All photos Taylor Meredith/Catalyst
A sarcastic voice cried out, “The Great State of Florida!” in response to a comment made by a Florida legislator at the front of the room. This was just one of many disgruntled exclamations heard at the redistricting hearing that took place Tuesday, Aug. 30 in Sudakoff Center.
Hundreds of people from the community attended the hearing, and while some were content to sit and observe, more than 80 others signed up to stand at the microphone and be heard. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds stepped forward in order to give their testimonies regarding the redrawing of the political boundary lines in Florida, a process that takes place every 10 years after the completion of the Census.
Those speaking on behalf of the community were given approximately two minutes to make their cases not only in front of their peers, but also in front of a long panel of 34 legislators, co-chaired by state Senator Don Gaetz and state Representative Will Weatherford.
Many questions and concerns were echoed throughout the night by a number of community members, such as whether or not the new maps will be drawn and finalized in time for the 2012 elections and why there weren’t maps at the meeting for the public to comment on.
Gaetz thanked all in attendance for their opinions and continuously urged everyone to stay until the end of the hearing when their questions would be answered. This statement was often answered with a barrage of groans from the audience, and eventually a chorus of “Tell us now!” began to erupt from the back of the room.
Some of the community members who spoke had longer points to make and when they began to go over their two minute limit, they were interrupted, apologized to for the interruption and asked to either “wrap it up” or “put a bow on it” by Gaetz.
A few of the more heartfelt speeches were met with applause and standing ovations from their peers, leading Gaetz to remind the crowd that although they were welcome to applaud, they were essentially taking up their own time in doing so. This warning resulted in a quick change of mood from the crowd and they released a collective, drawn out boo through the short tunnel of their cupped hands.
This combative energy was not just a group effort; it was also seen in the individual speakers. Many approached the panel with confrontation heavy in their voices. One woman told Gaetz that she was not impressed with the “smooth” way in which he had been speaking throughout the evening, while another accused the legislators of not keeping the promises made by the 14th Amendment.
There were also less aggressive speakers who took turns at the microphone, one being New College thesis student Logan Bartholomew.
“Please draw the lines from east to west in Southeast Florida,” Bartholomew requested of the panel. “That way we get districts that listen to ideas rather than race or culture.”
By the end of the hearing with only 20 minutes left, the crowd had thinned out drastically. Those who remained were present for the answers finally given by the legislators.
“Wouldn’t it be prudent of us to come and get your opinions first?” Weatherford asked in response to the ongoing question of why there weren’t maps available at the hearing for the public to comment on.
Weatherford also addressed the issue of the redistricting lawsuit against Amendment 5 and 6, two constitutional amendments approved in 2010. This was a major concern within an abundance of testimonies given that evening.
“Amendment 5 and 6 are the law and we will follow every single word of that,” Weatherford said, an affirmation that caused a pleased nod to ripple through the remaining crowd. Weatherford also dismissed claims that the lawsuit was going to cost taxpayers over $30 million. When asked how much it would cost, he told the crowd that he did not have that figure available.
After three hours of pointed fingers, heated speeches and fortunately a little laughter to lighten the mood every now and then, the redistricting hearing at Sudakoff Center came to an end. However, the redistricting process is still far from over and it has yet to be determined when the changes will be finalized.