© 2024 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Haridopolos Calls Fair Districts Lawsuit City

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – Senator Mike Haridopolos, chair of the redistricting committee, said Friday he expects a lawsuit will block a proposed constitutional amendment from the November ballot. James Call reports after demonstration of software used to draw state legislative and congressional districts, Haridopolos called the Fair Districts proposals lawsuit city.

"With that here, we want to get on, too, to the simulation."

John Guthrie is the staff director for the Senate's redistricting committee. Armed with 2002 data, he experimented with Fair Districts' standards to draw new congressional districts for Florida.

"What does it mean that the districts shall be compact?"

According to a mathematician, that would be a circle, and Guthrie proceeded to demonstrate that circles don't necessarily work when drawn on a political map. The Fair Districts proposal would require lawmakers to draw state legislative and congressional districts that attempt to respect city and county lines and do not favor a candidate or party. Lawmakers say the standards are impossible to meet.

Ellen Freidin, the spokesperson for the initiative, testified before a joint legislative committee in February. She received a sometimes hostile reception. Here's Representative Dean Cannon's response when Freidin mentioned she represents the millions of Floridians who signed the Fair Districts petition.
"With all due respect, we represent the 18-million Floridians who elected us to make policy, and we have a constitutional duty to redraw."

Freidin stood before lawmakers for more than three hours fielding numerous questions about the proposed redistricting standards. When she asked to be excused to catch a flight, lawmakers asked her to stay.

"Could I interrupt for one second? Would it be possible to get me a table and chair so I don't have to stand here any longer?"

At that meeting Friedan declined to accept the lawmakers' request to draw new districts under the proposed standards. She said she did not have the same resources available to lawmakers. So, Senator Mike Haridopolos reached out to editorial writers who opined in favor of Fair Districts to help. He invited others to watch on Friday as he and Senate staff drew three compact congressional districts across the Florida panhandle,

"We're in clear violation of a few things in these first three districts. We know in at least the first two districts, we don't know about the district three yet. We know one thing in the first two districts. The incumbent is advantaged in district one. The incumbent has been advantaged in district two. We know the party has been advantaged in district one. A party has been advantaged in district two. We know that for a fact."

Both Haridopolos and Guthrie, a nationally recognized expert on drawing political lines, consistently noted that by adding more standards, with current criteria being one person-one vote and the Voting Rights Act, Fair Districts would invite more lawsuits.

"Now, they are going to sue over parties. They are going to sue over incumbency. Is it compact? And it is all in the eyes of the beholder. Again, we came together as a group today and said, We are going to go this way or that way.' We created some fingers though, right? We had to make it one person-one vote. You and I are going to be comfortable in this room, just as all members of the Legislature have to be comfortable in this room. But a lay person is going to say, Oh, look at what they just did. That's not square.'"

Two Fair Districts proposals are on the November ballot, one for Legislative seats, and the other for Congressional districts. If sixty-percent of voters approve, the proposed standards will govern the 2012 redrawing of districts. Haridopolos used terms like lawsuit city and Lawyers' Full Employment Act to describe the proposals. He said he expects someone will file a suit to remove the proposals from the ballot.