Florida’s legal fight used in academic debate over impact of redistricting

15 November 2016
Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s three-year redistricting legal challenge was part of a debate Monday over whether or not the redrawing of political lines is creating a more polarized political environment.

The event, sponsored by Open to Debate formerly known as Intelligence Squared U.S., is part of non-partisan debate series that aims to “restore civility, reasoned analysis, and constructive public discourse to today’s media landscape.”

The debate, held at George Washington University, featured two teams arguing over whether or not redistricting is “destroying the political center.”

The side arguing that it does used the last round of redistricting in Florida, which was steeped in political intrigue and lengthy court battles, as proof.

The new lines were drawn after voters approved a 2010 constitutional amendment that aimed to take politics out of the redistricting process. As part of a lawsuit filed by outside voting rights groups, however, it became clear that Republican operatives had met to work on strategies to draw favorable maps even with the new constitutional language in place.

“It did not take but a couple of weeks for the smartest Republicans strategists in the state… to gather at GOP headquarters in Tallahassee with legislative leaders and top aides,” said David Daley, a former editor-and-chief of Salon who recently wrote a book ‘Ratfucked:” The Influence of Redistricting.’

During the debate, a transcript of which was provided to POLITICO Florida, he joined Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, in arguing that redistricting was hurting the political center.

A feature of the argument was the secret meetings held by GOP operatives leading up to Florida’s 2012 redistricting process.

“The goal, launching a sophisticated and highly concealed campaign to run two redistricting processes in Florida, one public, and the other in the shadows,” Daley said. “Both in their control and loaded with partisan intent.”

Ultimately, the courts tossed out state Senate and congressional maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature and ordered them to be redone.

The team arguing against the idea that redistricting was hurting the political center included Republican strategist Chris Jankowski and Princeton professor Nolan McCarty. They argued, in part, that voter attitudes themselves – not how the lines are drawn – have negatively impacted the political center.

“Six in 10 Americans think that the other party, should they get complete control, would threaten the very foundations of the country – the well-being,” said Jankowski, who ran a program called Red Map on behalf of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

He also argued against the idea of removing map-drawing from state Legislatures because they are “accountable to voters.”

“I think that it’s an inherently political function to draw these lines,” he said. “If you go back to our founders of the constitution, they tended to put the inherently political thing into the hands of political people.”

That argument ultimately won the debate by wide-margin because it convinced “more of the audience over the course of the debate,” wrote Ray Padgett, the group’s spokesman, in an email.

Watch the 90-minute debate on whether gerrymandering is destroying the political center here: http://bit.ly/2dqoRYt