Sunday, October 17, 2010

My thoughts on this year's amendments

As usual, this year's ballot has a long list of proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution, a non-binding special referendum, and in some counties, a proposed school tax.  My thoughts on these end of the ballot items are below.

First of all, some general comments.  My default setting on constitutional amendments is to vote no unless (1) the amendment actually addresses a matter that is appropriate for the Constitution, and (2) there is a compelling and specific problem that necessitates that amendment, and the amendment actually offers an effective solution to that problem.  Too often, it seems to me that many proposed amendments are solutions looking for a problem, instead of the other way around, or even worse, will create new and bigger problems if they are passed.  The campaigning in support and opposition of Constitutional amendments is frequently misleading, if not downright deceitful.

A few years ago an amendment was passed to require a 60% approval vote for new constitutional amendments, and that's helped a lot, but, in my opinion, we still have far too many issues on the ballot every year that would be better addressed by the legislature or another method than being enshrined in the Constitution.  The prohibition of a specific method of housing pregnant pigs on farms is the most egregious example that comes to mind, but it's by far not the only nonsense someone has tried to put into our Constitution.

The next part of my analysis addresses whether there a good reason for that specific amendment.  A lot of the time, the amendment may sound like a great idea, but when you investigate what it will actually do, you realize that it probably won't be able to solve the problem it's supposed to address.  Keep in mind that the language on the ballot is not the exact or complete language of the actual constitutional amendment, and the actual impact of any given amendment can be affected, sometimes greatly, by the statutes, administrative rules, and bureaucratic procedures that are enacted to execute that amendment.  To me, that is the biggest trick and potential danger of these amendments - what happens after your vote is sometimes drastically different than what you expected.

OK, here we go...let me know what you think in the comments! 

Amendment 1 - VOTE YES
Repeal of public campaign financing requirement. Proposing the repeal of the provision in the State Constitution that requires public financing of campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office who agree to campaign spending limits.
The ideas behind public campaign financing are noble ones: imposing spending caps is supposed to prevent anyone from "buying" an election, and providing funding to statewide candidates allows them to theoretically compete on an even playing field and have the resources to get their message out in Florida's expensive media market without feeling beholden to special interests.  

The problem is that this is not how it works in reality.  No statewide candidate gets elected with public financing dollars alone, and if a candidate has enough money (either from donors or personal resources) to go past the spending caps, the public contribution is not enough to provide a disincentive to that candidate, and  at the same time it's insufficient to allow an opponent to truly "level the playing field."

In essence, public campaign financing takes tens of millions of dollars of our taxpayer money to only partially and ineffectually address a problem that, in my opinion, is far from the biggest challenge facing our elections.  I'm less worried about one candidate having more money in their campaign account than the opponent than I am about many other campaign finance issues.  

Voting Yes on 1 will end public financing of statewide campaigns.  Especially in tough budget times like this, we should have higher priorities for our taxpayer dollars.

I recommend voting YES ON 1.

Amendment 2 - Vote Yes
Homestead ad valorem tax credit for deployed military personnel.  Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require the Legislature to provide an additional homestead property tax exemption by law for members of the United States military or military reserves, the United States Coast Guard or its reserves, or the Florida National Guard who receive a homestead exemption and were deployed in the previous year on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature. The exempt amount will be based upon the number of days in the previous calendar year that the person was deployed on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature. The amendment is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011. 
My first instinct is that I want to always support anything and everything that supports the troops.  This amendment is supposed to grant an additional homestead property tax exemption for active duty military who are serving overseas.  However, there  is some confusion about how this amendment would be carried out.  One issue is whether all overseas service should count, or just service in war zones.  There are also potential problems with how a qualifying member of the military will be able to prove eligibility, how susceptible this program will be to fraud, and how complicated and expensive the bureaucracy needed to execute this program will be.  

My main concern is that, again, we are facing serious budget challenges, and the impact this amendment will have on a single family is not that great, while the cumulative cost to the tax base will be millions of dollars.  I have a similar objection to back-to-school sales tax holidays - the savings to any single family are very small, but it costs the state millions of dollars.  This amendment also does nothing to help our military members who are renting their residence. 

Still, I understand the challenges that our active duty military face in trying to support their families back home while they serve overseas, and I can definitely see the motivations behind this amendment.  I only question whether this is the best way to accomplish these goals, or if there is a simpler way to provide financial support to our wonderful service members and their families.

Accordingly, I am not going to make a recommendation here.  I believe that you can have legitimate and morally valid reasons for either a Yes or a No vote on this one. 

UPDATED: I have been told that the total cost to the state will be about $13 million, and this is the only remaining tax bill that is still in effect during active overseas duty.  That changes my perspective on this amendment.  However, my concern still exists that this does nothing to assist military families in rental housing, and I still wonder whether there are better ways to financially support our military.  Still, the overall good from passing this amendment outweighs my concerns.

I recommend voting Yes on 2.

Amendment 4 - NO, NO, NO
Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans.  Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice. Provides definitions. 
This is the so-called "Hometown Democracy" amendment.  Basically, it requires any change to a local government comprehensive land use plan (aka "comp plan") to go on the ballot and be approved by the voters.  The supporters of Amendment 4 claim that it will protect communities from "out of control growth" caused by all those evil nasty developers.  However, Amendment 4 will not solve that problem, and will create lots of new, bigger problems.  

First of all, let's look at what Amendment 4 will mean on a practical level.  Comp plan amendments require highly technical and legally complicated language.  Normally, your city council, county commission, etc. will have all comp plan requests reviewed by trained staff attorneys, engineers, urban planners, etc. who submit their analysis and recommendations to a planning and zoning board, and then later to the entire city council or county commission.  There are multiple stages of review, discussion, and approval before any change can be made.  Amendment 4 asks the voters to make these decisions on their own.  Constitutional amendments are confusing enough, and their meaning can be even more obscured by the way they are summarized or reworded on the ballot.  Including comp plan amendments would either require putting long and extremely complicated language on the ballots, or shortening the language and risking misrepresentations.

Supporters of Amendment 4 claim that it is needed to stop large, sprawling mega-developments.  However, what will end up happening is that the  big developers will simply hire attorneys, lobbyists, and consultants to promote their project.  Any developer with the resources to build the type of project being scapegoated to promote Amendment 4 will probably also be able to pay for a campaign for your votes.  What will end up being adversely affected are local small businesses, someone seeking to expand their restaurant, upgrade a bookstore, add storage buildings on a back lot, etc.  

Amendment 4 does not stop any development, does not place any restrictions on any specific type of development, does not add any new standards for development.  All it does is add significant expense, complication, and time to the development process.  It does not matter how big or small the proposed comp plan change is, Amendment 4 would require all of them to campaign for voter approval, and would delay any development for about a year to wait for the next local election, if not longer.

There are also no exceptions based on merit of the development.  I can definitely understand the reservations people have about new residential subdivisions, especially considering Florida's currently depressed housing market, but what about the bio-tech industry growing around UCF's new medical school or the businesses moving into Innovation Way?  These are not developments that were contemplated a decade or two ago,  so they wouldn't have been included in comp plan decisions, but they will provide thousands of jobs and help diversify our local economy.  Going a little further back, think about the land use changes needed after a guy named Walt visited Orlando in the 1960s and decided it was a great place for his next theme park.  All development is not bad, and unnecessary restrictions will not stop bad developments but could scare off good ones. 

Other arguments used by Amendment 4 promoters are that current comp plans allow "the amount of homes in our county to double," "100 million people to move into Florida," and other scary-sounding statistics that make it sound like the state will be paved over completely.  These numbers are completely unrealistic.  Development never happens uniformly or all at once across an entire area.  No matter what, we are simply not going to build out every lot that is currently authorized under our comp plans.  When Amendment 4 supporters say things like this, they are including the state's vast undeveloped areas that are currently zoned agricultural, and suggesting that someone would come along and buy every single one of those lots and build houses on parcels that are 2.5 acres or larger (Orange County's current minimum lot size for A-R zoning).  There's not a developer out there that would make that investment.

The truth is that Amendment 4 would actually increase sprawl by making development near metropolitan areas more complicated and expensive, and thereby lowering the costs for developing further away from existing infrastructure, and more likely to adversely impact ecologically sensitive areas.  As long as Florida has sunshine and low taxes, we will always be faced with challenges regarding how we handle growth, but Amendment 4 is absolutely, positively not the right way to address those challenges.  

For additional information, please check out the website for Vote No on 4.

I strongly recommend voting No on 4.

Amendment 5 - VOTE NO
Standards for legislature to follow in legislative redistricting.  Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.
Amendment 6 - VOTE NO
Standards for legislature to follow in congressional redistricting.  Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.  
Amendments 5 and 6 address the way that state legislative and congressional districts are drawn.  Having worked on many local campaigns, I understand the confusion and frustration with gerrymandered districts, how difficult it can be to figure out who represents you, and the worries that voters have regarding the effect such districts may have in insulating incumbents from challenges.

The problem is that, once again, these amendments don't actually fix the problems they claim to address.  In fact, it is my opinion that the ballot language is fraudulently misleading on 5 and 6 and leaves out some very crucial information.  The end result will be significantly more litigation, and the decision making power removed from our elected officials and instead transferred to non-elected bureaucrats and judges.

One of the most important missing words in the ballot language (but present in the actual full text of the amendments) is the word "intent."  The full language of 5 and 6 forbids drawing districts with the "intent" to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party, or with the "intent" to adversely affect minority voting rights.  This requires an attempt to read the minds of those drawing the districts and divine some sort of malicious purpose.

The reality is that no matter how we draw our districts, whether we impose a square grid over the entire state or let a blindfolded chimpanzee draw the lines, it will benefit one party or candidate more than another, even in the absence of any "intent" to do so.  Amendments 5 and 6  do nothing to reform our redistricting process and instead just open up additional arenas for litigation, most dangerously through the potential arguments over what "intent" was present during the process.

Districts are already required to be contiguous, and proportional in population.  The U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, and many, many federal and state statutes already forbid racial discrimination or interfering with someone's right to vote based on race.  And what precisely constitutes a "language minority"?  Will all dialects of Spanish be treated the same?  Will this amendment be interpreted to require ballots be printed in every language we can identify as currently spoken by a Florida resident?  We have a large Hispanic population in this state, and providing bilingual ballots increases access for a lot of people, but how expensive and cumbersome will it be to also print those ballots in French, German, Polish, Swahili, Greek, Farsi, and (for all the Borat fans) Kazakh?

More troubling, what does it mean to deny minorities the "opportunity" to elect a representatives of their "choice?"  Isn't the act of voting itself how people elect a representative of their choice?  Sounds to me that the proponents of these amendments are suggesting that minority groups vote as a block and can only be represented by members of their same minority group.  It is well documented that gerrymandering has been used for years to create "majority-minority" districts, making it more likely that minority candidates will be elected, if you are following the assumption that minorities are more likely to vote for members of their same group.  Personally, I've always been a big fan of judging people based on the "content of their character, not the color of their skin" as MLK Jr. encouraged.

I strongly recommend voting NO on 5 and 6.

Amendment 8 - VOTE YES
Revision of the class size requirements for public schools.  The Florida Constitution currently limits the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms in the following grade groupings: for prekindergarten through grade 3, 18 students; for grades 4 through 8, 22 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 25 students.  Under this amendment, the current limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms would become limits on the average number of students assigned per class to each teacher, by specified grade grouping, in each public school. 

This amendment also adopts new limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in an individual classroom as follows:  for prekindergarten through grade 3, 21 students; for grades 4 through 8, 27 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 30 students.  This amendment specifies that class size limits do not apply to virtual classes, requires the Legislature to provide sufficient funds to maintain the average number of students required by this amendment, and schedules these revisions to take effect upon approval by the electors of this state and to operate retroactively to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
This amendment adds flexibility to the current class size restrictions which were imposed by another constitutional amendment a few years ago.  It would slightly increase the number of students allowed per classroom and calculate the number based on a school's averages, instead of using a strict cap per classroom, as the current system does.

Three generations of my family, including both my parents, have been public school teachers and administrators in Florida.  While class size is only one factor in providing quality education, I definitely agree that overcrowded classes can be detrimental.  The increased burden on the teacher is clear, not just in terms of extra papers to grade but  also the challenges of properly addressing each student's needs and maintaining discipline.

Amendment 8 will not allow overcrowded classrooms.  It increases the caps only slightly, a needed change considering the budget restrictions every school system is facing right now.  Most importantly, is the change in calculation from a strict "how many children are in each class" to a more flexible "what is the average number of children in each class."  Currently, if a first grade class has 18 students at the beginning of the year, and another child transfers to that class two months later, the school is required to incur the expense of hiring a new teacher, providing for a new classroom, and breaking up the children in that class.  

The damage caused by breaking up a successfully functioning class is a major problem.  It is highly disruptive to the learning environment and can be traumatic for the students, especially the very young or those who have learning disabilities or behavioral issues.  How do you explain to kindergartners who have already bonded with their teacher why they have to get a new teacher?  What effect does that have on students who are in the middle of learning to read?  At the higher level, these class size caps have resulted in high school students being unable to take AP or honors classes, impeding their ability to compete for admission to college.

I recommend voting YES on 8.

Nonbinding Statewide Referendum - Vote YES
Balancing the Federal Budget. A Nonbinding Referendum Calling for an Amendment to the United States Constitution. In order to stop the uncontrolled growth of our national debt and prevent excessive borrowing by the Federal Government, which threatens our economy and national security, should the United States Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?
This is a "nonbinding referendum," which suggests that it doesn't mean anything.  There is some hope that passing this referendum with a significant majority would send a message to Washington D.C. that the people of Florida are highly concerned about deficit spending and our national debt.  This type of referendum is also a first step in calling for a Constitutional Convention to actually draft and pass such an amendment.

Honestly, I believe that the wisdom of actually passing such an amendment should be sincerely and thoroughly debated.  The budgets and concerns of state legislatures are very different and distinct from those of Congress.  In times of war or national emergency, deficit spending may be necessary or helpful.  However, those concerns can be addressed if and when a Constitutional Convention is actually convened, and the spending in Washington has gotten so insanely out-of-control that I really would like to send a clear message that we have had enough.

I recommend voting yes on this nonbinding special referendum.

School Tax increases - Vote NO 

Orange County voters will see the following language at the end of their ballot as "Special Referendum:"
Orange County School District Ad Valorem Millage Election. Shall the Orange County School District ad valorem millage be increased by a total of one mill for essential operating expenses in order to preserve academic programs, retain highly qualified teachers, and protect arts, athletics and student activities beginning July 1, 2011, and ending four (4) fiscal years later on June 30, 2015, with annual reporting to ensure proper fiscal stewardship of these funds to the citizens of Orange County?
...and Seminole County voters will see this language as a "County Referendum:"
Shall The School Board of Seminole County, Florida, levy a one-half cent school capital outlay sales tax on sales in Seminole County, Florida, for 10 years, effective January 1, 2012, for the purpose of paying the costs of the projects and other expenditures set forth in the Resolution 2010-02 and adopted on July 27, 2010 consisting of facility construction and maintenance (including safety and security), technology for schools and other authorized capital expenditures?

I recommend voting no on both of these.  For me to even consider supporting a tax increase, three factors must be unequivocally established: (1) a definite end date, or "sunset," to the tax increase, (2) a clear and specific purpose for the tax increase, and (3) a pressing need for the funds that justifies the added burden on the taxpayers.

Here, both the Orange and Seminole proposals include expiration dates, but I am not satisfied that my other two criteria have been met.  The Orange proposal states that the funds are to "preserve academic programs, retain highly qualified teachers, and protect arts, athletics and student activities."  To me, that sounds vague, and easily interpreted to allow the money to be used for almost any of the school system's expenditures.  The reporting requirement to ensure "proper fiscal stewardship" is an empty promise, as school budgets are already a matter of public record.

The Seminole County one bothers me even more.  What the heck are the "projects and other expenditures set forth in the Resolution 2010-02," exactly?  It says that they are "facility construction and maintenance (including safety and security), technology for schools and other authorized capital expenditures," but I am still not entirely clear about where the money would go, especially what exactly those "other authorized capital expenditures" might include.

My biggest concern with both of these proposals is that during this tough economy, we should be extraordinarily cautious about any tax increases and the further depressive effect they would likely have on our economy.  I am proud of the fact that I received my education exclusively from our public school system (kindergarten all the way through college and law school), and as a result I am a strong believer in the merits of our public schools, but I also believe that merely throwing money at schools won't necessarily improve education, and I strongly believe that this is the wrong time for a tax increase.

I recommend voting NO on the Orange County and Seminole County school tax increase proposals.  

What do you think?  Do you agree with me about these amendments?  Why or why not?


  1. Please change to a vote yes on 2. Michael Waldrop and I worked very hard for three years to get this on the ballot. Saying the impact to a family is comparative to school tax savings is a bad analogy. When a person is called to war, every tax is dropped except this one. Getting a tax bill while serving your country is a headache, something that can create unnecessary burden - especially when most of the military has given up higher paying jobs when called into duty.
    The cost of this to the entire state is $13 million, that is less than a dollar per person. That is DROP in the bucket. We spend $50 million on advertising the lottery. The latest school tax holiday cost twice as much.
    Pushed by then Rep. Andy Gardiner and Rep. Mike Horner, this passed the state house unanimously three times. It passed the state senate unanimously finally this year. Democrats and Republicans thought this was important. In working on this bill for three years, I never heard any of the concerns you mentioned.

    Please change to support.

  2. Alan, thank you for this information. This needs to get out there more...if I didn't know it, then NOBODY knows it. I had received conflicting reports about the cost of the amendment, but I trust your data.

    I remain concerned about the potential for fraud and some issues about how this will be executed, but with this new information I agree with your recommendation.

    Updating post to say vote Yes.

  3. Sarah
    Thanks for your thoughtful analysis- I agree with you on each amendment. I have the opportunity to answer questions from friends about these amendments - and you have given me great ammunition.

  4. Sarah,

    I came to your blog through another site and enjoyed your review of the amendments. I agree with your position on several of the amendments, but I was hoping that you could respond to a couple of things that I question on amendments 5/6. While I fully agree that intent to favor/disfavor a party or incumbent is messy and hard to prove, here is a list of where.

    1. Yes, there are already requirements regarding contiguity and population proportions, but are there requirements regarding the use of city/county/geographic boundaries? My understanding was that they were not required, and these amendments would help by providing those guidelines.

    2. When issues are raised about litigation around redistricting, doesn't the party out of power typically challenge the districts that are drawn by the party that's in power? This doesn't just happen in FL (e.g., after census of 2000, 1990), but it happens in other states as well. Since lawsuits will be filed anyway, I am unsure about how they would be raised this time around. Is this by by multiple suits or a number of issues being raised in one suit? Insight here would be appreciated.

    3. You specifically mention concerns about minority language in 5/6 and raised issues regarding gerrymandering to create "majority-minority" districts. Since this typically goes back to the Voting Rights Act, I was hoping that you could comment on the impact of the 2009 US Supreme Court decision involving redistricting in NC. When this ruling is combined with the boundaries that I mentioned in point 1, it appears to me as though the passage of 5/6 would make it harder to do this type of gerrymandering that we see in Corrine Brown's district (#3).

    By my comments, I think anyone could tell that I favor these two amendments, but I would appreciate hearing comments and counterpoints. I don't think they're perfect, but I do think they'll do more good than harm. Furthermore, I'd expect court ruling from litigation that will be happening anyway to clear up interpretation of the gray areas.



  5. Thanks for your comments, Tom. I understand the desire to just draw lines along city and county boundaries. First of all, following city/county boundaries would still end up with a "gerrymandered" appearance because of the irregular boundaries of those areas.

    The bigger problem is that the population of Florida is heavily concentrated along the coasts. Orlando is the only major metropolitan area not along the edges of the state. Accordingly, if we are going to continue to honor the concept of "one person one vote" then drawing lines along city/county lines would result in either a long of tiny, highly concentrated districts along the coasts and a few big sprawling districts for the rural areas.

    Anyway, the end result would be much less representation for the rural counties. Right now, a county like Lake or Marion might each have 2 or 3 members of Congress who represent their interests, but imposing a requirement to follow the county lines would likely cause an area Lake, Marion, and Putnam, and maybe even another rural county, to share ONE Congressional representative.

    As far as litigation goes, some of the factors that go into making a lawsuit more expensive (both to sue and to defend), are (1) number of legal issues involved, and (2) complexity of those issues.

    Amendments 5 & 6 open up a LOT of new legal issues, and those issues are very complex because of the vague wording of the amendment and the contradictory language. How do you avoid the "intent" of favoring a political party and also avoid the "intent" of harming a minority group? These amendments take the interpretation of drawing the district lines away form elected officials and hand it over to unelected judges and bureaucrats. If you don't like what elected officials do, you can vote against them. Don't like what a judge does? It's virtually impossible to do anything about it.

    I don't like extreme gerrymandering. Congressional District 3 (Corrine Brown) is especially egregious - it looks like some weird dancing goblin creature (seriously, tilt your head to the left, squint your eyes, and you can sort of see it...the "feet" are in Orange and Seminole county, there's a little tail that covers part of Deland, etc.). I just strongly believe that the best way to deal with gerrymandering isn't to hand control over to unelected people with a new set of vague and contradictory standards.

    I'll try to add more later, but it's after 11 and I am TIRED. Long day today helping get some good people elected. Good night, y'all :)

  6. Amendments 5 and 6 are clearly nothing but a ruse by the liberals to try and increase their numbers even as people are turning away from them and their candidates. They'll try every sleazy way to stay in office against our will. I know that a Republican governor and legislature can and would just ignore it when drawing the new districts but the legal challenges by the aformentioned sore losers means they still have the potential to do as much damage to this state as Amendment 4. I'm glad there's now a 60% requirement to pass these things because a passage of any two of Nos. 4-6 would mean a permanent recession in Florida. Even just one of them alone could easily do it. Two or more and the rest of the nation will be calling us "The Slumshine State." Even if the next president gets the economy growing again, we won't see any of the positive effects. The bottom line is their defeat is just as important and worthy of celebration as Amendment 4 even if they don't have signs everywhere and aren't being discussed much by the media.

  7. Sarah,

    Thanks for the response so far, and I think you brought up a good point on the urban versus rural representation issue. Like I said before, the "intent" part does sound a little odd to me.

    If you don't mind me adding to my previous post, I was hoping to ask a few more questions. What in your opinion would have made 5 & 6 better? Obvious follow ups here, but what do you think about 7? What do you think about the FL Supreme Court's ruling on 7? If there were issues with 7, how could that have bee improved? Do you think we might see another version of 7 (designed to get through the courts) some time in the future?

    Thanks again for your time, and I look forward to your response.


  8. I got some interesting information from State Rep. Scott Plakon last night at the SCREC meeting about redistricting. Senator Mike Haridopolos made repeated offers to Ellen Friedlin and the other people organizing the "Fair Districts" support for Amendments 5 & 6 to come in and review the computer programs and maps they use to draw districts, and to offer their ideas for the process.

    Friedlin and the other Fair District people REFUSED. They refused to collaborate in the redistricting process, they refused to even come in and sit down with Haridopolos or anyone else in the Legislature.

    If they were truly sincere in wanting to reduce gerrymandering and protect minority votes, they would have at least shown up. I find it very hypocritical that they are arguing for Amendments 5 & 6 by saying that the politicians are out-of-touch and won't listen to the people, when they were given multiple opportunities to talk to those same politicians but they couldn't even be bothered to show up.

    I do not believe there is any need for amendments like 5 & 6 that add on new, vague, complicated standards to the redistricting process. What is needed is for smart and creative people to participate in the process and offer ideas, and communicate about it both to the politicians and the people.

  9. Sarah,
    I moved here recently and am similarly clued regarding politics, so thanks for the great summary of the proposed amendments.

    Other than the list of backers, (which should instill a dread comparable to the inscription welcoming one to Mordor) I haven't yet heard the compelling deal killer regarding 5 & 6. I have a JD, so I certainly understand the concerns with vagueness, but I live in Kathy Castor's 'disemboweled salamander of geographically dispersed liberals' district, so I'm not seeing the downside to chopping these things up along geographical lines.

    Two other 'negatives' look like positives to me:
    1. It would substitute judges for incumbents. I'm thinking that if there's one thing incumbents of all parties agree on, it's the wonderful benefits of incumbency. Asking Judges to make these decisions is sort of like asking the wolves to tell the foxes how to design the chicken coop, which is still preferable to the previous division of effort.

    2. In my short time here I've learned to deeply distrust and in fact despise the establishment FGOP, so naturally I distrust their advice to reject these amendments since they seem almost as corrupt as AK's GOP. When they're not getting indicted, they give us weaselly, thumb-sucking sore losers like Crist and McCollough. I have yet to figure out how a guy like Marco Rubio got by them, since he appears to have a spine, a brain, a set of identifiable principles, and even knows how to write legislation, as judged by his carefully crafted CCW laws.

    Please tell me where I am going wrong here.

  10. Thanks for your comments, Mark.

    The issue isn't that Amendments 5 & 6 just turn decision making over to the judges. Amendments 5 & 6 do NOTHING to change the PROCESS by which districts are drawn. NOTHING.

    The Legislature will still use the same computer system and same committees to draw the lines, and the only thing 5 & 6 will change is to add vague and conflicting standards that open up a LOT more issues for litigation after the process is done. The reality is, no matter how we create districts(as I put it "whether we impose a square grid over the entire state or let a blindfolded chimpanzee draw the lines"), someone will be unhappy and lawsuits will be filed. Lawsuits are always filed after redistricting. Amendments 5 & 6 will exponentially increase the number, cost, and complexity of those lawsuits.

    As I said in the original post, I am very concerned about the use of the word "intent." There is no easy way to prove that, and it will make the litigation very messy.

    If we want to change the redistricting process, then let's REALLY change it - have an amendment that creates a panel of bipartisan or nonelected people, for example. Leaving the current system in place but just adding fuzzy standards for people to litigate after the fact will not help.

    I don't blindly put my trust in a party, but I do trust PEOPLE that I know. One of those people is State Representative Scott Plakon. I talked with Plakon about 5 & 6 recently and he mentioned two big issues:

    First, geographic lines are not the answer. They are just as randomly drawn as the districts are. County lines are often where some guy's horse stopped for water 200 years ago, and cities annex little areas block by block, so their borders are especially jagged. (Check out the outline of Orlando sometime - it looks like a melted butterfly)

    Second, Senator Haridopolos invited Ellen Friedlin and the other organizers of the Fair Districts effort to come and look at the computer system the Legislature uses for redistricting, see how it works, see what data they use, and then give their suggestions and feedback for how to improve the process. They refused. They were not willing to even sit down and talk with Haridopolos or any of the other Legislators or staffers at all. Not even once.

    To me, that shows how very, very hypocritical the backers of 5 & 6 are. As you put it, the funding sources are highly dubious (love the Mordor reference!), they weren't willing to participate in the process at all, weren't willing to even TALK about it, and the Amendments themselves do not do anything to change the redistricting procedures at all.


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