Sayfie Review Featured Column
Loud, Divergent Citizen Voices Heard in Round One of Public Hearingsby Dr. Susan MacManus
November 10, 2011
Loud, Divergent Citizen Voices Heard in Round One of Public Hearings
Dr. Susan A. MacManus
USF Distinguished University Professor
(with the assistance of Joanna M. Cheshire and Tifini L. Hill
Graduate students in the USF Department of Government & International Affairs)
Any doubts about Florida citizens’ interest in the 2012 round of redistricting and their divergent opinions as to how it should be done were dispelled at the 26 public hearings held across the state from June 20 to September 1, 2011 (Round 1), attended by several thousand people. Some speakers focused their comments on the process itself, while others recommended how, where, and why to actually draw district lines. There was more consensus on the need to revamp the redistricting process than on the line-drawing itself. We will soon get a glimpse of which citizen recommendations the legislature heeded most when legislatively-drawn maps are released for public comment (Round 2) next month.
Round One: Divergent Opinions
A preliminary content analysis of speeches given at the public hearings allows us a glimpse of the wide-ranging concerns expressed by concerned Floridians. Some speakers were supportive of the status quo, while others adamantly insisted on major changes in the composition and shape of congressional and legislative districts. All, including the 156 who actually submitted maps for legislative consideration, now anxiously await the release of the legislatively-drawn map proposals to judge just how responsive legislators were to their recommendations.
The diversity of opinions and priorities assures that there will be plenty of citizen reaction to the maps during the next round of public input. A hearing is scheduled for December 6 in Tallahassee but comments will be accepted viaFacebook, YouTube, Twitter, email, or mail.
In fact, Round 2 of public comments is occurring because of citizen outrage at the absence of maps at the initial series of hearings, although it is highly likely that had maps already been drawn before citizens had any input into them, the outcry against the process would have been even louder.
The Redistricting Process: Major Concerns
Many speakers critical of the redistricting process firmly believe that a majority of the legislators (Republicans) intend to ignore the redistricting standards spelled out in the 2010 “Fair Districts” amendments (5—legislative; 6—congressional) that were approved by 63% of the Florida electorate. The standards they identify as the most likely to be circumvented are: compactness, partisan neutrality (district competitiveness), incumbent neutrality, minority representation, and utilization of existing political and geographical boundaries. Compactness was the most often cited, followed by general concerns about legislative circumvention of the intent of the Fair Districts amendments.
The following is a summary of points made in the first round of redistricting hearings by those who voiced concerns and/or made recommendations about the process itself.
Ignoring Will of Voters
Disrespect for citizen-initiated and adopted “Fair Districts” amendments. A number of speakers scolded the legislators for seemingly ignoring the fact that “the public has spoken loud and clear.” On the other hand, some expressed concern that there were no clear legal definitions of what constitutes compactness, community of interest, etc.
The state House joining in a legal battle challenging the constitutionality of Amendment 6 (congressional redistricting). Some saw this evidence of partisanship (a Republican plot), but more saw it as legislators thumbing their nose at voter approval of Amendment 6 or found it ridiculous that state funds were being expended both defending the Amendment (Secretary of State) and challenging it (Florida House of Representatives): “How can we take taxpayer money and sue the taxpayers and that is what we are doing?” complained Wallace Haber - Panama City Hearing. This, too, required an explanation by legislative leaders—which was not an easy task:
“ In regards to litigation, there were several questions about why are taxpayers fighting Amendments V and VI that have passed. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who is a Republican from Miami, Dade County, along with a Democratic Congresswoman, Corrine Brown, from Jacksonville, actually are the ones who filed a lawsuit only in regards to Amendment VI, and it deals with a Federal constitutional issue. It only deals with the Congressional maps, and it is whether or not the U. S. Constitution had been impeded -- has been impeded by that constitutional amendment that passed in Florida, and I won't get you into the details, but we will give you all of the information on that case if you want it. But just so it is clear, the two Congressmen, a Republican and a Democrat were the ones who originally filed that lawsuit, and I think that is very important. I think there has been some misinformation out there about that as well.” Rep. Will Weatherford - Panama City Hearing
A “gag order” limiting legislators’ comments. Early on, some speakers expressed outrage that legislative leaders in each house had forbidden legislators to comment on proposed plans or public testimony. This concern prompted legislative leaders conducting subsequent hearings to rebut this claim: “There is no gag order. We have not asked members not to speak, simply we have reminded them that this is a listening tour. This is one of the few times I have seen in politics where you don't sit back and listen to politicians give speeches or pontificate for hours and hours on end.” (Rep. Will Weatherford - Pensacola Hearing)
A concern that courts rather than the legislature (elected representatives) will end up drawing the lines.
Structure/Content of the Hearings
“Where are the maps?” Some citizens expected to be able to react to legislatively-drawn
maps at the public hearings. George Gonzalez, who spoke at the Largo hearing shared this sentiment: “I’m not really here today to give you my opinion about redistricting, how to draw the districts, or to plead that you create fair districts that more aptly represent the voter composition of our state because I know the money and time wasted on these meetings is only for show. If you were truly representatives of the voters these meetings would have been held months ago, and they would surely include maps of suggested districts.” George Gonzalez-Largo hearing. Others felt just as passionately that soliciting citizen input first was the proper procedure. Legislative leaders repeatedly defended their “citizens first, legislature second” timetable:
“There should be no preconceptions created by politicians in our view, but rather public testimony should be free and unrestricted and should come first. In fact, the Chairperson for the Fair Districts campaign, Helen Freidin, testified before the House and Senate Redistricting Committees that she felt that it would be absolutely impossible to draw maps before public comment was taken and we certainly agree with Ms. Freidin with respect to that and are following that advice.” Sen. Don Gaetz- Orlando hearing.
A suspicion that the redistricting process is not really transparent and that plans have
already been drawn in “smoke-filled rooms” out of the sight of the public.
Timing of the Hearings and Redistricting Process
The crunched timeline was intentionally designed to produce an “incumbency protection plan.” “Florida deserves elections where the people have time to understand their choices. This timeline benefits only incumbents and is likely to diminish competitive elections and certainly the time that our voters need to inform themselves about their choices,” said Deirdre MacNabb of the League of Women's Voters - Tallahassee Hearing.
Inconvenient hearing times (evenings) for young, working people.
Not enough advance publicity about the hearings.
Cost: Hearings and Defense of Lawsuits
The hearings cost taxpayers too much for what amounted to just a “listening tour.” Several critics suggested the funds could have been better used to restore some of the cuts to education and social programs made by the legislature in its 2011 regular session.
Setting aside millions of dollars to defend the state in lawsuits likely challenging the state’s redistricting maps. This, too, was cited by a number of speakers as a misuse of state funds. The frequency with which this criticism was made prompted legislative leaders presiding at the hearings to make a statement denying this allegation: “There is no $30 million pot of money. That doesn't exist… Certainly we have to have attorneys, this process is legal in nature, we have to have staff, so resources are being addressed, but there is no large pot of money that is out there that is fighting anything.” - Rep. Will Weatherford - Panama City Hearing.
Voter and Candidate Confusion
Massive voter confusion if districts not approved until right before candidate qualifying begins (June 4, 2012).
“Undue pressure on county supervisors of elections and election personnel if district lines not finalized until late spring. Some even worried aloud of another meltdown of the magnitude of the 2000 election:
“There can be no doubt in your mind how important people’s right to vote is, and how deeply they feel about the process, and how much they want to be included in the process…Our [Florida State Association of Supervisors] main concern is time, and you’ve heard several people comment about how confusing it will be for candidates if we get those lines late next year. And it’s happened before. It’s our responsibility as Supervisors to conduct impartial and accurate elections for these folks and 11 million voters in Florida. But you have the authority to move that process along to ensure that we get those lines in plenty of time so that we can prepare for and be ready for the fall elections. We are perfectly capable of doing that. You heard a reference to the 2000 Presidential election. It would be shameful if Florida lost all the ground we’ve gained in the last decade, with all the efforts that have been put into election reform.” Deborah Clark, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections (Largo hearing)
Drawing the Lines: Key Concerns and Recommendations
The most common thread running through all the line-drawing-related recommendations is the need to place like-minded citizens together in districts, most often expressed as those sharing common economic, social, or cultural ties. For those concerned about minority representation, some preferred crafting majority minority districts while others called for merely keeping minorities together, especially when their population size is insufficient to make up a majority of a district, as did Haitian-American Gepsi Metellus at the Miami hearing and Patrick Mantiega at the Tampa hearing:
"I simply want to implore you to allow me an opportunity to elect someone of my choosing; elect someone who will represent my interests, my needs, my aspirations, my issues; who represents me in terms of recognizing and understanding my history, my traditions; so who will represent me in terms of ensuring that my interests, my needs, and aspirations are not in contradiction with those of my next door neighbor; someone who will reflect the growing population of Miami-Dade County's Haitian-American population. As you know, we are probably over 500,000 strong in South Florida. I believe Dr. Georges mentioned that we in fact are about 35 percent of the voters in specifically Congressional district 17. We have a 30 year presence in Miami-Dade County and [are] very much willing to work towards improving conditions for all of us. So, I ask you to ensure that you protect those political gains that we've made of the past several years. I want to implore you to indeed maintain the boundaries as they are such that our interests are protected in the manner that I've stated." Gepsi Metellus - Miami hearing.
"I'm here to ask that you honor Florida's diversity. I believe that with a little extra effort the legislature can make compact contiguous districts that respect concentrations of Hispanic and black minorities. The Hispanic community shares a mostly common heritage, culture, and cuisine. They frequent the same bodegas and sandwich shops. Hispanic community boundaries should be as important in the redistricting process as municipal and subdivision boundaries. The Census shows that Hispanics are the state's largest minority population, but the population of Hispanic elected officials falls far short of our population percentage. No prominent Hispanic Congressional district in central or north Florida. No prominent Hispanic state Senate district in central of north Florida. The only prominently Hispanic House district is where we currently sit in district 58. Florida's Hispanic population has grown by leaps and bounds, but sadly the number of elected officials that share Hispanic heritage, culture, and the love of cafe con leche have not. Please rectify this problem." - Patrick Manteiga - Tampa Hearing
There were, however, several speakers who voiced a concern that too much “packing” on the basis of race/ethnicity (or political party) can result in claims of racial or partisan gerrymandering. Others worried that too much focus on keeping racial/ethnic groups together runs counter to the broader goal of diversity and racial integration. Similarly, some fear that drawing one party-dominated districts is counter to Amendment 5 & 6 standards calling for the creation of partisan-competitive districts.
Some Key Philosophical and Technical Questions
Multiple legislators for an area v. a single legislator. What gives an area the best representation? Our analysis to date finds the public pretty divided on this, often on the basis of how often they see a legislator(s) in their own backyards. Elected officials tend to be more supportive of their community being in multiple districts than others who testified.
Directional Slicing: What is the best way to draw the lines—vertically (east amd west) or horizontally (north and south)? Preferences here seem to be guided by what approach keeps economically-integrated areas together or separates interior from coastal areas.
Starting point: Where should the drawing begin? In core metropolitan areas? in rural areas? or at the ends of the state (the more traditional approach)? Strong proponents of protecting minority representation argue for beginning in densely populated, diverse urban areas. Those focused more on zero deviation tend to support starting at the state’s ends—similar to starting a jigsaw puzzle by constructing the outer borders.
Multiple Communities of Interest Identified by Speakers
Racial/ethnic: African American, Haitian, Hispanic/Latino.
Geographic: rural, urban, suburban.
Economic: agriculture; coastal; tourism; military.
Lifestyle: GLBT (gay community).
Ideology: Tea Party; conservative; Liberal.
Political party: Democrat; Republican.
Socioeconomic: blue collar v. wealthy; retirees v. college town;
Top Priorities For Tying Communities Together
Keep counties/cities together.
Don’t tie rural counties to big cities.
Separate interior from coastal areas.
Draw compact districts—avoid “rat tails,” meandering districts.
Keep constituents closer to representatives.
Keep racial/ethnic communities together to enhance representation.
An excellent example of just how strongly many speakers felt about the need to take into account various “communities of interest” was the testimony of Sheri Morton:
“I live in unincorporated West Osceola County, a suburb of Orlando near Kissimmee.Osceola County is currently divided into three Congressional Districts with much of Osceola, including where I live in District 15. Most of the population of Congressional District 15 is from Brevard and Indian River Counties which are far away from where I live and with which Osceola shares little in common. Brevard and Indian River Counties are focused on NASA. In contrast, the focus in Osceola is on metropolitan Orlando, including both Osceola and Orange Counties. Osceola is a majority minority county with over a quarter of a million people, high unemployment and urban problems, including transportation, gangs, gridlock on Interstate 4. People in Osceola generally work in the tourism industry, including theme parks and hotels. Having a Congressman from far away on the east coast who is focused on NASA, I-95 and the beaches doesn't give my community the representation we need. With Osceola County broken into three Congressional Districts, the needs of Osceola's largely Hispanic population are easily ignored by central Florida's Congressmen. Please follow the Fair District Amendments of Florida's Constitution and keep Osceola County intact in one Congressional District. Please combine Osceola with Orange County into a Congressional District together that has similar community interests and populations.” Orlando hearing
How to Draw Minority Districts: Competing Perspectives
Provide equal opportunity for minority voters to elect their candidates of choice and to participate in the political process by creating majority minority districts.
Provide equal opportunity for minority voters to elect their candidates of choice and to participate in the political process by drawing minority access districts.
Avoid retrogression of minority representation.
Draw color blind districts
Creating minority districts (whether majority or access) can sometimes be seen as confusing and symbolic of racism, particularly when district lines give neighbors on opposite sides of the same street different representatives. An FSU student testifying at the Tallahassee hearing articulated this dilemma well:
“If I cross the street, literally 40 feet from my door I am in someone else's district. I think that it is Rep. Marti Coley's district. So I mean, we are talking literally 40 feet and it is not like there is a totally different community between us, it is the same community, the same people. A lot of the folks that live on one side are predominantly African-American, the other one are students. And so if we have anything that affects us in this district that has to do with transportation, which is Tennessee Street is a major corridor in Tallahassee, there is a lot of transportation issues with the city, who do we go talk to? If we are African-American you talk to Alan Williams and if you are a student you go talk to Marti Coley, and that to me pits these two groups against each other.” Alex Belloa – Tallahassee Hearing
Need for Lines to Conform to Existing Landmarks and Precincts Lines
Use natural boundaries to avoid voter confusion.
Do not adhere to zero deviation policy if it divides neighborhoods or precincts.
Consider using judicial (Circuit Court) lines.
Draw compact districts. They make it easier for election officials, poll workers, and citizens alike.
When drawing districts, examine all districts (congressional, legislative) collectively to minimize difficulties for county elections officials and to save taxpayers money:
“I am not super human nor are any of my fellow supervisors, and the projected timeline really does not give us much time once these districts are adopted and approved. It is about two weeks, and that really isn't enough time for us to accurately draw new precinct lines, notify the voters, mail ballots, and in sometimes we are probably going to have to find new voting locations. So if possible, I would love for ya'll to expedite, compress this process wherever you can so we will have more time to notify our voters. Come Election Day if they are confused they are not going to be mad at you, they are going to be mad at me. Also, your redistricting legislative staff and the U.S. Census staff have drawn VTD's [voting districts]. Please use them. They take into effect communities of common interest, traffic patterns, natural and physical barriers, and they also provide for compactness, and a compact district is an efficient district when it comes to operating an election. It saves money.” Mary Jane Arrington, Osceola County Supervisor of Elections (Orlando hearing)
There needs to be better coordination between Legislature and county elections officials regarding respect for precinct lines.
The Significance of the Round One Public Redistricting Hearings
The 26 public hearings initially held across the state immediately put the Florida Legislature on the defensive and served notice that Floridians do not want “politics as usual” when it comes to the 2012 redrawing of congressional and legislative districts. The loud voices complaining about some aspects of the process (citizen input after the proposed maps are released; the timeline crunch) have already been heeded. The legislative redistricting committees have agreed to speed up the release of the congressional maps and added an additional period of citizen input. Putting a constitutional amendment before the voters to allow the Legislature to begin the drawing of the state legislative districts earlier in 2022 is also under serious consideration.
At the same time, the hearings highlighted the difficulties legislators will have proving that they have adhered to each requirement spelled out in the federal Voting Rights Act and Amendments 5 and 6—some of which obviously conflict with each other. The upcoming Round of citizen input via hearings and social media promises to spark even more fireworks and to lay bare some deep political, racial/ethnic, and socioeconomic divisions among the state’s voters. The political tension was well expressed by Jamie Shepherd a representative for the League of Women Voters at the Tallahassee hearing when she said, “This is kind of what we are paying you for, and so as our Governor has succinctly said, “Let's get to work on it.”
NOTE: This research is part of a larger project that will be completed in Spring 2012 and presented at the biennial Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics in Charleston, S.C.
The THIRD EDITION OF POLITICS IN FLORIDA IS NOW AVAILABLE FROM THE FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF GOVERNMENT AT FSU.
The book, co-authored by Susan A. MacManus, Aubrey Jewett, Thomas R. Dye, and David J. Bonanza, is a comprehensive overview of politics in Florida, including the latest on:
2010 U.S. Census data detailing Florida’s racial and ethnic composition.
Florida’s economy, including regional breakdowns.
Public opinion surveys tracking trends in citizen issue preferences.
Historical voting patterns in presidential, U.S. Senate, congressional, and gubernatorial elections and statewide referenda.
Party registration trends.
Political participation rates, voting systems, and voting rights.
The state’s 10 media markets.
Lobbying and interest groups.
The redistricting process.
The political significance of the I-4 Corridor.
Campaign contribution limits—national and state.
The structure and composition of the state’s legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
Local governments—county, city, school districts, special districts.
Key issues facing the state—economic development, the state’s budget, the environment, growth management, criminal justice, education, social welfare, health care, and offshore drilling.
ORDER LINK http://iog.fsu.edu/services/research/index.html Both print and online versions are available.