The Gerrymandering trial is over, and it is now up to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to render a judgment in the case. Whatever his ruling, the impact of the actions prompting this trial have already been detrimental to fair elections, good legislation, and public trust in government.
Although we have no way of knowing how Judge Lewis will rule, the facts of the case clearly reveal blatant tampering with the redistricting process, resulting in election outcomes that violate the principles of democracy, representative government, and integrity. Rolled up in all of this is also a clear violation of Florida’s constitution and the Fair Districts amendment. Although damage has been done by the actions of powerful government officials, the trial may well yield very constructive outcomes and opportunities for positive engagement.
For details on our position on this largely ignored trial and the stunning violations of integrity, and responsibility it has revealed, see our editorial “Gerrymandering Takes the Stand,” in Ecology Florida News. The editorial features links to several other sources for reference and comment on gerrymandering and this trial.
Comment and Analysis
Ironically, even as a final judgment approaches, few folks seem interested or even aware of what is at stake, or what has been revealed in this trial. There is little chatter on the Internet and in social media, and editorials and op eds receive little comment on websites. Print media has covered the trial quite well, but local broadcast media has barely noticed it. Ask your friends and neighbors about the case, see if they have even heard of it, and see if they care?
We should all care, and care very much about this one. We enthusiastically recommend communicating the importance of the Fair Districts Amendment with those in your circle. This amendment became law by vote of the citizens of Florida, and its clear intent was to prevent the very sort of gerrymandering that has occurred. Here is a link to the Fair Districts provisions as they appear in the Florida Constitution.
Floridians should be keenly aware of what has transpired at this trial, and be attentive to its outcome. The outcome will speak powerfully about the capacity of individuals to participate authentically in the political process and have their votes carry a measure of meaning and not serve as vacuous digits on a candidate’s final tally in an election decided before the polls opened.
Local government officials and government-support volunteers are probably surprised to learn that Senate President, Don Gaetz, found it “entirely proper” to conduct secret meetings on redistricting with House Speaker, Will Weatherford. Really! What happened to the Sunshine Law?
If a couple of members of a municipal parks and recreation committee or county library board had a secret meeting about repaving a parking lot or charging an extra nickel for overdue books, they’d likely be deemed to be in violation of the Sunshine Law. Yet, in Tallahassee, when it comes to drawing up congressional districts, apparently secret discussions between two of the most powerful government officials are “entirely proper,” and the Sunshine Law does not apply to them.
This trial is about whether or not government officials can compromise the participation of citizens in government, structure an election system favoring one party over another, pursue an ideological agenda in violation of the constitution – and do all of this behind closed doors and multiple veils of secrecy. The evidence presented in this case clearly indicates that in Florida, these are exactly the things that government officials can do and have done.
Judge Lewis will determine the legal consequences of their actions, but the social and cultural damage of their actions has already occurred. In the short time since the un-fair districts were drawn, we have had skewed election outcomes, one-party government in Tallahassee, greater polarization in Washington, ideological legislation pounded into law without shame, and further erosion of trust in government. The verdict is in, regardless of how Judge Lewis rules.
What Is To Be Done?
Although this damage cannot be undone, the trial may well yield very positive outcomes. Here’s how. First, it is of great importance to recognize that we are all in this together – the malefactors, the plaintiffs, Judge Lewis, reporters covering the trial, informed citizens and those who know nothing about what is happening – all of us. As the pop song from an earlier world affirmed: we are the world. And in the case of this case, we are Florida – all of us. This understanding is a key concept in reconstructing a sustainable social ecology. We are all in this together, and the mistakes of any reflect on all. So too, the success of any.
Second, it is of great importance to recognize that those who violated the public trust have been exposed, and correction is called for. Even if Judge Lewis rules against the plaintiffs, the wrong doers were identified and their actions uncovered. This is a positive development, and should be recognized as such. Little time should be spent on cheering, however; focus needs to be given to correction.
Third, as this case also shows, we must not accept the idea that we are powerless when elected officials abuse their power and violate the public trust. Action can be taken, starting tomorrow, starting today: inform the media of your concerns; contact your elected representatives (yes, even if they are in a different party); tell your friends and neighbors about what is going on; don’t give in to negativity and victimization, and tell others not to as well; participate in your local community and its government; and by all means stay informed by listening, asking, and learning.
Fourth, besides these and many other individual actions, the revelations of this trial remind us of the importance of our participation in and financial support of organizations working for constructive change. By joining together with others, our commitment to a sustainable culture is multiplied and magnified, leading to the discovery and implementation of healthy and creative responses to all the challenges we face. Yes, congressional districts were gerrymandered, and yes this did marginalize millions of voters, but we know this now, and we do not need to repeat it. Working with others in organizations committed to the regeneration of sustainable cultural systems may be one of the very best ways, if not the very best way, to correct this particularly egregious action and guard against such misadventures in the future.
The verdict is in, regardless of how Judge Lewis rules. Now it is up to us to act.
Recent publications on the trial
Mary Ellen Klas report on the trial in Tampa Bay Times
Comment and analysis
Editorial, Ecology Florida News
Column, John Romano, Tampa Bay Times
Column, John Romano, Tampa Bay Times
Column, Dennis Maley, Bradenton Times