Reapportionment. 40 Years Ago.

Updated: Sep 7, 2021


Post # 185, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary


"Reapportionment...It Is The Whole Enchilada.




Reapportionment. It was mandated in Florida's Constitutional rewrite of 1969. It was intended to ensure fair and proportional representation in our legislature. Florida was a growing state and the population increases, especially south of Lake Okeechobee, were in double digits. So it was simple fairness and mathematics in 1982.


Malarkey. It was down and dirty politics. The Republicans felt cheated and were determined to change that. Minorities, especially Blacks and Latins were almost excluded all together. So, the long and hard question was for the party in charge--the Democrats. I was a Democrat and a sitting member of the Florida Senate. I had already served two terms in the Florida House of Representatives and one four year term in the Senate. I felt our Constitution envisioned a "citizens" legislative model and a regular turnover of members was healthy for our state. I had already announced that I was not standing for re-election, and that made my seat, District #38 in South Florida, probably the most sought after seat in the entire Florida Legislature.


As with almost all such stories, there were key players, not including me. The power in the Senate was the Dean based on his seniority, Democrat Dempsey Barron of Panama City in North Florida. He was a conservative and arch enemy of proportional representation. He once said to me, "Senator, that is too much power residing in too few Senators," if we based representation of numbers alone. He combined determination with unbridled power.


The other power was the incoming Speaker of the House and Chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee, Democrat Lee Moffitt of Tampa. He was a moderate to liberal and strong proponent of proportional representation. But he wanted to go further and advance the principal of Single Member Districts ("SMD"). SMD meant that minorities would finally have a chance to win seats for representation in Florida. There would no longer be multi-member districts, such as mine, covering the equivalent of a Congressional seat of 1/2 million citizens. But it also meant Republicans would also have a chance for additional voting power. This was the whole enchilada.


The battle was one of Titans clashing. I found myself sitting smack in the middle of this war, since I did not have a dog in this fight. How would I vote on SMD? My mentor in the Senate was the most vocal opponent of SMD, fiery Democrat Senator Jack Gordon of Miami Beach. He said it would reduce political representation to "pandering." That upset his live long friends in the African American community, but now that we can look back on history with SMD, the distinguished Senator from the 35th was exactly right. Liberals, Blacks, Latins and Republicans lined up in a coalition made in Hell and SMD passed.


So 1982 was the year of SMD. But more was to come when a rambunctious Republican Party cleverly sought the referendum approach to amend the Constitution with absolute term limits. Marketing guru Phil Handy came up with a slogan for the ages, "Eight is Enough." As mentioned earlier, I personally felt a limit on service was healthy, if voluntary. But if mandated, it throws all the checks and balances out of order. All, not some, elected legislators were rendered politically impotent, and the power shifted immediately to the staff and the lobbyists, without accountability.


I don't blame Phil or even Senator Barron. Politics is a contact sport. If an idea is right for the time, we address the idea from all sides. We did not do that in 1982. We could have built in triggers, phase in's, and even sunset measures to make sure we did no harm to what became known as "The Golden Age of the Florida Legislature." It was a time for vigorous and thorough debate and reasoning. It was a perfect time of opportunity for our institutions of higher learning in which to weigh. Nothing. Na Da. We failed the great Sunshine State.


So it is time to go through the drill again, in 2022. There are no indications of hope for inspiration or aspiration. The lobbyists and staff still run the show. I feel a pang of guilt. It was not this way when I was given the honor of serving the people of Florida 40 years ago.



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