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Senate gathered data on incumbent districts -- via one-on-one meetings

Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz said that in an effort to gather input on the districts he had the staff director meet with individual members in person and over the Internet but, he emphasized, they did not discuss partisan information. Neither Gaetz nor staff kept a record of their conversations, he said.

"We gave an open invitation for any senators to have access professional committee staff and discuss with us how individual senators felt,'' Gaetz said. "Everyone of the conversations that was held to which I was a party was preceded with an e-mail...It entailed no discussion to partisan advantage."

The result of the staffs efforts are Senate maps that draw 40 districts that secure a safe seat for 25 Republicans and 15 Democrats, according to a Herald/Times analysis. The proposed Senate map includes only one district with more than 50 percent Republicans but there are eight districts with more than 50 percent Democrats on each map. Neither map has districts with fewer than about 26 percent registered Democrats, but some are so packed with Democrats that there are as few as 11 percent registered Republicans.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, a freshman senator, was among the senators who defended the process. He said that his proposed district, Senate District 20, now includes counties that he has never represented. "I probably know two dozen people in Marion County. In Putnam County I can give you the name of one person and the entire county almost was included in my district,'' he said. "There was nothing this professional staff did that they got input from me regarding political affiliation or personal afflication.” 

Gaetz dismissed the Herald/Times use of performance data in interpretting the potential incumbency protection of the Senate maps. He said that eight current Republican districts voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and "the fastest growing group of voters are non-affiliated and you can't predict how they're going to vote."

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said after the meeting that she believes the meetings with staff were intended to help draw the maps to benefit incumbents, even though the Senate didn't include the performance data about the districts. "The Senate may not be using partisan performance data but members certainly know if their districts perform,'' she said. "If members, particularly incumbents, are giving advice on districts they know the performance."