Florida’s gubernatorial race is among the tightest in the nation right now…thanks largely to the fact that voters here don’t see much difference between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. Some say Crist was a do-nothing governor when he was in office; and that’s certainly a card Scott has pulled in all of their heated debates. But here’s one that for some reason Crist never mentioned — that one time Rick Scott, all by himself, completely destroyed democracy in Florida with a phone call. An act that, given Florida’s influence in Washington, has nationwide ramifications.
Amendments 5 and 6 passed during the 2010 election that put Rick Scott in office. A full 63 percent of Florida voted to pass them. But literally hours after taking office, Florida’s new Tea Party overlord simply undid the will of the state with the stroke of his pen. Why? To preserve gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering has been keeping Florida’s incumbent political powers entrenched for decades now. This process of drawing district lines around racial, ethnic and political groups has turned the Sunshine State into one of the least politically competitive places in America. Here’s what we’re talking about; this is a map of Florida’s districts laid over its voting patterns in 2012:
On this map, you can see pretty clearly how the state’s entrenched legislators have drawn district lines to eliminate or negate unwanted votes. A few examples:
- The large blue area in the panhandle, which contains Tallahassee and Florida State University; note how it’s been expanded to encompass the heavily red areas to the East and West.
- The many, very small “red” districts, containing the most die-hard voters far outnumber the very large districts.
- The largest districts on the map are those that are split with “blue” areas, particularly in South Florida. The number of people contained in those enormous districts in South Florida represent millions of people each. The much smaller “red” districts containing fewer than 100,000 each cancel out the millions of voters in those more populated areas.
- The snake-like district in the center is the clearest example of all. Note how this district (overwhelmingly Republican) just cuts over to take a chunk out of the “blue” area. That blue area is Eastern Gainesville, which is heavily black, impoverished and Democratic. The Republicans along the rest of the “snake” are completely canceled out their votes…which proves that both (supposed) Dems and Reps in Florida profit from undermining democracy.
The list goes on and on — those are just a few examples of the kind of institutionalized racism and undermining of democracy that is Gerrymandering in Florida. In fact, it’s has gotten to the point now that it’s practically impossible to fire an incumbent; because, when a threat comes up, the incumbent simply re-draws the district lines to negate it.
Floridians aren’t stupid, though. Psychotic, maybe. But not stupid. Not that it takes much to see how broken the Sunshine State’s system is, as a result of gerrymandering. And Floridians have long been fed up with fighting a rigged system.
That’s exactly why Amendments 5 and 6 passed with such an overwhelming majority in 2010. these amendments would have helped to restore Florida’s democracy by mandating population districting. But, alas, Rick Scott’s first act in office was to put an end to that.
Ironically, Scott used The voting Rights Act to pull it off. Florida at the time (like Texas and many Confederate states) required federal approval from the Justice Department to enact any change in voting procedures. Three days after taking office, Scott simply pulled the request for a change in voting procedures from the DOJ. Citing, if you can believe it, a desire to “make sure it was racially fair.” He told news media that
“One of the things that we’re looking at is the amendments that were passed, how they’re going to be implemented. We want to make sure that with regard to redistricting, it’s fair, it’s the right way of doing it. So it’s something I’m clearly focused on.”
Oh, he was focused on something all right. And so were the groups who opposed Amendments 5 and 6 in 2010, a PAC collectively known as “Protect Our Vote.” Lets see who else was “concerned about minority voting fairness.” This is a list of Protect Our Vote’s top donors:
Republican Party of Florida-State Account — $2.6 million
Florida Association of Realtors-Advocacy Fund — $278,000
Miriam Adelson (Israeli drug clinic CEO) — $200,000
H. Wayne Huizenga (Illinois Real Estate billionaire) — $100,000
Florida Crystals Corp. — $100,000
Florida Chamber of Commerce — $100,000
United States Sugar Corp. — $100,000
Notice a certain pattern here? Out-of-state (and out-of-country) billionaire CEOs, collections of corporations, real estate investors and sugar companies, and of course, the GOP. All opposed to democracy in Florida. Now, on the other end of the spectrum, let’s see who supported the amendments. These are the top donors for Fair Districts Florida.
National Education Association — $1.2 million
Christopher Findlater (Consultant) — $896,000
Service Employees International Union — $600,000
Florida Education Association — $600,000
Florida Watch Ballot Committee — $500,000
Those supporting: unions of people who live and work in Florida, and a billionaire political activist who lives here. Findlater has also long been using his money to (ironically) limit spending in politics. Incredibly, even the typically conservative-shilling AARP supported population districting, and the amendments that would have ensured it:
“AARP believes that voters should choose their representatives, rather than having government representatives choose their voters.”
So, now we have to ask ourselves: Who’s got more of a vested interest in democracy in Florida? The people who live, work and retire here, or the out-of-state corporate interests and billionaires who show up to make money?
Of course, Rick’s got a few Democrat turncoats on his side — similarly entrenched career politicians who stand to lose as much from population districting as any Republican. One, Gary Siplin, was fired in 2012. The other was Corrine Brown, of Florida’s 5th district. Which one is that, might you ask? Here’s a hint: Look for the big snake crawling up the middle of the state.
Yes, supposed Democrat Corrine Brown got her job courtesy of the most blatantly gerrymandered district in the state. Any wonder why she sides with (Illinois millionaire CEO) Rick Scott?
But you know who doesn’t side with Rick Scott, corporate interests and Israeli billionaires? Here’s a quote from Charlie Crist, a long-time and very vocal supporter of Amendments 5 and 6:
“Some people have gotten so rigid about their adherence to the party before doing what’s right for the people, it’s hurting our country. It is very obvious to me when these unkind remarks are made. I mean, what do they care what I do? They shouldn’t care where I go to church. They shouldn’t care whether I’m registered a Republican or a Democrat…You’re supposed to be able to do what you want and determine your own destiny.”
Unfortunately, though, Crist was kicked out of office even as the democracy he supported (even when he was a Republican) was passed. Which brings us to where we are today.
Despite every possible Republican effort to stop it, Florida is still force-crawling its way out of gerrymandering Hell. Just a few months ago, in July of this year, a florida circuit judge found that the blatant gerrymandering in the state was unconstitutional, citing a “secret, organized campaign” by Republicans operatives who “made a mockery of the Legislature’s transparent and open process of redistricting.”
In fact, the judge’s entire written ruling is a scathing indictment of Florida’s Republican-led democracy problem. It opens with quotes from George Washington warning us of
“…cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men” who will “subvert the power of the people” and “usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
The judge ordered two districts specifically be redrawn. District 10 in Orlando (held by republican Dan Webster) and none other than District 5…Corrine Brown’s snake. That could have wider ramifications, as well, since Judge Lewis argued that
“If one or more districts do not meet constitutional muster, then the entire act is unconstitutional.”
That means Florida’s entire district map could end up re-drawn. Which is great news, and certainly a step in the right direction. However…Amendments 5 and 6, democratically passed by the people of Florida, remain unsigned on Rick Scott’s desk.
There are some of you reading this now who don’t live in Florida; and you’re probably wondering what a redistricting argument has to do with you. Consider the knife-edge balance of power in Washington right now; with just one or two seats standing between domination by the GOP or the Democrats, democratic redistricting in a currently GOP-dominated state with 27 seats could easily have a profound effect on congressional control.
As of right now, the governor’s race in Florida is still a dead heat. Some say Charlie Crist didn’t do enough, and that there’s no real difference between the two. But before you settle on that idea, remember who supports the return of democracy in Florida.
And remember that one time Rick Scott did his best to kill it with a phone call.