By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
As the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting last week began a series of public hearings around the state, partisan critics vociferously denounced it as “a charade” – and the liberal news media (pardon the redundancy) gleefully echoed their complaints. Moreover, during the first hearing in the pro-big-government hotbed of Tallahassee, some of the critics engaged in partisan rants that had nothing to do with the issue at hand: how to redraw the district boundaries for the Legislature and Florida’s congressional delegation while also complying with the contradictory standards set by federal Voting Rights Law and the so-called “Fair Districts” amendments added to the state Constitution in 2010.The real intent of those misnamed amendments, which the Florida Education Association and other liberal groups spent millions of dollars to pass, was to take the redistricting process away from Florida’s conservative Legislature and deliver it to the liberal-leaning Florida Supreme Court. The critics’ intent was evident during Monday’s leadoff hearing in Tallahassee, where the committee’s co-chairmen — Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford — were unfailingly courteous in the face of the rampant discourtesy by some of the speakers. The legislators’ patience will be tested further as the hearings progress to urban areas where the potential impact on racial and ethnic minorities will be a concern.In Tallahassee, the critics repeatedly complained that lawmakers had not presented a plan for them to critique – even though Senator Gaetz, in his introductory remarks, had patiently explained that the state Constitution prevents the Legislature from approving a plan prior to 2012. No doubt, had lawmakers presented a plan, the same scolds would have complained that the Legislature had short-circuited the process by acting before listening to the public’s concerns. To its credit, the Legislature has made it easier than ever before for members of the general public to participate in the process – not only by venting at public hearings, but also by submitting plans of their own. The easy-to-use software is available at www.floridaredistricting.org.Meanwhile, the real “charade” was the pretense that the critics – an alliance of groups supporting higher taxes and a more intrusive role for government – were merely non-partisan bystanders supporting “good government.” Beyond their goal of changing the complexion of the Florida Legislature, they also have an ill-concealed national agenda of recapturing the U.S. House of Representatives by cherry-picking certain states for “fair districts” while ignoring the blatant gerrymandering in Illinois and other states where redistricting plans have been devised to help oust conservative congressmen. What’s more, in those states where legislators performing their constitutional duty on redistricting don’t deliver the results that the proponents of big government desire, the critics – with an assist from President Obama’s Justice Department — are poised to shift the decision-making, as in Florida, to the courts.One irony in all of this: Many of the same critics of Florida’s redistricting process are also up in arms about the elections law reforms that the Florida Legislature enacted this year in an effort to prevent voter fraud. These critics allege that the reforms are an effort to “suppress the vote” and thus deny Floridians of the right to choose their elected officials at the polls. However, as the unions’ new lawsuit on pension reform illustrates, as soon as Florida’s duly elected officials pass a bill that these apostles of democracy don’t like, they go running to the judicial branch and ask unelected judges to override the actions of those elected officials. Talk about charades!