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Corrine Brown and Mario DB: side by side to protect districts

Flanked by the two business groups that have endorsed an all-Republican ticket, Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart launched an organization Monday to fight the redistricting amendments on the November ballot.

The Protect Your Vote campaign has enlisted the help of former Crist Secretary of State Kurt Browning, hired the public relations firm of Ron Sachs Communications, and employed a video production team. The committee is ready to raise and spend "at least $4 [million] maybe more" to defeat Amendments 5 and 6, Browning said, and will place ads on television. Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have lined up in support.

Brown said she's convinced the redistricting standards imposed by the Fair Districts amendments organization will lead to fewer minorities elected to Congress, which now include three African Americans and three Hispanics among the 25 representatives. Diaz Balart is abandoning his congressional district to move to the more politically secure seat now held by his brother, Lincoln Diaz Balart who is retiring.

"These amendments will have the effect of bleaching the state of Florida as it was before 1992 when minorities did not have the ability to elect candidates of their choice,'' Diaz Balart said. "It's unworkable. It will have a devastating effect on minorities across the state."

Brad Ashwell of Florida Public Interest Research Group said the two congressmen are less interested in minorities than protecting themselves. "Their opposition is in self interest,'' he said.

The proposed amendments will do more to increase competition in Florida's politically manipulated districts and will result in more minorities elected to office, not less, he said, because it expressly prohibits legislators from drawing districts with the intent of diminishing minority seats.

All but two of the state's black state legislators endorse the amendments, which will require the legislature follow a set of standards when crafting new congressional and legislative districts. The NAACP and the ACLU also endorse the amendments.

"It's inherently political,'' Ashwell said. "Reforming the redistricting process is an aggressive assault on whatever party is in power. It's going to radically affect their ability to retain their power. What we want is more competitive elections, more accountability.''