Broward Politics: Group Takes Aim At Self-Serving County Commissioners

 

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

 

There is nothing electeds relish more than gerrymandering.

Broward County Commissioners gerrymander every 10 years. They draw their own election districts, excluding potential opponents and including the largest number of favorable voters.

In 2011, Commissioners:

  • Stretched central Broward District One across Interstate 595 into a tiny sliver of Davie to include then Democratic state Rep. Marty Kiar It allowed him to run for that seat.
  • Pushed south Broward District 5 across I-595 into a slice of Plantation to include then Commissioner Lois Wexler’s home plus her Weston condo south of the interstate.

“The lines are supposed to be drawn in a fashion that’s blind to political considerations. But political tinkering was done at the Dec. 13 (2011) hearing, without subtlety,” Sun-Sentinel’s Brittany Wallman wrote.

Now some civic leaders on the Broward Charter Commission want to end gerrymandering in Broward.

They are considering a referendum that would turn future Commission redistricting over to a non-partisan, independent group.

And surprise, surprise!

The idea has the support of the Commmission’s resident redistricting expert Commissioner Steve Geller.

Geller favors a three-judge panel to do future redistricting.

 

 

Steve Geller

 

 

“In general, incumbents can’t redistrict for themselves fairly,” Geller says. “Any group drawing the lines for themselves will tend to favor themselves.”

That is a very candid statement from Geller, who had a major role in the 1992 and the 2002 legislative redistricting.

He was also a consultant for some commissioners and cities during the Broward Commission’s 2011 reapportionment. That was five years prior to his election to the County Commission.

Geller explains his position:

“Judges are clearly less political than anybody else (involved in government).”

Also, judges “theoretically” have a better understanding of laws and court decisions governing redistricting.

One big hang up, Geller concedes:

It may not be legal under the Florida Constitution to have judges involved. The Constitution stipulates a strict separation of judiciary from politics.

Retired judges could be used, but they could come with their own baggage if they currently work for a Republican or Democratic-leaning law firm, he says.

Geller “generally” dismissed having maps drawn by a so-called panel of experts or citizens.

“Experts or activists chosen (for a redistricting board) usually have an agenda, whether it be increasing minority seats or emphasizing municipal boundaries or some other criteria,” according to Geller.

Charter commissioners have not taken a position yet on what redistricting method to recommend. Or if they can even reach consensus.

During an appearance before the charter group, Geller warned them that  “there is no perfect way.”

Later during an interview with Browardbeat.com, the veteran of decades of redistricting battles joked that there is one way to reapportion the Commission that is near perfection:

“I can make it simple,” Geller said. “Just let me draw the maps myself.”

 

A small slice of Davie gerrymandered into district in 2011 allowed Marty Kiar, now the county’s property appraiser, to run for County Commission. 

 

 

 



13 Responses to “Broward Politics: Group Takes Aim At Self-Serving County Commissioners”

  1. Mark Trudel says:

    They should run as at-large in the first place.

  2. Right Way says:

    The judges idea is a good one. If not legal, a judge and the chairs of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Letting commissioners do it is like allowing students to write their own SAT questions.

  3. Ryan Ross says:

    This is an important issue for county commissioners. I’m running for district 2 and the map is very bizarre. I strongly support an independent board to review districting and propose new boundary lines.

  4. Talks like a politician says:

    There must be a better idea than drawing “etch-a-sketch” lines.

    One good idea already mentioned is having them run at large.

    Almost all land in Broward was annexed into cities years ago. That leaves County Commissioners with responsibilities such as the airport, seaport, and human services. City leaders take care of most responsibilities within their jurisdiction.

    Another idea is assigning county commissioners
    to particular cities. Each commissioner could represent all the residents in their roster of cities instead of representing pieces of cities.

    The idea of letting commissioners draw the lines smacks of corruption and maintains the culture of self serving so often demonstrated by politicians.

  5. just saying says:

    @1
    they used to be ‘at-large’ back in the 1980’s or earlier. then they ‘got smart’ and went to ‘their’ districts.

    Brittany Wallman covered the 2011 re-districting in detail.
    It took at least three “maps” til the old guard (kristin jacobs, ilene lieberman, john rodstrom, etc.) were satisfied and at least three months of BCC meetings. definitely paid the way for kiar who was term limited in Tally and needed a stepping stone at BCC before appraiser throne (his dad has handled the bcpa valuation appeals for decades) so marty knew that lori parish was placeholding for him.
    will the BCC allow re-districting by others? No.
    2020 census is just around the corner and redistricting in 2021.

    FROM BUDDY:

    Commission districts were approved in a 2000 referendum. Previously the commissioners were elected countywide, although they were required to live in certain districts.

    The districting idea had been knocking around for awhile, pushed by Republicans and the minority community who believed it was a way to guarantee those groups a seat. But commissioners ignored districting until the state Legislature scheduled a referendum in Broward to establish a strong mayor.

    Commissioners then embraced districting and placed it on the same mayor’s referendum ballot. In my opinion, commissioners agreed to districting as cynical ploy to confuse voters into rejecting the mayor’s proposal by including it on the same ballot.

    Districting was largely voted on because Commissioners feared losing power to a strong mayor. Some members were literally having conniptions over the mayor’s idea which they believed was being shoved down their throats by then political power Sen. Ken Jenne and his allies in Tallahassee. They feared Jenne would win any mayor’s job created. So they floated the idea of districts to muddy the issue.

    As I wrote at the time in the Sun-Sentinel:

    “Legislators viewed the competing ballot question as an attempt by commissioners to keep the status quo.

    “‘I don’t think this move by the County Commission is necessary,’ said state Rep. Steve Effman, D-Sunrise. ‘Expanding the County Commission to nine with nine different agendas changes and improves nothing.’

    (Effman later went on to have his own personal problems and left the Legislature, but that’s another story.)

    The defeat of the strong mayor was engineered by political consultant Dan Lewis working with then-County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, other commissioners and a group of lobbyists like Bernie Friedman, who feared losing their influence if Jenne became mayor.

    Elements in the African American community liked the idea of districts, too, because of promises that they would get that long-hoped for black-leaning seat. There was a black commissioner before districting, but a so-called “black seat” would almost guarantee representation.

  6. Old Timer says:

    Live in a district and run county-wide …

  7. Steve Geller says:

    Although some of the ideas set forth in the earlier responses are good, they are not workable for several reasons. Here are some additional reapportionment comments:
    • The Legislature went from multi-member districts to single member districts in 1982 in order to create more minority seats for Legislators. Assume that a hypothetical county is 55% White non-Hispanic, 20% Hispanic, 20% Black, and 5% other. Further assume that the Hispanic community votes relatively cohesively (generally true when the Hispanic votes come from one country or area, such as Cuba, Mexico, or Puerto Rico, not necessarily true when they come from different areas), and that the Black voters vote cohesively (generally true when the Black voters are African-American, somewhat less true when there is a mix of African American and Caribbean-American voters). Assume uniform voting turnout rates (not always a safe assumption). Historically, Blacks have a better chance of being elected in single-member districts with more Black voters, Hispanics have a better chance of being elected in single-member districts with more Hispanic voters, etc. With County-wide elections, it is very possible that all elected officials would be non-minority. Some Courts have REQUIRED single-member districts in order to create greater likelihood of the election of minority candidates. It is also easier to defeat an incumbent in a smaller, single-member district, because there are less voters to contact, meaning voter advertising and mail is less expensive, and the smaller district is easier to walk. In order to prevent parochialism, some governments have a mixture of single and multi-member districts (perhaps 7 single member districts, and two multi-member districts). The Broward School Board is an example of an elected body with a mix of single-member and multi-member districts.
    • There is a long series of court rulings dealing with the principle of “one person-one vote” and proportional representation. This means that each district must have very close to the same number of voters. It would clearly be unfair to have 100,000 residents of District 1 and 50,000 residents of District 2, because that would give each resident of District 2 twice as much influence in electing their Commissioner as those in District 1. This makes it impossible to divide the County by City, as the number of voters in different districts would be too far apart.
    • The greater abuse of reapportionment is on the Congressional and Legislative level, through the use of things like “packing”, “cracking”, “bleaching”, and other reapportionment techniques. Through these techniques, I personally observed in the 2002 reapportionment that statewide maps could be drawn that would result in as many as 22 likely Democratic Senate Seats (out of 40), or as few as 12 likely Democratic Senate Seats. The abuse is much less in Counties that are primarily dominated by one political party. In Broward, only one seat can be drawn which has a strong possibility of electing a Republican, and even that seat is a toss-up.
    • There simply is no right or wrong way to do this, and there is no perfect way. Some methodologies would give preferences to City boundaries, even where those existing boundaries are illogical. Others give more preference to major Roads, even if those cross municipal boundaries. Some may give deference to existing seats. If there is a contiguous group of minority voters that could elect a candidate of their choice, even if those voters are in different cities, it could violate Federal Court rulings to separate those voters into different districts. Whether the County can/should look at partisan registration in order to try and draw at least 1 Republican leaning seat is an open question.
    • The question of who draws the maps is also difficult. When in the Legislature, I (unsuccessfully) introduced a Constitutional Amendment to provide for a bi-partisan committee, chosen by both Democratic and Republican leaders, with a Chair that would need to be non-partisan or a member of a political party other than Democratic or Republican. The final adopted plan would have required a 3/5 vote, meaning that it would have had to be bi-partisan. In the event of a deadlock, a 3 Judge panel would draw the map. That was legal, because it would have been a constitutional amendment, making it legal. I prefer Judicial oversight, but I question if the County can give that authority to local judges.

  8. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Alternatively, objective rules can be used to create districts as described here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#Objective_rules_to_create_districts

    A superb approach would be to first apply the “shortest splitline algorithm”, and then apply an adjusting algorithm which looks for natural boundaries (rivers, highways, city limits, etc.) near the borders of adjacent districts and then adjusts those adjacent districts by performing territorial swaps such that a) the natural boundary is used as the new border between those adjacent districts, and b) the precise territorial swap selected for this purpose minimizes the isoperimetric quotient of those adjacent districts.

  9. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Rules in the Charter could be written to force limitations on how district borders could be drawn.

    The rule could provide that districts must follow city borders to the maximum extent possible so that entire cities are contained within a district. Only if an entire city could not be contained in a single district due to size of its population, then the overage may be placed into another district, and the city must be placed only to minimum number of districts as possible. After using city borders, the district boarders are to be set using the following in the order of priority listed:

    1. Major “C” designated Canals and named major rivers
    2. Interstate Highway, US Highways and the Turnpike
    3. CSX and FEC Railroad Lines
    4. State Roads 6 lanes or wider.

    This would severely limit border manipulation and how a non-partisan group could draw the borders, minimizing any gerrymandering such as what happened in District 1 above.

    The result above probably would have been for District 1 to be all of Weston, Sunrise and most of the western and central Plantation.

    FROM BUDDY:

    Richard J. Kaplan, who has some good ideas here, is the mayor of Lauderhill

  10. Talks like a politician says:

    @ # 9

    AMEN!!

  11. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Obviously, when you leave it up to the elected officals of course they are going to tip the scales etc. to benefit them. If certain areas that are widely known in of course they are going to expand on that. Again if one area of the county where they are liked,known etc they are going to want to claim that as theirs. How redistricting should be done is by the residents . If it takes putting it on th e ballot, so be it. I watched that meeting that you are referring to. What impressed me later ,after the fact is the way they cut up Comm.Lamarca ‘ district. I thought it woul d be impossible. That night Chip stated “you can’t argue w/ lipstick on a pig”(he wa s that mad). Well, guess what he went on to run again, and won. He had th e and still deck stacked up against him and still pulled it off. Respect earned…..Bottom line the residents should decide who goes where and who governs where, not the elected officals themselves.(ps. SOE Snipes is getting railroaded w/ this federal lawsuit(not her fault Hillary Clinton didn’t win(pay back-never blamed her for losing my voting rights-no her two moose ast. )…

  12. Steve Geller says:

    Kaplan does have some useful ideas. However, I must warn him and others who think that this will have a dramatic effect on keeping cities whole that this isn’t the case. There are at least two problems.
    First, understand that reapportionment is like a jigsaw puzzle. If we started drawing the map in the middle, District 1 might be able to be like Kaplan describes – Weston, Sunrise, and part of Plantation. However, reapportionment maps never start in the middle. You need to start drawing the maps either in one corner of the County, or perhaps two corners. When the State reapportionment maps were drawn, they started both in Pensacola and Key West. Those maps were able to respect municipal boundaries more in the two starting areas. The center of the State was basically what was left, when they had to make it fit. Remember that being precise on the same number of people per seat will necessarily lead to fracturing of cities.
    The second issue is the drawing of majority/minority seats. Districts 8 and 9 appear to be drawn to
    ensure that minority voters in those districts can elect a minority candidate of their choice. This is required by Court decisions. That means that contiguous minority populations will be drawn
    districts designed to elect minorities regardless of what cities the minority voters live in. An example is that the primarily minority NW section of Hallandale Beach is drawn into a seat that starts at US
    27, and includes all of Miramar. This will further fracture cities. This occurs even more in Central Broward.

    Kaplan’s ideas might reduce the fracturing of cities. I’d move State Roads of 6 lanes or wider higher on the list. I don’t want anybody to think that this would mostly eliminate the issue of fractured cities.

  13. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Steve,

    I didn’t say it would be a perfect system, just an improved system, that would impose strict limitations from making arbitrary lines on a map which regularly happens. At least cities aren’t political districts and people can move in or out as they wish, knowing where the boundary lines will remain the same.

    District 1 was used as an example because that was the map given in this article to demonstrate an issue, and I provided what could have been a potential answer to it.

    As to minority districts, going to living in a district but running county-wide (running at large) would destroy minority districts.

    While I don’t know the numbers needed for a district (but I will assume 1.9 million = 211,000/district given 9 districts), District 9 could be: Lauderhill (70,000), Lauderdale Lakes (35,000), Unincorporated Broward (10,000), Oakland Park (45,000), total of 160,000, plus 50,000 from a portion of the west side of Ft. Lauderdale will get you close to the 211,000 and probably a minority district.

    So if you want it to work, it can. However, to the extent politics are allowed to enter, it will.

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