she said, Room 327 is a redistricting office, and an October House guide lists it that way.
"You're telling me something I don't know, if there's a staff person who has an office in there," Byrd said, "and quite frankly it doesn't matter. Redistricting exists in the hearts and minds of the members."
It surely was a decade ago, when Democrats controlled the House and Republicans regularly complained that they were denied access to the computers and demographic data needed to make maps of the state's political landscape. Now the tables are turned and the Republicans are in charge.
The chairman of the House committee on congressional reapportionment, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said Democrats knew full well that Room 327 is a redistricting office because several of them took lessons there to learn how to use "FREDS," the software for the redistricting process.
"How can it be a secret room if Democrats were invited to go there?" Diaz-Balart said.
Gannon said she knew all along that Republicans had set up shop in the room but wanted to "get it on the table."
Most worrisome to some Democrats is that the wall outside 327 contains a security keypad, which holds a secret code known only to those allowed access to the room.
Democrats have nothing to fear, Byrd said: "When we say this is going to be an open, fair and member-driven process, we mean it."
At least three Republican members of Congress have hired lobbyists in the Florida capital to help protect their jobs as state lawmakers prepare to redraw district lines.
U.S. Reps. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale, Ric Keller of Orlando and Cliff Stearns of Ocala each have secured high-powered advocates in the Capitol, even though their own party controls both chambers of the Legislature and will make the calls on new district lines.
``We need to have our own eyes and ears in Tallahassee,'' said Jason Miller, chief of staff to Keller, a freshman congressman from Orlando. Keller has hired lobbyist John Johnson, whose client list also includes the Florida Telecommunications Association, Florida Power & Light and Miami-Dade County.
The practice of hiring lobbyists is not unprecedented during redistricting, which takes place every 10 years, because members of Congress either do not want to relegate themselves to personally showing up in the Capitol to fight for their own districts and because they often do not have time to do it.
But the fact that members of Congress feel they need to hire lobbyists back in the state capital signals the emotional intensity and unpredictability of the reapportionment process. With state legislators making decisions that directly affect their own jobs, and the jobs of the state's congressional delegation, reapportionment -- in which state and national districts are redrawn to accommodate population changes -- is widely considered the most politically divisive activity the Legislature undertakes.
Despite the Republican Party's control over both houses, House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President have had a rocky relationship, even failing earlier this fall to reach an agreement on fixing Florida's budget crisis.
Colleagues expect the rivalry between McKay and Feeney to grow even more intense during the regular session, which begins in January, largely due to redistricting. Florida is adding two additional seats in Congress, and Feeney hopes to draw one for himself.
``You really never know what's going to happen,'' said Van Poole, a former state legislator and state GOP chairman-turned-lobbyist who said he is working for Shaw.
``You have two different houses that have to get together,'' Poole said. ``People will start trading off. You have to be careful and watch for that and be ahead of the game. Everybody has somebody helping them so they don't wake up one morning and find out that the lines have been drawn that hurt.''
Neither Shaw nor Stearns could be reached for comment Tuesday.
No Public Funds Used
None of the members of Congress is using public money to hire the lobbyists.
Keller's campaign is financing the lobbying work in Tallahassee, his chief of staff said.
Poole, whose lengthy client list includes Amtrak, AT&T and Florida Power & Light, is an old friend and longtime supporter of Shaw's, and said he was working for free for now. That could change, the lobbyist added, depending on his time commitment as the process continues.
Stearns, elected in 1988, has hired the Tallahassee firm Southern Strategies Group, whose president and chief executive officer is former GOP House Speaker John Thrasher and whose lobbyists will soon include former Democratic House Speaker T.K. Wetherell.
Thrasher, who left the House a year ago, said he would not advocate for Stearns in the Legislature because of ethics rules requiring former members to wait two years before lobbying.
But he said Stearns needs a good advocate in Tallahassee, and that voters in his district would agree.
``The people have elected him and like him and want him to remain in that district,'' Thrasher said.
Next Saturday is "People Over Politics Day." Petition-gatherers will be out in force, seeking voter signatures supporting two vital state government reform amendments. If they ask you to sign, say yes.
The day was designated by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause, Florida's supervisors of elections, the PTA, the Silver-Haired Legislature and other groups. They deserve thanks of a grateful public for jump-starting a stalled amendment campaign to fix problems with a flawed process of redrawing political districts.
The state Constitution now wrongly puts state lawmakers in charge of legislative and congressional district reapportionment. Next year, using new U.S. Census figures, lawmakers must come up with new lines for 40 state Senate districts, 120 state House districts and 25 U.S. House districts.
To their shame and to voters' chagrin, lawmakers repeatedly bungled the job by gerrymandering or grotesquely distorting district lines. .
Fortunately, with these amendments, voters have the chance to "take the law into their own hands" in a peaceful and legal way.
The first amendment switches redistricting control from legislators to an independent, bipartisan appointed reapportionment commission. Legislative minority and majority party leaders would each name eight appointees. Those 16 would choose another member, who can't belong to either major party. Government officials and employees, party officers, lobbyists and their relatives could not serve.
The second amendment sets tough anti-gerrymandering guides. Districts would have to be compact and composed of contiguous territory and avoid dividing counties, cities and other political subdivisions, where possible. Districts could not be drawn to dilute the voting strength of any groups based on race, religion or national origin. And districts could not be drawn to favor or disfavor any incumbent, political party or other person.
So far, almost 20,000 voter petition signatures have been verified. If 488,722 voters sign, and the Florida Supreme Court approves ballot language, the amendments must go before voters on Nov. 5, 2002.
These long-overdue reforms deserve strong, enthusiastic public support. Circulate and sign petitions and educate fellow voters on why it's a good idea to get rid of the "crooked politics" of redistricting.
One Orange County commissioner wants to keep more Hispanic voters in her district, and another is concerned about changing the number of voting-age blacks in his district. Both are gearing up to make their arguments as the county board prepares to vote Tuesday on redistricting after a decade of dramatic growth.
After months of work by appointed volunteers, the proposed district boundaries largely leave Orange's six commission districts drawn as they have been for the past decade.
But as is often the case in the once-a-decade process, the devil is in the details, and those details have some commissioners concerned.
Commissioner Mary I. Johnson, the board's lone Hispanic member, is upset that the plan would strip her district of the Blanchard Park area, where some 606 Hispanics live.
Commissioner Homer Hartage, the only black commissioner, is concerned that the number of voting-age blacks in his District 6 would shrink from its level 10 years ago. Then, District 6's population was nearly 55 percent black and older than 18. The proposed plan would reduce that by about 6 percent.
And Commissioner Clarence Hoenstine is up for a compromise. He wants to keep all 5,624 residents of Waterford Lakes, a community that is slated to be split between his District 4 and Johnson's District 3. He proposes a switch to give Johnson back Blanchard Park.
All three plan to raise their issues Tuesday. Other commissioners are likely to offer their own versions of district fine-tuning at 3:30 p.m., when the plan is slated for consideration.
Acceptable, but not ideal
"I think the work of 10 years ago did lay a good foundation," said Fran Pignone, a former county commissioner who chaired the redistricting advisory committee, which met more than a dozen times during the summer. "I think this plan is pretty much acceptable. It may not be ideal, but it's about as good as it can get."
The county's population has soared in the past decade, up more than 200,000 to 896,344, according to the census. More than half of the newcomers identify themselves as Hispanic, and about a quarter as black.
Woody Rodriguez, an assistant county attorney who assisted the committee, said race and ethnicity can't dominate the process. Still, they loom large.
Luis Grajales, a member of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Coalition for Fair Representation and a civil engineer in Orlando, said he fears the proposed plan would prevent a Hispanic from being elected.
"They've killed many opportunities for real grass-roots Hispanic people to have a chance in District 3. It cannot be more obvious," he said.
Others are caught up in the fight for black voters.
Though Commissioner Teresa Jacobs, who represents the southwest corner of Orange, said she has only minor problems with the proposed plan, she would prefer not to lose her slice of the Orlo Vista community, a small and increasingly black area now slated for Hartage's district.
Orlo Vista on the table
She will pitch a plan to keep the community in her District 1.
However, many in Hartage's district say Orlo Vista should not be divided and that it should be in Hartage's district. James Q. Mitchell, a retired schoolteacher and Pine Hills resident, said the number of voting-age blacks in Hartage's district should not be allowed to decline.
"The objective of redistricting is to come up with a plan that is representative of the county," Mitchell said. "We need to guarantee residents the opportunity to elect a black. That's not a guarantee a black is elected, but we want to guarantee the opportunity to elect a black representative."
Differences of opinion
While some fight the changes, others are fighting the lack of them.
"I'm really irate about the process," said Doug Head, Orange County Democratic Party chairman, who said he thinks the lines should have been more dramatically altered to anticipate growth.
Commissioner Ted Edwards, whose District 5 includes Winter Park and much of north and northeast Orange, said the process is as fair as it can be.
But he will face opposition Tuesday when a large public turnout is expected to spark debate on the proposal. While a final vote is scheduled for Tuesday, many think it will be postponed.
"People don't realize how difficult it is to actually draw some lines that break up the population in a reasonable fashion and keep districts reasonably compact and contiguous," said Marcos Marchena, an Orlando attorney who served on the redistricting committee10 years ago.
Jon Steinman can be reached at [email protected] or 407-650-6333.
As some Hispanics decide whether to sue over Osceola County's recent redrawing of political boundaries, others are bemoaning the lack of involvement in the process by the area's largest minority group.
County commissioners were required to redraw their districts based on 2000 population figures, and they chose to cut the sprawling community of Buenaventura Lakes in two.
Despite the importance of the decision, which will dictate the literal shape of county politics for the next 10 years, Hispanics -- who make up more than half of Buenaventura Lakes and nearly a third of Osceola -- were all but mute on the subject.
Now, local political leaders, both Republican and Democratic, say Hispanics must get involved or risk losing control of their political future.
"There is a saying that government goes to those who show up," said Jose Hoyos, the vice chairman of the citizen committee that made recommendations on the redistricting changes. "People have to be visionary. They have to show up."
The committee met on Saturdays and even had free food to encourage people to give their input on redistricting.
Organizers expected at least 40 people for the Buenaventura Lakes event. Five people showed up.
From those five came the common theme that Osceola's second-largest community should have two commissioners, as Kissimmee and St. Cloud do, rather than one. So the advisory committee came up with plans to divide Buenaventura Lakes in half, never hearing from those who oppose such a change.
When county commissioners approved that plan earlier this month, it prompted feelings of betrayal and anger in Buenaventura Lakes and the Hispanic community countywide.
Kissimmee resident Armando Ramirez said this week that he and others have contacted attorneys to review whether the decision is open to a legal challenge. He says splitting the community dilutes the Hispanic vote.
Redistricting committee member Woody Singleton said he did not realize how political redistricting could be until after the process was over. Singleton, who voted to divide Buenaventura Lakes, said he was unaware that one of the community residents who spoke in favor of that change was the county's Republican committee chairman, Mark Cross.
Bloc's influence felt
The most prominent Hispanic resident to show up for the Buenaventura Lakes meeting said the community must move beyond the redistricting change and not focus on the details that will divide people.
Besides, Dalis Guevara said, the county could only listen to people if they showed up. None of those now considering a lawsuit were there, despite a specific invitation to the public.
"No matter where we are divided, we will have a presence," said Guevara, the widow of Osceola's only Hispanic county commissioner, Robert Guevara. "We have to turn that presence into involvement and the ability to serve the community as a whole."
Hispanics have fueled the growth that made Osceola the fastest-growing county in Central Florida and the fourth-fastest-growing in the state. By 2015, demographers predict, the county will be half Hispanic.
Already political leaders accept that Hispanic voters delivered Republican-controlled Osceola to Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. Since then, both political parties have tried to figure out ways to grab a piece of that bloc.
Into the spotlight
One way has been to take the few Hispanics who are involved and thrust them into the spotlight.
Hoyos is the treasurer of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, and some speculate he could soon run for county office.
Guevara has been active in the Democratic Party and ran unsuccessfully last year to succeed her husband. She is often a presence at community meetings and often encourages other Hispanics to become involved.
But Hoyos and Guevara are likely not enough to mobilize Hispanic residents.
Guevara is a known and trusted entity in Buenaventura Lakes. Many say they trust her to speak for them at political functions, rather than to get involved themselves.
Cindy Delvalle is among them. The sales manager and her husband, Mario Carrasquillo, moved to Buenaventura Lakes last year from Orlando. They like the small-town feel and friendliness of the people but have so far steered clear of political involvement. Both were opposed to splitting up Buenaventura Lakes, but they were unaware of the process. Instead, they put their faith in Guevara to make things right.
Guevara wants to see new power players emerge. She hopes to build two blocs of voters, on both sides of Buenaventura Lakes, so they will have a bigger effect on the two County Commission districts that represent them.
Hoyos, too, is trying to encourage more Hispanic participation while working with those already in power. The issues are the same, he said, regardless of ethnicity. And that includes the issue of apathy.
"It's time for people to behave like a big interest group," Hoyos said. "Lobbyists fill in the gap when people don't vote or don't get involved. You can't complain unless you make sure there is no gap."
April Hunt can be reached at 407-931-5940 or [email protected]
The Osceola County Commission has weighed in with its redistricting plan, which splits the heavily Hispanic area of Buenaventura Lakes.
Many people understandably are upset, saying a divided community will make it impossible to elect a Hispanic in either district. Some are threatening to sue the County Commission.
As terrible as it may sound, the whole thing leaves me unfazed because the community has demonstrated on more than one occasion that it is apathetic.
If people don't vote in the numbers they should, it makes little difference whether they're in one large district or two smaller ones.
Osceola County is one-third Hispanic, and the figure for Buenaventura Lakes is even higher -- about 50 percent. Surely, Hispanics have as much potential for affecting elections as any other group under either redistricting scenario.
First, however, they have to cast ballots.
Hispanic organizations have shown they are very good at registering voters. In Central Florida, Hispanic voter registration experienced a double-digit expansion last year, the highest of any group. Still, there's a persistent gap between registration and voting. This is the case for all groups, regardless of color or ethnicity, but for Hispanic it's more so.
Boosting voter participation should be one of the Hispanic community's primary goals.
The reason is simple: Low voter turnout translates to low political clout. Elected officials pay less attention to people who don't vote.
That doesn't mean a community can be ignored. After all, homeowners -- whether they vote or not -- pay property taxes that fill county and school district coffers and support other services. Each time you make a purchase, you pay sales taxes, which also boosts the local economy.
Elected officials also factor in other considerations as well. When Election Day comes around, who's likely to show up at the polls? To raise money? To volunteer?
The low Hispanic participation in the political process has prompted at least one political party to set up its own Hispanic group that claims to speak for Latinos -- although it represents very few.
Whose fault is that?
Besides, there may be solid reasons for splitting Buenaventura Lakes into two districts. First, BVL is where the population is. That's because Osceola County is growing to the north, where Buenaventura is located. In addition, there's an off chance that two districts might diminish the community's isolation, but only the years will tell.
It's difficult for many people to see past the division of Buenaventura Lakes because Osceola already has proven to be hostile to Hispanic voters.
Osceola returned to countywide voting as soon as a Hispanic, the late Robert Guevara, was voted county commissioner under a single-member district plan.
To many Hispanics, the split of Buenaventura Lakes may seem like another hostile maneuver, although that argument goes only so far.
The relationship between voters and elected officials is not unilateral. People can voice their opinions at the ballot box.
It might do well to remember that nobody can take advantage of you without your consent. And as cruel as it may sound, folks deserve whatever they settle for.
If you think you deserve more, then you better get involved.
Maria Padilla can be reached at 407-420-5162 or [email protected]
Redistricting is an ugly word for many voters in Central Florida, especially for Hispanics.
Osceola County's Hispanic community -- totaling more than 30 percent of the county's population, the largest concentration in Central Florida -- has suffered many blows when it comes to representation, most recently with the redistricting plan.
The plan approved by the county commission recently, critics said, dilutes the voting power of Hispanics in the district.
The plan divides Buenaventura Lakes, where half of the 23,000 residents are Hispanics, into two districts.
Critics said that the division of BVL, as the area is known, diminishes the power of higher numbers.
"We are supposed to have power in numbers," said Arturo R╠os, who lives near Buenaventura Lakes. "But what power will we have when there are so few of us left in the district?"
The chairman of the advisory committee that developed the plan said the cut was due to the area's rapid growth in the last decade.
Others said that the area's Hispanic growth warrants representation, but none has materialized.
"If we had some Hispanic on the commission, we could have some better representation of what we want and need, but it has not happened," said R╠os.
Hispanics in District 1, which includes Celebration, the western portion of U.S. Highway 192, and BVL, lost representation last year on the county commission when Robert Guevara, the first and only elected Hispanic to the Osceola County Commission, died of a heart attack and was replaced by a non-Hispanic.
Guevara's widow, Dalis, campaigned later that year for her late husband's seat, but lost to Paul Owen, a non-Hispanic. A return to countywide voting after Guevara was elected made it harder for minorities to garner votes.
Many see a bleak future ahead for Osceola Hispanics, regardless of their growing number in population, because of the loss and continued lack of representation.
There are no Hispanic members in the Osceola County School Board.
Both the Orange County and Seminole County school boards also lack Hispanic representation. These counties have a 20 percent and 11 percent Hispanic population, respectively.
"We just lost another Hispanic in office in Volusia, and have one or two left," said Mar╠a Rodr╠guez. "This is just another case of no representation."
Earlier this month, former Deltona City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Joe P╚rez lost to the incumbent John Masiarczyk, a non-Hispanic.
In September, the Orlando City Council adopted new boundaries in their redistricting plan that cut the majority Hispanic population of District 2 to 39 percent.
"I don't know what's left for us to do here in Osceola," said Rodr╠guez. "It looks like it won't get any better."
Walter Pacheco can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-6262 .
The League of Women Voters, as part of the People Over Politics coalition, is working to place two constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2002. These amendments would end the current practice of drawing legislative and congressional districts solely to favor incumbent lawmakers and the political party in power.
The amendments would establish an independent redistricting commission similar to those in 12 other states and redistricting standards. Asking members of the Florida Legislature to redraw their own districts is like asking surgeons to operate on themselves: It is simply too painful to do it right. Consequently, the plans drawn by the Legislature face legal challenges and the cost to taxpayers to defend these gerrymandered districts runs into millions of dollars.
Dec. 1 is "People Over Politics Day." Members of each local League will be gathering signatures on these two petitions to place these amendments on the ballot. Look for the South Palm Beach County League at green markets in Delray Beach and Boca Raton. You can also find the petitions on our Web site www.lwvpbc.org, where you can print them and mail to the address on the petition. Help us put a fair process in place that will benefit all Floridians.
Don't split us apart!
That was the resounding message scores of residents had for state legislators on Monday at two public hearings in Broward County on how to redraw Florida's state and congressional legislative districts.
"If you divide a city like Dania Beach, it might tend to dilute our voice in Tallahassee," said resident Bill Hyde, a former city commissioner.
"Don't make my representative split between one or more counties," Miramar resident Alanna Mersinger begged legislators Monday.
"The present congressional district maps are an embarrassment, even to those who love gerrymandering," said Buddy Lochrie, a Fort Lauderdale resident.
Legislators have to reshape every congressional, state Senate and state House district every 10 years based on new census figures. It's required by the U.S. Constitution to ensure equal representation. Broward's tremendous growth in the 1990s -- to more than 1.6 million people -- will require two districts in southwest Broward to lose 100,000 or more people to other districts.
Florida is getting two new congressional districts because it grew by more than 3 million people in the 1990s to almost 16 million people. In addition, the state's 40 Senate districts and 120 House districts must be divvied up to reflect equal population, based on the 2000 census.
What those new districts also should reflect is Broward's growing diversity, residents told legislators Monday. They also said the new districts should reflect common sense.
Senior citizens demanded fairness and little tinkering. A handful of Hispanics and blacks called for empowerment, insisting that new districts be drawn to keep them together. Parents of young children in overcrowded schools urged legislators to keep intact communities with common problems.
"When crafting new lines, empower Broward's large and growing Hispanic community to elect candidates of their choice," said Ana Gomez-Mallada, a Lighthouse Point resident and attorney.
Hispanics make up almost 17 percent of Broward's population.
Several Hispanics from southwest Broward pleaded against being put in the same district as Hispanics from Miami-Dade County.
"All Hispanics are not of the same political orientation," said Serena Cruz, 24, a college student and a Democrat.
Cruz argued that Miami-Dade's Hispanic community is more Republican. "I look to political ideology first and race second," she said.
No proposed maps have been drawn yet. Public hearings are being held throughout the state to gather input for legislators who will meet in January to begin carving up the state.
On Monday, hearings were held at Broward Community College campuses in Pembroke Pines and Davie. Several of those attending mentioned the recent terrorist attacks as a reason to keep politics out of it.
"If Sept. 11 didn't change our minds of how we look at things, nothing will," said Bob Brooks, a Century Village resident in Pembroke Pines. "When it comes to drawing lines, all we should have is a fair, level playing field."
But redistricting is always contentious, and for Democrats who dominate in Broward County, this round may be the toughest yet. The Republican Party controls most of Florida's top political jobs, from the Legislature to the governor's mansion, to the elected Florida Cabinet and the congressional delegation. A lot is at stake in Broward, where 51 percent of the county's registered voters are Democrats. Republicans make up 29 percent and independents constitute 19 percent.
Several residents at Monday's hearings urged another round of hearings next year before they approve new districts. But no other local meetings are planned.
Broward legislators, and many residents who spoke on Monday, worry that new districts will be drawn to favor Republicans, meaning southwest Broward could be combined with those in GOP-heavy Miami-Dade County or stretched to Collier County on the Gulf Coast, where Republicans rule.
Carver Ranches resident James Sparks said he wants legislators to be fair with his predominantly black neighborhood in unincorporated southeast Broward.
"Last time we lost all the commercial property in Carver Ranches, and now we're just houses," Sparks said. "All I ask is for you to be fair to me."
Some complained that there were no proposed maps to comment on and said they feared their input was pointless, but showed up anyway on the chance that what they said would make a difference.
"I want to believe it does," said Janet Conner, a Plantation resident who works for Broward Teachers' Union. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't hold out hope it does."
Public hearings will be at 4 p.m. today in Opa-locka at the Central High School auditorium, 1781 NW 95th St., and at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Miami at The Graham Center at Florida International University, 11200 SW Eighth St.
Staff Writer Brittany Wallman contributed to this report. Robin Benedick can be reached at [email protected] or 954-385-7914.
During the 2002 session, the Florida Legislature will establish new legislative and congressional districts based on the 2000 Census. Redrawing the districts to account for Florida's two new seats in the U.S. Congress and for uneven population growth during the past decade among Florida's legislative districts is fundamentally important for representative democracy.
The House and Senate jointly are conducting a series of public hearings at locations throughout the state. Two are being held today in Broward County.
These public hearings are a vital part of the reapportionment and redistricting process. Their purpose is to obtain testimony on a variety of redistricting matters, including population, residency growth patterns, local satisfaction or dissatisfaction with current district boundaries, the existence of communities or ethnic groups with similar interests or political cohesiveness, and other issues that may influence the way the lines are drawn.
The hearings will begin with an overview of the legal requirements for the redistricting process, followed by a brief census presentation by legislative staff. Members of the public then will be invited to speak. Speakers will be recognized in the order that they sign up and each will have up to four minutes to address the committee. Written comments and backup material are welcome. Speakers will be able to sign up prior to commencement of the meeting. Legislators will not take questions or engage in debate during the hearing.
The hearings will be audiotaped and transcribed by a court reporter. Transcripts and audio files will be posted on the Legislature's Web site (www.leg.state.fl.us/senateredistricting) as soon as possible.
It is important to note that this is only one of many ways that citizens can participate in the process of redistricting. First, we would encourage you to keep in contact with your local representatives since it is through them that your voice can most clearly be heard in the Legislature. You can also find important information relating to redistricting on both the House and Senate Reapportionment Web sites. Citizens will also be able to e-mail comments and maps directly to the Legislature. Individuals may purchase the identical software and data that legislators will use to draw maps, or access the software at their local library.
As chairman of the Reapportionment Committee this year, I have sought to open up a process that was once closed to the public (and most legislators), by making software and data available to everyone, empowering individual members to participate in the process, and conducting local public hearings for the sole purpose of listening to you. We hope that you will join us today and help make this the best redistricting in Florida's history.
Florida Sen. Daniel Webster is
chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.
Ten years ago, Boca Raton residents had a clear message for the Florida Legislature: DonÝt divide our city when chiseling out new legislative district lines.
But when legislators tackled the once-a-decade process of reapportionment, they did just that, for purely political purposes. The city was split, with the beach side of town put into a state House and Senate district anchored in Fort Lauderdale.
Why? The bastion of Republican voters along the cityÝs shoreline was needed to bolster the re-election chances of two GOP legislators from Broward County.
As legislators hold hearings across the state ˇ including four in South Florida this week ˇ in preparation for redrawing FloridaÝs political lines, the question is whether they will heed the publicÝs requests.
ýThe process is driven significantly by political considerations. Because itÝs so political, itÝs very difficult for citizen input to have an impact,ţ said Peter Wallace, a former Democratic house speaker from St. Petersburg and chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee in 1992.
The potential for the public to participate in reshaping legislative and congressional districts has never been so great.
House and Senate leaders have scheduled an unprecedented slate of public hearings, including two today in Broward and another two in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday and Wednesday.
John Coleman, president of the Hollywood Democratic Club, said he expects a good turnout despite the terrorist attacks that have dominated the news.
ýWhat happens will last 10 years,ţ Coleman pointed out. ýEverybody I know ˇ every representative and senator ˇ is trying to load the room up with Democrats. We have to show the Republicans in charge that people in Broward County care about our representation.ţ
Local Republicans also plan to mob todayÝs hearings. The Broward Republican Party has been passing out fliers, encouraging members to attend both sessions.
ýWeÝre going to talk about the districts as they exist, how they were drawn for political reasons and not community of interests,ţ said George LeMieux, chairman of the Broward GOP.
Hundreds of residents have turned out to voice their opinions at redistricting hearings in Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Ocala, Orlando and Tampa. Anyone with a computer can download mapmaking software for $20 ˇ then submit that map to the legislative redistricting committees for consideration.
But will anyone be listening?
Because dozens of political careers hinge on how the new boundaries are drawn, some doubt the publicÝs comments will have much effect.
After attending the recent Orlando hearing, former state Rep. Dick Batchelor likened reapportionment to a ýblood sport.ţ While lauding the more than 100 residents who signed up to testify, he reminded them, ýreapportionment is about raw power and the use of that power to draw districts to protect political influence.ţ
Despite the skepticism, however, legislative leaders pledge that the public will be heard.
Rep. Johnnie Byrd, a Plant City Republican and the House point man on redistricting, said his primary goal will be ýto listen to the people of the state of Florida. WeÝre going to have the most open and fair process in the history of the state.ţ
Democrats, a minority in the House and Senate who hold no sway over the reapportionment process, question whether Republicans will be nonpartisan.
ýThere are doubts the [Republican] leadership in the end is going to allow this to be a fair process,ţ said state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.
Wasserman Schultz, who sits on the Senate Reapportionment Committee, predicted Republicans would attempt to punish Democrats they donÝt like by forcing them to run in districts unfavorable to them. She also thinks they will try to make it easier for the GOP to win more seats.
Rep. Stacey Ritter, D-Coral Springs, chairwoman of the Democrat-dominated Broward Legislative Delegation and a member of the House Redistricting Council, said: ýMy worst fear is that Republicans will do what the Democrats did ˇ gerrymander districts.ţ
Such self-serving politics is nothing new. The Democrats practiced it for years while they were in power in Tallahassee, a good example being House District 92.
Although the district, now represented by Democrat Jack Seiler, is based in Fort Lauderdale, Democrats stretched it out along Interstate 595 to Davie in 1992 to include Democratic-rich Pine Island Ridge condominiums.
ýThat was gerrymandering,ţ said LeMieux, who ran for the district in 1998 but lost.
ýItÝs self-survival politics, incumbency protection,ţ said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor. ýItÝs a political fight of great order because everyone is looking at Űwhere am I going to run next?Ýţ
Dan Lewis, a political consultant who advises Florida elected officials on redistricting, agrees.
ýSelf-interest is said to be the primary motivation,ţ Lewis said. ýPoliticians want a constituency they believe they can represent well. If they represent constituents well, they will get re-elected. So it is self-interest, but it is also good government, representing those you can serve best.ţ
But imposing their own interests is not always easy for legislative leaders.
Ten years ago, the chairman of the congressional redistricting committee for the Florida House was then-state Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Democrat who lived in Sunrise. Deutsch was very open about drawing a new district that he could win.
The final district, drawn by a three-judge federal panel after the Legislature couldnÝt agree, wasnÝt exactly what Deutsch had envisioned. District 20 stretched from Sunrise to Key West.
ýThere was no plan coming out of the Legislature that put west Broward with Monroe County. This is not a process where you can get everything you want. There is the House and Senate, and the governor has veto power on congressional districts. Then there are the courts,ţ Deutsch said.
ýLegislators think that they are going to do this to these people ... this to those people,ţ Deutsch said. ýBut they find out that demographics and geography and the law drives this [redistricting] process.ţ
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years to ensure equal representation. Every congressional, state Senate and state House district must be adjusted based on the new census figures.
Districts that have too many people because of growth will shrink, while those that have too few people will grow.
Deutsch said that while the public may not have the primary effect on the final boundaries, it will have the ultimate approval ˇ the vote.
ýIf [legislators] ignore what the voters want, there is always the next election,ţ Deutsch said. ýThe legislators make decisions on redistricting at their own peril.ţ
Buddy Nevins reported this story from Fort Lauderdale. He can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4571. Linda Kleindienst reported this story from Tallahassee. She can be reached at [email protected] or 850-224-6214.
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
ŰBe VocalÝ as Legislators Redistrict, NAACP Told
By Rafael A. Olmeda
September 30, 2001
Redistricting is a political process, and black citizens form a political bloc that must be prepared to fight for its interests when the Florida Legislature starts drawing new boundaries next year, a national NAACP official said Saturday.
In a presentation in Fort Lauderdale, Leon Russell, a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, explained that protecting incumbents, impeding political enemies, and gerrymandering are inseparable from the redistricting process.
Saturday's public forum was held in anticipation of a legislative redistricting hearing at 9 a.m. Monday at the South Campus of Broward Community College.
Every 10 years, after the census figures are finalized, state legislatures across the country are given the task of redrawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts. The process is subject to public input, Russell said, but its political nature makes it necessary for black communities to speak up.
"Anybody who thinks fairness and egalitarianism have anything to do with this process needs to go back, get some counseling, see your reverend, because it's just not so," said Russell, who was in charge of the NAACP's redistricting campaign in Florida in 1992. "We're going to have to be vocal. And sometimes we're going to have to be nasty. That's part of the political process."
Florida picked up two congressional seats as a result of its increased population, and Russell said it's highly likely one of the new districts will be drawn into the South Florida region. Since Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, he said, it's a safe bet that the new district lines will be drawn to protect U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fort Lauderdale.
Redistricting is a complicated process that relies on factors such as the size of the general population, the voting age population, the number of registered voters and the number of people who actually vote, Russell said.
Knowing the logic of the legislators who draw district lines will help groups such as blacks to come up with alternatives that protect their interests, too.
Russell, County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion and other speakers said they expect to end up in court to make sure the rights of black citizens are protected.
In the meantime, Russell said, groups that represent black interests need to form coalitions with Hispanics, Florida's largest minority, and accept districts where blacks do not form a majority but are able to influence policymakers.
Saturday's forum was organized by the Fort Lauderdale NAACP, the South Florida Chapter of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, the T.J. Reddick Bar Association and several other groups.
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4207.