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Update: Rich calls for a special session to approve congressional maps this fall

For weeks, Republican Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz has been making a magnanimous offer to Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich: on the first day of meetings of the Senate Redistricting Committee in September, she gets the first chance at presenting a districting map.

The goal, he told audiences at public hearings around the state, is to right a wrong. As a freshmen state representative in 2002 she was barred from presenting a redistricitng map of her own, Gaetz explains. The trouble is, Rich says, "he's got his facts wrong," and his "real agenda,'' she says, "is to have me offer up the first plan so they can shoot holes in it."

On Wednesday, Rich sent Gaetz a strongly-worded letter correcting the record and unleashing a rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner. Rich first cut to the chase: the constitutional requirement that the legislature take its vote on a redistricting plan no sooner than January applies only to the legislative maps.  "If you are truly serious about wanting to produce maps as soon as possible, I urge you to discuss with Senate President Mike Haridopolos the possibility of convening a short Special Session during a fall committee week to approve the congressional maps,'' she wrote.

Rich urged the Senate to then move swiftly in drawing legislative maps, so that final plans can be approved by Jan. 13 to give the federal Justice Department and the courts sufficient time to complete their review. And she took a jab at Gaetz's offer.

"The first wrong you can right is by correcting your characterization of my statements on the 2002 redistricting process,'' she wrote. (She said the record will show that she never complained she was barred from presenting a map of her own, "as a freshman legislator,'' she adds, "I had no interest in writing my own map.")

Instead, she said, "the wrong to which I made claim (and one you can right as well) is the fact that the redistricting 10 years ago was cloaked in secrecy and maps were drawn in back rooms out of sight of the public and the minority party,'' she wrote.

Here's Rich's letter: Download 09-07-11 Redistricting Ltr to Gaetz-FINAL

Gardiner later Wednesday night released his own strongly-worded statement. He called Rich's description of the 2002 process a "mischaracterization:"

“For Senator Rich to claim that the 2002 maps were drawn in a shroud of secrecy is a mischaracterization of the past and an injustice to the people of Florida. I was a freshman legislator alongside Senator Rich 10 years ago and know what truly occurred. I find her manufactured version of history inexcusable. You cannot rewrite history simply because things did not turn out the way you wanted. 

“Our current redistricting process is the same one Senator Rich and many of her Democratic colleagues reviewed in committee a decade ago – they had the chance to voice concerns along with other Floridians given the opportunity for public testimony. Redistricting bills received the same treatment as any other pieces of legislation. They were thoroughly vetted and reviewed in committees and heard by all members of the Legislature on both the House and Senate floors.

“To shed light on her misstatement, this is the most open process of its kind and a testament to the current leadership’s promise to listen before suggesting the fate of our state’s district lines. I commend Senator Gaetz and Representative Weatherford for continuing to honorably lead the redistricting effort and for diligently traveling the state to hear Floridians face-to-face.”