Everyone may be created equal, but it’s a peculiarity of our democracy that the citizens of Wyoming have WAY more political power per capita than the citizens of California (fewer than 600,000 Wyomingans control two Senate seats, versus the 37 million or so Californians who have to share the same amount of power) — and more still than the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia, who have zero votes in the Senate and zero votes in the House (when it matters). (That latter inequity might be easily solved, short of statehood, by allowing northern DC residents to vote in Maryland and southern DC residents to vote in Virginia. And by making their Congresswoman’s vote count.)
And then you have Florida, a state that leans Democratic — 4.6 million registered Dems to 4.2 million registered Republicans — but whose state Senate and House lean Republican 26-14 and 81-39, respectively . . . and whose 27-member Congressional delegation leans Republican 17-10.
Think about that for a minute.
(And perhaps think about this: Democracy In Decline: The Collapse of the “Close Race” In State Legislatures.)
It’s a function, of course, of the way Florida districts are drawn.
Enter a woman I’ve known a long-time, Ellen Freidin — no billionaire or superwoman, just a citizen — who in 2007 decided to do something about this.
Which was particularly quixotic, I remember thinking as she was pitching me her plan under the Biltmore Hotel porte-cochere, waiting for our cars (mine, a deeply troubled 1998 aubergine Jeep Grand Cherokee* sure to impress the valet), because the year before, Florida had raised from 50% to 60% the threshold for passing a ballot initiative.
And this threshold would have to be met in the face of what was certain to be fierce, moneyed opposition from folks who liked things just the way they were. The same folks who work hard to find ways to suppress the Democratric vote, not to count the “overvotes,” and all the rest.
Still . . . admiring her determination and sharing her outrage, I threw caution to the wind and cash to the cause: Fair Districts Now. Considerably more cash, over the years, I might say, than I had spent to buy the Jeep Grand Cherokee. (I am bragging here: the truth is, there are folks who’ve contributed 50 times as much as I have.)
But we won.
First, in 2010, the ballot intitiative; and then, each year since, the endless and wildly expensive legal challenges mounted to thwart the will of the people. Republican lawmakers spent $8.1 million taxpayer dollars trying to keep the unfair maps.
And then, finally, came last week’s game-changing decision from the Florida Supreme Court that basically said, enough. And which is likely to result in fairly redrawn maps. Which in turn is likely to result, over time, in a Florida Congressional delegation, and a Florida legislature, roughly half Democrat, half Republican, as are the voters of the state.
What a concept.
Ellen Freidin is my hero.
*My theory being that a gas-guzzler should be owned by someone like me who drove about 400 miles a year (fewer now that I own no car); freeing up a fuel-efficient vehicle for someone who drives 30 or 50 times as far. I only had to fill the tank twice a year, so even at 16 mpg I was not burning a lot of fossil fuel. And since the car would rarely start . . . and was the color of an eggplant . . .
But I digress. Ellen Freidin is my hero.
Quote of the Day
To the BELOVED REPUBLIC under whose equal laws I am made the peer of any man, although denied political equality by my native land, I dedicate this book with an intensity of gratitude and admiration which the native-born citizen can neither feel nor understand.~Dedication to Andrew Carnegie's Triumphant Democracy (Scribner's, 1886)
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