Florida’s two-week redistricting trial began with a bang Monday as Republican political consultant and lobbyist Marc Reichelderfer admitted he had access to more than two dozen secret maps drawn by the Legislature’s staff weeks before they were available to the public. He also said he recommended modifications to pending maps.
But Reichelderfer, a longtime consultant to former House Speaker Dean Cannon, repeatedly denied having any role in influencing the outcome of the maps produced by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which is prohibited from drawing political boundaries to benefit political parties and incumbents.
“I did not tell them how to draw the maps. I didn’t tell them where to draw the lines on the map, and I didn’t tell them which maps to pick,” Reichelderfer said during his six hours of testimony.
He was the first witness in the high-stakes redistricting trial before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis as plaintiffs attempt to invalidate the 2012 congressional districts approved by lawmakers in a bipartisan vote.
A coalition of voter groups, led by the League of Women Voters and joined by seven Democrat-leaning individuals, claim that the congressional map violates the state’s Fair District amendments because it unfairly gives an advantage to incumbents, packs black voters into Democratic seats to benefit Republicans in adjacent districts, and was designed by Reichelderfer and other political consultants to “undermine the public redistricting process.”
“Legislators and staffers collaborated . . . to conduct a separate redistricting process that was not only apart from the public process — but actually perverted the public process itself,” the coalition claims in court documents.
Lawyers for the Legislature reject the claims, and argue that the 2012 congressional elections, in which four incumbent Republicans — Allen West of West Palm Beach, Sandy Adams of Orlando, Cliff Stearns of Ocala and David Rivera of Miami — lost their reelection bids is evidence that the maps were not biased in their favor.
Reichelderfer, who has also been a consultant to Republican state Sens. John Thrasher and John Legg, said he met twice with GOP consultants Rich Heffley and Pat Bainter and House and Senate legislative staff members to find a way to get “a seat at the table” when lawmakers redrew the legislative and congressional maps. But, he said, lawyers concluded they should have no role.
He came to the meeting with a list of questions to consider as legislators drew a Central Florida Hispanic seat that could influence the neighboring district of incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. He also suggested that the number of African-American voters in the district held by Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, should be increased above 50 percent.
He also wanted them to cover the topic: “Communication with outside non-lawyers — how to make that work?” More here.