Will Weatherford latest Republican to attack critics of redistricting process

Let's review.

In the Trib's June 22 editorial, the paper wrote:

Voters already have made it clear they want lawmakers to draw "fair" districts — that is, congressional and legislative boundaries that are compact, contiguous and practical. Some 63 percent of voters passed two constitutional amendments last year that let lawmakers know they don't want lines drawn to protect any single lawmaker or to allow one party to maintain control of the legislative process, regardless of voters' sentiment. They don't want districts that bounce from one side of a street to another, districts where their "local" representative lives a hundred or more miles away.

Yet the Republican majority appears ready to upend the will of Floridians in the name of self-preservation, and it's hard not to assume their vaunted meetings are anything more than a sideshow, given the ground rules: There are as yet no maps to talk about, and though committee members promise to listen, there will be little give-and-take with the public until the meetings have concluded and the maps are drawn.

Thus they have given the impression they want to hold off drawing districts for as long as possible, putting off the court challenges to the once-in-a-decade redistricting plan that apportions the state's 18.3 million residents among 120 House and 40 Senate districts. Plus this year, two new congressional seats must be drawn, increasing Florida's congressional membership to 27.

Keeping the map under wraps for as long as possible will make it harder for anyone hoping to challenge an incumbent to develop a campaign strategy or build an effective elections organization. The Tribune's William March reports that under the current schedule, final approval of the district lines could be pushed beyond the dates .for candidates to qualify for the election, June 4-8, or even near the Aug. 14, 2012, state primary.

The editorial goes on to write that Weatherford and incoming Senate President Don Gaetz have insisted
that the process is as devoid of politics as possible, with no incumbent being protected.

Realizing that's hard to take with a straight face, the Trib ended their post with this reference to the Fair Districts amendments, which mandates that the newly drawn legislative and congressional districts be drawn fairly and contiguously.

The Fair Districts approach might cost the GOP its overwhelming majority in the Legislature, which has made the party virtually unaccountable. But an equitable redistricting process is unlikely to swing our conservative-leaning state to the Democrats — unless GOP leaders continue to arrogantly put partisan concerns above voters' will.

Weatherford disagrees. The House Republican from Wesley Chapel writes that he's never previously responded to a negative editorial, but believes the Trib's piece was so unfair that he had to counter back.

You read the piece here, entitled "State redistricting is an open process."

In answering the biggest criticism, that the lawmakers are making a farce of the proceedings by not having maps that the public can review right now and thus are ready to surprise everyone in the end (which may not be until next June, before those maps inevitably go through the courts), Weatherford writes that there the proposed maps will be made public "for a minimum of three days" before the legislators can vote on the maps. And all amendments to proposed maps must also be made public for minimum of two days prior to a vote. And:

Further, leading redistricting-reform organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice suggest that states allow for citizen comment before and after maps are drawn. We agree. That is why we are conducting public hearings — not politician-led seminars — before we draw the first boundary line, and it is why we will provide ample opportunities for the public to view and comment on maps before any votes are taken.

Weatherford is not the first Republican to react defensively to the criticism that has come this way towards the hearings this summer. Senate President (and U.S. Senate candidate) Mike Haridopolos expressed similar exasperation about the criticism when CL spoke to him in Tampa last month.

"We've taken over two years to listen to people, and for people to now say where are the maps? I would simply say that's silly. We've asked for people who are interested to draw the maps, we'd love to analyze them , let other people analyze them and that's why we put all that information out on the Internet."

Florida GOP lawmakers who have been hosting public hearings on redistricting have been getting an earful since those hearings began two weeks ago. Chief among them have been the League of Women Voters, who have wondered why there aren't any maps to review during the series of meetings (which will take place in Tampa and Largo at the end of next month).

Several editorial pages across the state have also blasted the process, such as the Tampa Tribune, who last month referred to them as a "26-meeting farce."

That was too much for Will Weatherford, the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, who has penned an >op-ed in the Tribune today, writing that the Trib's piece included "dangerously false information" that could have a "chilling effect" on public participation in the redistricting process.

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