U.S. Reps Vow Aggressive Fight vs. Redistricting Amendments

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart calls 5 and 6 'unworkable'
By: Gray Rohrer | Posted: September 21, 2010 4:05 AM
Corrine Brown-Mario Diaz Balart-Kurt-Browning

'It’s totally unworkable,' U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, said of the amendments. From left, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, former Secretary of State Kurt Browning and Diaz-Balart.  Credit: Nathan Spicer

The fight over Amendments 5 and 6, already litigious, is about to heat up.

U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, announced Monday their support for a political action committee that will fight the amendments, which are designed to draw more representative districts in Florida.

Brown represents Florida’s 3rd Congressional District -- one of the most gerrymandered in the state. It snakes south from Jacksonville and includes parts of Gainesville and Orlando. She became the first African-American elected to Congress in Florida in 125 years when the U.S. Supreme Court created her district in 1992. She invoked the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in defending her district lines and accused proponents of the amendments -- including the NAACP -- of trying to reduce minority representation.

Speaking at a press conference at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee, Brown said, “Let’s remember the Voting Rights Act of 1965 said that you can put together communities of interest in a district. That’s how my district was drawn.”

The amendments are supported by FairDistricts, which calls itself a nonpartisan group, but were financed to the tune of $4 million by unions, trial attorneys and other Democratic interests in order to get them on the ballot. Brown and Diaz-Balart point to the Republicans’ comfortable majority in the state Legislature, in a state evenly split among registered Democrats and Republicans, as evidence of Florida’s unfair district boundaries.

Critics of Brown’s stance say she is fighting the ballot measures solely to keep the large majority she enjoys in her district in order to keep her seat safe from challengers. But she maintains that's not the case.

“I support making sure we have minority representation at every level,” Brown said.

Of Florida’s 25 congressional districts, six are held by minorities -- three African-Americans and three Hispanics.

Republican Diaz-Balart is counted among the three Hispanic representatives, and represents Florida’s 25th Congressional District in South Florida. But he is currently trying to replace his brother, Lincoln, who holds the more solidly GOP seat in District 21.

“I’m trying to make sure that minorities have the chance to elect their own candidates at the congressional and state level. These amendments will have the effect of bleaching the state representatives in the Legislature,” Diaz-Balart said.

Both representatives have already filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to take the amendments off the ballot, but are convinced they will take redistricting decisions out of the hands of legislators and into the hands of judges.

Amendments 5 and 6 call for legislators to draw legislative and congressional districts without favoring or disfavoring incumbents or political parties, with regard for minority representation and participation, and with the regular standards of making districts contiguous and as equal in population as possible.

Opponents of the amendments say this renders redrawing districts impossible, leading to inevitable litigation, with districts ultimately being drawn by the courts.

“It’s totally unworkable,” Diaz-Balart said of the amendments.

Former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning was also on hand to announce the foundation of Protect Your Vote, a PAC designed to defeat Amendments 5 and 6.

Browning, a veteran of the past three redistricting fights (1982, 1992, and 2002), believes the group will be able to have an impact in the final six weeks of the campaign and raise the necessary $4 million or more in that time, even though no money has yet been raised.

“Yes, I think we’ll have an impact, we think we have time. We have the (Associated Industries of Florida) and the Florida Chamber with us. I think the businesses know a bad thing when they see it,” Browning said.

But Adora Obi Nweze, Florida State Conference president of the NAACP, takes the opposite point of view, claiming those who want to defeat the amendments are selfishly stroking their own political ambitions.

"Our position is strongly in support of Amendments 5 and 6," she said in a written statement. "The amendments will serve all Floridians and people of color very well because they reinforce the Voting Rights Act and other federal safeguards. The passage of these constitutional amendments will result in fair districts and equal representation for all Floridians regardless of race or national origin."

Both amendments need the approval of 60 percent of the voters to be made law, but regardless of the outcome, the fate of Florida’s districts will likely end up in the courts.


Reach Gray Rohrer at grohrer@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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