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Legislative redistricting battle begins with Reichelderfer under the gun

Florida’s two-week redistricting trial began Monday with Marc Reichelderfer, GOP political consultant and lobbyist as the first witness called to the stand.

He acknowledged that on December 2010, Republican lawyers and operatives met after passage of the Fair Districts amendments to see how they could be involved in the process.

Under questioning from plaintiff's lawyer David King, Reichelderfer denied that he was trying to skirt the new law. 

"I wanted a seat at the table and still comply with Amendment Five and Six,'' he said under oath.  

Court documents show that Reichelderfer had been given a copy of the redistricting maps proposed by the Legislature even before they became public. He  testified to his companies, particularly his consulting company, Landmarc Strategies, and how he was a long time consultant to former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Orlando as well as Sen. John Legg, R-New Port Richey. 

Reichelderfer was asked by King if he wanted the redistricting process to favor Republicans? 

“My desire through the redistricting process would be, yes sir,’’ he said.

Reichelderfer acknowledged that he was close to Alex Kelly, the staff director of the House Redistricting Committee, as each had worked for the Florida Republican Party.

He said he opposed the Fair District amendments because he viewed the playing field as level and Cannon also opposed them, even trying to get the amendments off the ballot.

Because of the new standards, “it was determined that as a political consultant I would not be able to be part of the map drawing process as the legislsture moved through it,’’  Reichelderfer said.

“Prior to the census data being pressed into the redistricting process it was advised that my communications with Alex Kelly cease so I did not lobby Alex Kelly or Speaker Weatherford, then chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.”

Was it your understanding that you could do something besides drawing maps?, King asked. “I think there were global issues in my capacity…helping coordinate timing, in the standards -- what is more damaging politically and what is not damaging politically,” he replied.

Reichelderfer testified that whenever he was given a map, he worked to find a way to make modifications, including increasing the minority populations in certain districts.

"There were lawyers that believed it needed to be majority minority in order to withstand the federal Voting Rights Act challenge,'' he said.

Reichelderfer was invited to the 2010 "brainstorming" meeting at Republican Party of Florida headquarters with Kelly, including Senate GOP consultant Rich Heffley, Washington, D.C. lawyer Ben Ginsberg, GOP operative Pat Bainter, Andy Bardos, House legal adviser, Joel Springer, the head of Senate campaigns and Andy Palmer, the head of House campaigns, Chris Clark, adviser to Senate Redistricting Chairman Don Gaetz, and Frank Terraferma, who worked at the RPOF.

He also 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.

His memo said he also wanted them to cover the topic: “Communication with outside non-lawyers — how to make that work?”

Reichelderfer said his acces to the draft congressional maps was provided to him by Cannon’s aide, Kirk Pepper, who now works for Cannon’s Tallahassee-based lobbying firm. He testified that Pepper gave him the maps as a professional favor, not to help lawmakers get a political advantage.

“It was helpful to me professionally to have a heads-up on maps that were going to be released to the public,” he told the court. When pressed by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Reichelderfer could not recall many of the details of telephone conversations and emails with other consultants, and stuck to those talking points.

Reichelderfer, whose legal bills are being paid by the Republican Party of Florida, said he and other political consultants liked to tinker with maps for political sport, but he denied claims that he offered advice intended to influence the final product produced by lawmakers.

“We are political junkies, and drawing maps was kind of like doing a Rubik’s Cube, especially congressional maps because the larger the maps, the harder it is to draw,” he said.

The plaintiffs say they will show that Bainter, head of the Gainesville-based political consulting firm Data Targeting, was instrumental in providing the data detail that helped legislators draw maps to Republican advantage.

Bainter, who was paid more than $6.2 million over three years by the Republican Party to provide data analysis and political consulting for legislative and congressional races, has demanded that the courtroom be closed when his emails and planning documents are entered in trial. He argues that the documents should be deemed trade secrets.

Lewis rejected Bainter’s request to close the courtroom when any of the 538 pages of the confidential documents are discussed. Bainter appealed to the First District Court of Appeal for a stay of Lewis’ order. The Republican Party is paying Bainter’s legal bills.

The appeals court agreed with Bainter, and ruled Monday that the plaintiffs may not discuss Bainter’s documents during the trial until the court reviews Bainter’s claim. A decision is expected Wednesday.

When pressed by King, Reichelderfer acknowledged that he was given numerous congressional maps drawn by the House redistricting staff before they became public, but he could not recall how he got them.

“The fact that they’re on my computer doesn’t tell me how they got there,” he said.

“They somehow miraculously appeared on your computer?” King asked. “You knew you weren’t supposed to have those maps.”

He continued to press Reichelderfer on the origins of the maps. Although Reichelderfer initially testified he didn’t know who drew the maps, he said Monday he realized they were the work of the redistricting staff after Legislature’s lawyers hired an expert to examine his computer and the expert confirmed where the maps came from.

The trial continues Tuesday with testimony expected from Kirk Pepper, Cannon’s former aide who supplied Reichelderfer with the maps before they were public, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who was in charge of the House’s redistricting effort in 2012.

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