Change is hard to come by, especially in regard to government and legislative procedures and policy. Former Florida Education Commissioner and USF President Betty Castor spoke before Raymond Gross’ public policy and policy makers class last night about her work as a volunteer for and honorary co-chair of the Committee for Fair Elections. The group is lobbying for amendments to the state constitution that would change the manner in which districts are drawn for all legislative purposes.
“(The Committee for Fair Elections is) trying to change the (state) constitution,” Castor said. “It is not an easy thing. The first amendment would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The second amendment would establish standards for redistricting. Amendment three is simple: This issue is so harmful that we want these elections carried out now. We want these issues on the ballot in 2006.”
Florida’s legislative districts are far from organized, Castor said.
“I don’t think people realize how disenfranchised they are because of the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts,” Castor said. “Bizarre is the best way I can describe these (districts).”
Castor gave an example of how the division of legislative districts affects the immediate USF region. Florida Congressional District 11 encompasses much of Hillsborough County, a small section of Manatee County, and an odd speck of territory in southern Pinellas County.
“The only word in the current constitution about how to draw a district is that the district should be contiguous,” said Castor. “The only way this district (11) could be contiguous is if it goes over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. I don’t think anyone thinks that is a compact, contiguous district.”
District lines often split cities as well and make it difficult for people to understand politics and issues that matter to them.
“Temple Terrace is divided into three different congressional districts,” said Castor. “I think there’s an argument that we should try to create compact districts where cities are represented by one congressional district.”
According to Castor, incumbent politicians in Florida have designed districts for their own benefit.
“72 percent of our legislators last year during general elections were elected with no opposition,” said Castor. “No incumbent was defeated for Congress, no incumbent was defeated for state senate, and no incumbent was defeated for state house.”
According to Castor, the reasons for this are not because of excellent histories of performance among all those reelected officials though.
“I don’t think that (incumbent politicians) are being re-elected because they’re doing such a wonderful job,” Castor said. “I think they’re being re-elected because they’ve drawn districts that make it almost impossible to defeat them.”
Petitions for the amendments and more information can be found at www.committeeforfairelections.com.