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Dwight Dudley files bill that would lead to independent redistricting commission

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

On Friday, St. Petersburg Democratic state Rep. Dwight Dudley filed a bill (HJR 201) that would establish a bipartisan redistricting commission in Florida, which  would be responsible for drawing political boundaries for Congress and the Legislature.

It’s an issue that’s been discussed for years in Florida, but has come to the forefront in the aftermath of the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in July declaring that the Republican-led state Legislature gerrymandered eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts in 2012, in violation of the Fair District constitutional amendments.  Advocates also note that the U.S. Supreme Court has given their imprimatur to the concept, upholding the creation of such an independent redistricting commission in Arizona earlier this year.

If approved by the Legislature, the issue would go before voters as a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot, and become applicable the next year reapportionment rolls around, in 2022.

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson recently endorsed the call for such a measure, saying, “When I see the chaos that has been wracked upon this state … it seems to me that common sense says to put (redistricting) in the hands of a commission that is as independent as you can make it.”

This is how it would work: Members from the public could submit their names to serve on the commission. Sixty possible members would be chosen by the state auditor, and majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate would have veto power over names. Specifically, the Democratic Party and Republican Party would get 19 preemptory challenges each, whittling down the list to 22. Ultimately 11 of those 22 names would then be chosen in a public lottery, consisting of four Republicans, four Democrats and three unaffiliated or third-party commissioners.

Chances aren’t great for the bill to be approved. “Cloudy to fairly dark,” Dudley says about the bill’s chances.

“I think it’s really important that the offering be made,” he says. “That we plant a flag and say ‘here we have the opportunity, we have the ability, the system exists to do this very thing,'”

For those who want to see such a redistricting commission come to be, a citizens-led bid might be the best way to see it get the measure on the ballot, though 2018 might be more realistic. Activists who want to get a constitutional amendment before the voters in 2016 have to have over 683,000 signatures submitted to the Division of Election by February 1.

Six states use a congressional redistricting commission – Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington – and Indiana convenes “a ‘fallback’ commission if the legislature is unsuccessful in passing a congressional plan,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“How can we continue to allow the most partisan group that stands to benefit the most by perpetuating its incumbency?” Dudley asks. “That’s gotta change now, and I think the people see why it needs to be done.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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