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Fabiola Santiago: DeSantis tries to rig elections by gerrymandering, but Florida judge says, hell no!

Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald on

Published in Op Eds

Everyone familiar with basic Florida law knew that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to manhandle the redistricting process for political gain violated the Florida Constitution.

But DeSantis went ahead anyway and used his office to draw congressional district map lines, blatantly favoring Republicans and disenfranchising the state’s Black voters.

Two illegal moves in one act: Participation by a partisan governor in a function that’s supposed to be impartial. Gerrymandering districts to steal from minorities the right to choose who represents them, thus favoring the white, Republican majority.

Did the governor, an Ivy League-educated lawyer, really think his crass usurpation of power would go unchallenged in a democracy?

Not at all, I’m sure, since there’s recent legal precedent confirming that politically manipulated maps won’t stand a court challenge in the state.

But DeSantis’ ego looms over Florida larger than the law — and his desire to feed his voter base red meat knows no boundaries.

The democratic principle embedded in Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments that “We The People should pick our politicians, politicians shouldn’t pick their voters” — adopted in 2010 by 63% of voters — is lost on him.

Alas, everyone at some point learns that there’s a greater power than he or she.

In this country, it’s called checks and balances, a system of governance that ensures no branch of government — or an individual with authoritarian predilections like DeSantis — exerts too much power.

The governor really ticked all the boxes on this one. A Leon County Circuit Court judge, Layne Smith, put him in his place this week.

Smith threw out the map drawn by DeSantis and approved by his lackey Republican legislators, ruling that the governor’s intervention violated the constitution’s Fair Districts Amendment. Smith also ordered that a new map be drawn by a Harvard University elections expert, professor Stephen Ansolabehere.

It’s worth noting that Smith is no “liberal judge,” as Republicans like to assert when they’re unhappy with a court ruling. He was appointed to the county bench by DeSantis’ tea party Republican predecessor, Rick Scott, and promoted to circuit court by DeSantis himself!

Ego over public good

The redistricting schadenfreude is a perfect example of how DeSantis, instead of serving the public good, wastes taxpayer’s money on the exaltation of his ego, his reelection campaign needs and his presidential ambitions.

He wants to show he’s got the leadership chops to social engineer the country back to the Jim Crow era even better than his political idol (some say, former idol), Donald Trump. He wants to reassure white Floridians discontented with modern times that he will go to any extent to soothe their discomfort.

And, indeed, DeSantis has done a lot of harm this legislative season to minorities, Blacks, women, immigrants, gay and trans children. But almost all his most controversial mandates and moves, like illegal redistricting, are facing costly court challenges.

 

Florida’s Republican legislators also share blame for these disasters.

They shamefully abdicated their responsibility to draw fair congressional district lines and passed vague legislation like the “don’t say gay” bill, signed into law by DeSantis, that discriminates against a federally protected class of children.

In that case, a federal lawsuit has been filed by LGBTQ+ advocates alleging that the law violates the First and the Fourteenth Amendment rights of students, teachers and parents and also breaches Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.

DeSantis and his elections division also are facing lawsuits by civil rights and advocacy groups arguing that the numerous changes he and legislators made to the state’s voting laws were unconstitutional.

What DeSantis soothes by taking away the guaranteed constitutional rights of others to please his prejudiced base — and to ensure only Republicans win elections — state and federal courts may undo, the conservative Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the majority-conservative US Supreme Court not withstanding.

And who do you think pays for DeSantis’ gambits with constitutionality?

Florida taxpayers.

The petulant governor is also likely to lose his vengeful fight with the Walt Disney Co. Taxpayers in Orange and Osceola counties better hope he does, or the $1 billion in bond obligations Disney now pays — and due if the state dissolves the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act — will come out of their pockets.

A light...applause, please

The redistricting ruling shines a light on the cost of indulging DeSantis’ ego and self-serving ambition.

So, for once this legislative session, applause.

This is a victory for voters and for democracy.

DeSantis tried to rig elections by gerrymandering, but at least one Florida judge said, hell no!

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©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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