FairDistricts Conflict Escalates in Florida

In Florida, the question of how best to protect minority interests in redistricting recently escalated into a heated statewide debate over redistricting. At the forefront is outspoken Democratic Representative Corrine Brown, who has filed a lawsuit to take Amendment 6 (the FairDistricts Florida ballot initiative that would reform the criteria for drawing congressional  districts) off the November ballot. Wrote Representative Brown earlier this year: “[in]the Florida state Senate alone, it is estimated that as many as five of the seven state Senate seats held by African-Americans could be endangered [by the FairDistricts proposal], while only two of the seven are the kind of  “majority minority” districts that would be protected by the Voting Rights Act.”  Brown is referring to is the U.S. Justice Department’s redistricting standards pertaining to racial gerrymandering. She worries that the new FairDistricts proposals will inhibit legislators’ ability to tie together minority communities of interests and prevent minority vote dilution.

Brown’s stance on Amendment 6 has earned skepticism from large portions of the Florida media, and the NAACP opposes the lawsuit. Representative Brown prematurely ended a recent radio interview before giving the host or the show’s callers an opportunity to challenge her stance.   Representative Brown went on the Jacksonville radio program “First Coast Connects” to defend her lawsuit against the FairDistricts Proposal, but hung up only five minutes into the interview.  She was sharply criticized for decision not to defend her lawsuit regarding the FairDistricts Proposal. Her parting words demonstrated her reluctance to discuss redistricting publicly, saying, “As far as I’m concerned, this is a legal issue that should be handled in the courts.” Callers responded that “[Brown’s] argument wasn’t very poignant” and said her views merely reflected Brown’s aims to “protect her own district and ensure her election.” Only a day after the shortened interview, Brown accused the host of “First Coast Connects” of unfairly conducting the interview.

Representative Brown is an African-American congresswoman from Florida’s 3rd district, first elected in 1992. She was accused recently of fighting to keep her district (rated D+18 by the Cook Partisan Voting Index) safely gerrymandered. Geographically, her district winds its way through nine counties between Jacksonville and Orlando. Brown’s opponent in Florida’s August Democratic primary is Scott Fortune, a white civil rights attorney. Fortune strongly supports the FairDistricts proposal, as does current governor and independent Florida Senate candidate Charlie Crist.  Fortune released a documentary highlighting inherent wrongs with gerrymandering and the corruption behind redistricting; moreover, the documentary claims to expose Representative Brown for her political self-interest in the midst of the media frenzy about Brown, her radio interview hang-up, and lawsuit against Amendment 6. Fortune says the documentary clarifies “the shameful segregation within Florida’s Third Congressional District.”

As noted earlier on this blog, the legislature’s Amendment 7 joins FairDistricts’s Amendments 5 and 6 on the November Ballot. Unlike Amendments 5 and 6, which explicitly outline changes to redistricting, the 7th does not tighten Florida’s current legal standards on redistricting. Amendment 7 was proposed by the Florida state legislature after FairDistricts Florida successfully obtained enough signatures to add Amendments 5 and 6 to the ballot. Amendment 7 explicitly takes precedence over all other redistricting legislation. It mandates that the state shall follow “federal requirements and balance and implement the standards of the State Constitution”—standards which Amendments 5 and 6 seek to alter. Florida’s four largest newspapers have each come out in support of Amendments 5 and 6 and against Amendment 7.

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