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Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel: Gerrymandering means the joke's on you

Scott Maxwell TAKING NAMES
10:12 p.m. EST, December 1, 2011

I’ve heard some bad jokes in my day.

Like: “What should you do if you’re attacked by a pack of clowns? Go for the juggler.”
Still, one of the worst jokes ever told was when Florida legislators claimed they spent the past six months actually “listening” to what citizens had to say when it came to redistricting.

That, my friends, is a laugh.

Because the state Senate just released a maps that suggest the main people these politicians listened to were other politicians.

The proposed districts are self-serving and gerrymandered … again.

Just look at Corrine Brown’s infamous congressional district. If legislators have their way, it will still snake over 200 miles from Orlando to Gainesville and then up to Jacksonville.

This is “reform”?

What a joke. (And not a good one, like: “I never wanted to believe that my dad was stealing from his job as a road-repairman. But when I got home, all the signs were there.”)

For you to believe Brown’s ridiculously shaped district was the product of a “listening tour,” you’d have to believe some resident from Orange County showed up at a hearing and said the following:

“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I live near Apopka. But please don’t draw me a district that might actually elect someone from nearby. Instead, stretch it so long and far that the bulk of it is in seven other counties. Heck, take it close to the Georgia state line. Oh, and if you’re looking for a suggested shape, how about a python that has swallowed a wild boar, small deer and a golden retriever?”

Obviously no one actually requested such a thing. (Or if they did, they were joking — like the guy who once said: “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather … not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”)

What Florida legislators have done is what they’ve done in the past — slice and dice up the state, so that incumbents and their friends get the voters they need to remain in office.

It’s called gerrymandering. And after last year’s statewide vote for Fair Districts, it was supposedly unconstitutional.

But apparently state legislators don’t have any more respect for this constitution than they do for the voters.

Counties like Orange and Polk are still split into four and five different congressional districts. A single state senate district runs from Haines City to near Winter Park.

Take a look at any of the proposed maps, and you’ll see the lines look like they were drawn by a blindfolded preschooler.

In reality, they were drawn with painstaking precision — the product of unholy alliances between Democrats and Republicans who each want to create safe districts for themselves.

The politicians win. Fairness loses.

Legislators claim they have to leave districts like Brown’s in place to protect the rights of minority voters. Hogwash. Case law may say they can’t completely bleach a district. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make the demographic split a bit more equitable … and sensible.

In fairness, there are a few improvements in these latest proposals. Some districts are more compact. And in the Senate maps, fewer districts appear drawn to favor incumbents.

But Central Florida’s lines are still a mess. Overall, this is not what Floridians wanted when they voted for Fair Districts.

So, if you want to speak up, call your state legislator. (The switchboard is 850-488-4371.)

Tell them to respect the will of the voters.

Tell them to draw sensible lines.

Tell them that you’re sick of them playing games with your democracy.

And if they don’t listen, remind them of another old joke — the one about what politicians and diapers have in common. They both need to be changed regularly.

[email protected] or 407-420-6141,0,4367627.column

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