Tampa redistricting meeting dominated by calls to "show us the maps"

The League of Women Voters and mostly Democrats have been critical for months about the redistricting process, saying that the 26 public meetings that the redistricting committee have been holding this summer (there were 40 such representatives and state Senators on stage) have been a farce, since the Legislature won't be unveiling any maps until next year, without the public having a chance to weigh in at that point.

Democratic party activist Susan Smith said those actions are leading the public to continue to mistrust their politicians. "We told you last November very clearly what we want. We don't want the incumbent protection racket known as gerrymandering."

Another Democrat, Jocelyn Dickman, blasted the Republicans on the panel, saying it was very difficult to trust the legislature this year, "as the majority passed the most vile, despicable legislation known as the voter suppression act," referencing the elections bill that will limit the number of early voting days, among other provisions. She was interrupted twice by Senator Don Gaetz, who was chairing the meeting, when she started attacking Wesley Chapel House Republican Will Weatherford, who will be the next House Speaker in 2013 (afterward Dickman tweeted that "I don't play. Or take crap from Senator Gaetz.").

But there were, especially early on, plenty of critics of amendments 5 and 6.

Tampa resident Scott Barrish asked who wouldn’t want fair districts? But said "when you read those amendments, the terms are very ambiguous and vague. It’s going to go to the courts, and that is not fair."

Several others also made the same complaints, saying they thought legislators hands were tied because of the ways the amendments were written.

But that led Sun City resident Vera Chapman to go off on the panel, warning that "I could take some of you behind the shed…If you don’t recognize fair or contiguous, I recommend you buy a dictionary."

That prompted Republican Deborah Tamargo to dismiss that criticism, saying that the amendments might have some conflict with the Voting Rights Act and that the legislation was disingenuous."

At the end of the four hours, Representative Will Weatherford addressed one of seemingly his biggest bones of contention - why the League of Women Voters wasn't working with the legislators to produce maps.

Some members of the public said it was the Legislature's jobs - not theirs- to produce the maps. A League of Women Voters representative said that the LWV did produce maps at the last redistricting period in 2002 - and said the Legislature dismissed them.

Weatherford said that it was important for the Legislature to listen right now to the public - and quoted Ellen Ellen Freidin, the woman behind Fair Districts Florida - as having said that she agreed that the public should be heard first before any maps were drawn up.

Hearings take place Tuesday morning in Largo at the Epi-Center at St. Pete College, and then tonight at New College in Sarasota.

  • citizens studying voting districts before monday's meeting

Although there were definitely divisions among the 93 people who came to speak at the Florida Legislature's redistricting public hearing at Jefferson high School in Tampa Monday night - there was one issue that brought people together.

That would be that Congressional District 11, which covers Tampa and most of Hillsborough County - not contain South St. Petersburg and Manatee County in next year's redrawing of the seat currently held by Democrat Kathy Castor, which makes it one of the most obvious gerrymandered districts in the state.

That complaint brought home that most people speaking - Democrats, Republicans and independents - truly hate gerrymandering, which is what the passage of amendments 5 and 6 on the November ballot last year is supposed to alleviate.

But there was absolute a divide among the dozens and dozens of people who spoke for nearly four hours at the hearing. Those who strongly believe that the Legislature has their marching orders with the huge success of those amendments last year, and those who question the measure, calling it ambiguous.

Supporters of amendments 5 and 6 say the mandate is to draw congressional and legislative lines in a "fair, compact and contiguous" fashion. Supporters of that measure maintained the mantra of "show us the maps."

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