Before We Knew Everything About Redistricting

Under The Hood


Throughout the Sarasota County redistricting process, I tried to take county leaders at least on their own motives.

County Commissioner Nancy Detert told me in April she had genuine concern the county was exposed to a lawsuit if it failed to redistrict. With single-member districts, a failure to balance population meant anyone who loses a county commission race in 2020 can blame an unfair map. Redistricting could not wait for the U.S. Census. “It’s smarter to do it right now,” she told me.

The argument seemed questionable. Redistricting when no one expected it invites more lawsuits from political losers, not less. But I believed Detert bought her own argument.

That was before data came out that showed too low population differences to justify redistricting, so officials just sought out more data. That was before University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research calculated numbers that could justify redistricting, but advised against using them for that purpose.

It was also before consultant Kurt Spitzer produced, to be fair, an honest map that rebalanced districts while respecting minority communities. But Detert wanted something different than this or two alternates, and she asked for a fourth map to be produced out of an anonymous submission, one signed with a nom de plume of ‘Adam Smith’ after an historic free market economist. Detert said at a public meeting she had no idea who Smith was, that she’d never met him. A data-calibrated version will be reviewed at a special meeting Wednesday.

Of course, that exchange came before we learned ‘Adam Smith’ was actually Bob Wachter, a long-time political kingmaker in Sarasota County.

Waechter’s name caught me by surprise. The Republican leader has political enemies in town, but I’ve never had personal issues with him. I remember some compliments Waechter gave my early work at SRQ regarding Midnight Pass. Since then, we spoke a handful of time about state and local issues through the years. But after getting into legal trouble over a scandalous instance of election meddling and identity theft, Waechter wielded considerably less influence and there have honestly been fewer reasons to chat.

But did reach out to me early on this matter to present a case for redistricting. I included some of his data in a magazine article on the topic, but ultimately opined here against redistricting. That upset Waechter significantly, and he took issue with a particular part of a column I wrote:

“I would speculate that a reporter, editor, that writes an article on early redistricting and makes the case for potential voter disenfranchising based on changing district boundaries in early redistricting but fails to reference the exact same thing could, likely will, happen when redistricting is done following the decennial census is likely a hypocrite,” Waechter said. “I would say a reporter, editor, that is aware that redistricting took place every odd numbered year in Sarasota from 1977 through 1995, yet fails to mention it because it undercuts his premise is likely a hypocrite.”

No one likes to be called a hypocrite but I inferred as much about county commissioners already so that’s not unexpected. But I was surprised how dismissive he was of a particular point I raised that seems more important now.

Redistricting now means some voters expecting to vote in 2020 will end up waiting until 2022. The point Waechter misses (unintentionally?) is because commissioners can and likely will redistrict again in two years means many voters will get disenfranchised twice, punting from district to district eternally.

Worse, Waechter’s map virtually ensures it. He draws a map changing District 2 to a Democratic district and turning District 1 Republican. That helps Mike Moran in 2020 but hurts Christian Ziegler, an opponent of early redistricting, come 2022. Honestly, it would be insane for Ziegler not to push for redistricting in two years just to save his own skin. And since that’s when everyone normally does redistricting, it will probably happen.

Remember, remember avoiding lawsuits was Detert’s reason for early redistricting. Yet Waechter and Detert may just create a sizable class of voters/plaintiffs, and by focusing on Newtown there’s a civil rights angle to boot. To further pursue this path would be unwise and legally ruinous.

But that’s something we already knew.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group

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