I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Proposed Florida Senate Districts 1 and 3 Ruled Constitutionally Invalid by Florida Supreme Court

Sometimes it seems that nobody listens to the voices of the common folks.  When I went to the hearing on redistricting in June of last year at PSC and gave my testimony (page 72-74 of this document) I did not think one differing opinion could make a difference.  Was I wrong?  Who knows, but at the hearing there was a lot of support for horizontally drawn senate districts in the panhandle (particularly among representatives present from the Florida Farm Bureau), whereas I respectfully requested that the districts be drawn vertically so as not to dilute Escambia/Santa Rosa’s representation in the state legislature. 
The Senate eventually submitted the redrawn districts that were strikingly similar to the previous Senate districts 2 and 4, drawn horizontally and bisecting Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.  (These districts as redrawn were challenged in court.)  A portion of the justification for the drawing of these districts in this fashion was, per Senate staff analysis, based upon the public testimony.  From the analysis: “coastal and rural districts were created based on public testimony received by the Legislature” 
Ironically, I spoke against this sort of a rationale in my testimony-- as did a number of other speakers in Pensacola.  Apparently the Court noticed, as they mention in their decision:
“Although the Senate staff analysis points to selected testimony in favor of the horizontal orientation, a review of the public hearings demonstrates that the public testimony in support of horizontal coastal and rural districts was by no means unanimous. While members of the public testified that they wanted coastal areas together and separate from rural areas because of common interests, other members of the public testified in support of vertical districts that would unite counties.”

   So the Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the proposed re-drawn districts 1 and 3 are indeed unconstitutional.  From today’s Supreme Court ruling:   (discussion of the two panhandle districts is on pages 142-149)
“The incumbents in Districts 1 and 3 both live in Okaloosa County and would represent largely the same constituencies as they did under the 2002 plan. The drawing of the districts sacrificed compactness—a constitutional imperative—in order to keep coastal communities together. Further, although the Senate followed numerous different boundaries when drawing Districts 1 and 3, often switching between different types of boundaries within the space of a few miles, it sacrificed compactness, not in a reasoned balancing effort to comply with the requirements of equal population or to utilize political or geographical boundaries such as municipal or county boundaries, but rather to create a coastal district and an inland rural district.  We also consider it significant that in doing so, a high percentage of population from predecessor districts was retained to the benefit of the incumbents.
While it is not only the fact that the districts maintained overwhelming percentages of the former core constituencies in isolation, in the context of our overall analysis of this district, it is significant. There is no valid constitutional justification for the decision to draw Districts 1 and 3 in this configuration, and we conclude that Districts 1 and 3 are constitutionally invalid.”
Sometimes the commoners are not just screaming from the bottom of a well—sometimes their voices are heard.

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