WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WFSU Local News

The Bleaching Amendments?

Tallahassee, FL – Opponents of a constitutional proposal changing how Florida draws its political districts have upped the ante. As James Call reports, they plan to raise and spend $4 million to defeat the Fair Districts proposal - Amendments 5 and 6 - on the November ballot.

Former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning returned to the state capitol and said he was enlisting in the fight against Fair Districts. Browning not only was the state's top election official for three years, but also went through three redistricting cycles as the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections. The boundaries for legislative and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years. And Browning said Amendments 5 and 6 won't work and will lead to non-elected judges drawing Florida's political boundaries.

"We have a little over six weeks before the general election and I look forward to criss-crossing the state to get the message out why 5 and 6 are not good for Florida."

Opponents plan to spend $4 million to defeat Amendments 5 and 6. Browning is working with Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Republican Congressman Mario Diaz Balart. The two were in the Legislature during the 1990s redistricting cycle, which ended in a court fight and a judge approving six minority-majority districts, three African American and three Hispanic. Brown was elected to Congress in 1992.

"When I was elected to the United States Congress, it was the first time in 129 years that an African American was elected from Florida," she said. "Fair Districts would prevent the Legislature from drawing state and congressional districts that favor a candidate or party. It includes additional standards for creating the political map. It requires districts to be more geographically compact and attempt to respect city and county borders."

Critics say the proposal is unworkable and will lead to more court fights. Brown predicts Fair Districts will undo what she and Diaz Balart fought to create in the 1990s, a system where minorities can win election to the state house and Congress. And Diaz Balart said Fair Districts is another chapter in that fight. He said he and Brown are battling the same people they fought 20 years ago.

"These are the bleaching amendments. These amendments will have the effect of bleaching the state of Florida as it was before 1992, when minorities did not have the ability to elect candidates of their choice that is what it is about here. It is unworkable and it will have a devastating effect on minorities across the state of Florida."

Diaz Balart and Brown's comments anger state Rep. Joe Gibbons. An African American, Gibbons was first elected to the House in 2006 and said portraying Fair Districts as an attempt to suppress minority representation is misleading and demeaning.

"We are our own daddies, we are grown," Gibbons said. "We have children. We don't need people explaining things to us. Take me down to the 3rd grade FCAT level. We don't need that. We understand, we're professionals, our communities have grown. That's why we talk about education; everyone talks about education, why? So we can take it back to where it was 10 years ago, no. We've advanced, the country has advanced. I represent a majority minority district. The minority participation in my district is only 27 percent."

Gibbons uses mathematics to turn Diaz Balart's bleaching comment on its head. He noted that when the court created six minority-majority districts, it did it by bleaching adjoining districts.

"We don't need to have 75 percent minority participation to win. What that does is to limit the opportunities for other minorities in abutting districts. And in the end it lessens the power we could have."

Amendments 5 and 6, the Fair Districts proposal, is endorsed by the NAACP and supported by all but two members of the Legislature's Black Caucus. If 60 percent of voters approve the amendments on Nov. 2, then Fair Districts' standards will be added to the Florida Constitution.