Legislative leaders' statement reflects arrogance of political elite

May 25, 2013 

In celebrating a key court ruling, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Sen. President Don Gaetz issued a joint statement on Wednesday that reveals the troubling mindset prevalent among Tallahassee's political elite.

Earlier in the day, a divided appeals court ruled 2-1 that lawmakers and legislative staff do not have to answer for their decisions over how political district boundaries for Congress were drawn last year.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, the National Council of La Raza and Florida Common Cause had sued in order to obtain answers, contending legislators violated the standards in the Fair Districts constitutional amendments approved by voters three years ago.

The amendments, which also cover state House and Senate districts, ban districts from being drawn to protect incumbents or political parties.

Weatherford and Gaetz presided over redistricting. After the ruling, their statement read:

"The court's opinion protects legislators from being intimidated by outside interests who would seek to bully or intimidate them and ultimately seek to use the redistricting process for their own nefarious purposes."

This is an insult to government watchdog organizations everywhere. Groups dedicated to ensuring accountability and transparency from public officials do not operate "for their own nefarious purposes."

They only hope to protect citizens' rights in a free democracy, rights sometimes contravened by self-serving and arrogant public officials.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives citizens the right to petition government for redress of grievances ... without fear of punishment or reprisals. If exercising a basic right can be decried as intimidation by political leaders, we need new elected officials who respect those rights.

In this week's 2-1 decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, the ruling focused on the long-standing legislative privilege that shields lawmakers and staff from testifying about legislative matters -- as if those are not the public's business but that of the ruling elite only.

In his dissenting opinion, Chief Judge Robert Benton wrote, "Partisan political shenanigans are not state secrets. ... Petitioners have fallen far short of demonstrating why failing to keep this quintessentially public business under wraps would work irreparable harm."

There's nothing "nefarious" about seeking to expose "partisan political shenanigans" -- unless you're the one guilty of the shenanigans.

Weatherford and Gaetz owe the watchdog groups an apology. And both need a fresh lesson in constitutional rights.

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