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Letters to the Editors

Where is the democracy in redistricting?


© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

Editor: In a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. However, in America, it is rapidly becoming the other way around. The politicians and two major parties decide on who should be a community's elected officials and the geographic areas the politicians should represent. How democratic is that?

Case in point, the upcoming U.S. congressional race between Congresswoman Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, and state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville. A $6-million race is forecast by both candidates. The congressional district's geographic boundaries were decided by the very people (Republican-
-- dominated Florida Legislature) who, in some cases, are running for the districts they have created.
The loss of Gainesville from our congressional district should enhance Republican Brown-Waite and hurt Democrat Thurman's chances. And, of course, the reverse was true in 1991 for Democrat Thurman. Both major party candidates now say they are accepting big money from special interests outside the district, large corporations, law firms, trial lawyers, etc. That outside money will dwarf any local individual contributions 10-1. Plus, new geographic information systems analyzing demographic data have turned gerrymandering, called redistricting, into a science.
What are we becoming? How can the little man compete in such a world? According to The Economist magazine, "Redistricting is becoming a glorified incumbent-protection racket."
Only six sitting Congress members, out of 435, were defeated in the 2000 general election. This could hardly shame Russian or North Korean elections! The magazine added that the combination of a larger number of safe elections and increasingly expensive election campaigns is undermining the quality of American politics. The incumbent politicians, which includes Ms. Brown-Waite and Ms. Thurman, and their two major parties have seen to that.
Redistricting also is reinforcing the self-perpetuating fact in American politics that incumbents find it much easier to raise money than challengers, usually by 5-1. This will not happen in our Hernando-Pasco-Citrus-Sumter
-Polk county congressional race only because the women are both incumbent politicians. Any nonincumbents, much less a third-party candidate, can forget it.
While our congressional district may not be one of the overwhelmingly safely drawn congressional districts, we will fit into the category of drawing the nation's attention. The reason is because the Democrats and Republicans will pour national money into this race because it will be one of the few that will be close enough to tip the balance in Congress. This electoral system and specific race will feature democracy at its worst. We have self-interested gerrymandering, pure incumbency, plus big money on top of big money on top of big money. Once again, the average citizen will have no real say in determining who our elected representative will be. That already has been decided in the back rooms. The district boundaries, the final candidates and the real money will all be there long before a citizen can even try to make an impact with his/her one vote.
Does not democracy include choosing boundaries that are fair and representative, and having elections that would give equal weight to any and all candidates and reasonable access to campaign funding? Not so.
Where are the moral leaders of our community regarding these matters? Do not Ms. Thurman and Ms. Brown have any shame? Where are our local politicians, local ministers, civic leaders, the editors and media commentators and directors regarding the fundamental loss of democracy in our own backyard? Where are their voices in this basic and fundamental matter of our country?
Brian P. Moore, Spring Hill

Mean-spirited letter was political potshot

Editor: Re: Senator like playground bully: She's self-centered, insecure, May 3 letter to the editor:

I recently read Jeff Stabins' letter with disappointment and disgust. I don't know who I am more disappointed and disgusted with, Jeff Stabins for writing this malicious letter or the Times for printing this piece of political garbage.

In 1994, as a freshman high school student interested in politics and government, I volunteered for Sen. Brown-Waite's campaign for a second term in the Florida Senate. Even though I was only a high school student, the senator made sure I was really involved in her campaign and it gave me a great opportunity to see how a Florida Senate campaign is run. I can tell you that never have I been disappointed or ashamed of my support for the senator. Can Mr. Stabins' supporters make that same statement?

I find Mr. Stabins' comment, "I attempted to work positively with Sen. Brown-Waite for six long years in the Legislature," laughable. I followed Mr. Stabins' legislative career with interest and from what I observed, Mr. Stabins did not attempt to work at all.

To say the senator insults legislative employees and staff is an insult to the entire Florida Senate that elected her to serve as Senate President Pro Tempore.

Mr. Stabins, you also say in your letter, "The quality of life in Tallahassee will markedly improve with her absence." I would say the quality of our legislative delegation in Tallahassee has very much improved with your absence, as we finally have two effective lawmakers representing the county in Tallahassee.

Finally, I would say, look how Mr. Stabins exited the Legislature -- defeated. Look how the senator will exit -- in a leadership position as a strong candidate for Congress. I think that says it all!
-- John P. O'Connell, Spring Hill

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