October 12, 2015

Joyner demands transparency from House and Senate leaders on maps

The legal fight over the Senate map has intensified as Senate Democrats are now demanding the public be allowed "real time" access into the behind-the-scenes process of map drawing being conducted by House and Senate staff in preparation for next week's special session to realign Senate district boundaries. 

In a Oct. 8 letter to Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner asked that both sides make public the guidelines they have agreed to use as their staff members build a series of proposed maps to be used by legislators as the starting point next week.

Galvano and Oliva privately agreed to guidelines and to “draw multiple base maps using different methodologies" but they have refused to allow the release the guidelines until the maps are released sometime this week. According to correspondence between them -- made public last week -- they also agreed that "all meetings of the map drawers and their work on the base map, including meetings where they are advised by counsel, be recorded.” 

Joyner, using funds from the Florida Democratic Party, then hired lawyer Mark Herron and asked that he be allowed in to the map-drawing process but Senate President Andy Gardiner refused. Now, she is asking to get access to the "recordings of any meetings between counsel for the Senate and the House of Representatives at which these methodologies were discussed as well as recordings of any meetings between counsel and the map drawers and/or any member of the Senate or House of Representatives at which these methodologies have been discussed."

Joyner also wants "copies of the recordings of all meetings of the map drawers while they work on the base maps, including meetings where they are advised by counsel, contemporaneously as they occur."

Her argument: this will enable transparency as they fix the map legislative leaders have conceded violated the constitution when they drew it the first time in 2012.

"This will allow the members of the Senate – as well as the public – to assess the credibility of the process in real time," she wrote.

Here's Joyner's letter:   Download 10-08-15 Remedial Senate Map Drawing Process - Letter - FINAL

October 09, 2015

Judge rejects House and Senate maps, recommends plaintiffs' plan for South Florida

CP1Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday rejected the Florida Legislature's third attempt at redrawing its congressional districts and recommended a map proposed by the challengers to the Florida Supreme Court for its final review.

Lewis adopted the bulk of the map approved by lawmakers in the northern and central portions of the state but specifically rejected the proposed boundaries for seven districts, including District 26 in Miami-Dade, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, potentially unseating at least three incumbents congressional candidates and opening the door for others.  Download Romo.Order Recommending Adoption of Remedial Map

The challengers, a coalition of League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals, agreed with Legislature's configuration of 20 of the 27 districts proposed in a staff-drawn base map but asked the court to adopt their changes to the remaining districts. Lewis agreed.

"The Legislature has thus not met its burden of justifying the proposed versions of Districts 20 through 27,'' he wrote in a 19-page ruling. He said that a map drawn by the challengers "best complies with the directions" set out by the Florida Supreme Court in July and "I therefore recommend its adoption." 

The recommendation will next go to the Florida Supreme Court will must review the maps, including the court testimony and record, and decide what will be the final boundaries for the 2016 election cycle.

Continue reading "Judge rejects House and Senate maps, recommends plaintiffs' plan for South Florida" »

October 07, 2015

House and Senate are drawing redistricting maps and Senate Dems hired own lawyers

Tensions mounted Wednesday more than a week before the special session on Senate redistricting is set to begin as House and Senate leaders acknowledged that staff had begun drafting maps using guidelines agreed to exclusively by House and Senate leaders and their lawyers, but the lawyer hired to represent Senate Democrats would not be allowed to take part in the process.

Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano acknowledged that the drawing of Senate districts is well underway by House and Senate staff for the three-week special session that begins Oct. 19. They are working in a sequestered space in the Senate redistricting suite and are being advised by the lawyers hired by the GOP-led Senate and House but, he said, the Senate Democrats will not have a separate lawyer at the table.

Senate Democrat Leader Arthenia Joyner told the Herald/Times she has hired Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron to represent the Senate Democrats in the redistricting process, using funds from the Florida Democratic Party, after Senate President Andy Gardiner twice rejected her request to allow the Democratic caucus to have its own lawyer advise them during the drawing of the Senate redistricting map.

“I had no choice,’’ Joyner said. "There is an inherent conflict because they drew the maps to favor Republicans. These same lawyers defended the maps and then admitted they violated the Constitution. Now, these lawyers are giving advice...Either fire them and get new lawyers, or hire us our own lawyers."

She said the Senate's current lawyers, former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero and Jason Zakia, were the Senate’s lead lawyers defending the existing maps in the protracted legal battle over the congressional and Senate redistricting maps first adopted by lawmakers in 2012. Cantero's signature was on the stipulated settlement agreement admitting that the Senate map violated the state constitution's Fair Districts standards.

In a Sept. 25 letter to Gardiner, Joyner asked him to reconsider his decision not to finance separate counsel for the minority party, noting that Cantero and Zakia have “been at the forefront of the unconstitutional maps – both Congressional and Senate – since the redrafting process began” and “they cannot serve two masters.” Download Joyner letter to Gardiner

The letter came after an exchange between Galvano and House Redistricting Chairman Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, over how the two chambers would develop draft Senate maps for the redistricting special session.

In a Sept. 17 letter to Oliva, Galvano said the House and Senate would “direct our attorneys to advise the map drawers on the specific types of methodologies to be used as well as other factors to be considered” and that “the methodologies and principles that guide the drawing of each map be documented, so that our members understand how each map was drawn and understand the parameters for proposing amendments if they wish to do so.”  Download Chair Galvano to Chair Oliva

Oliva responded that the House and Senate legal counsel “would meet prior to the map-drawing process” and issue “a joint memo to the map drawers that outlines in writing the mutually agreed-upon methodologies. Download Chair Oliva Response

Herron said Wednesday he had been retained but was surprised to learn that the drafting of the Senate maps had begun and was still awaiting word of that joint memo detailing the principles each side would abide by. 

"It's news to me it's underway,'' he told the Herald/Times. "I haven't seen the principles.”

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta responded saying the guidelines "were sent from House and Senate attorneys to House and Senate Redistricting staff. Senators were not included and were not privy to the substance of the document."

She did not make a copy of the guidelines available but instead said it would be made public "at the same time everyone else, including the Senators, receives it."

Betta also said that Cantero and Zakia's firm, White and Case, "did not advise the Senate regarding the enacted Congressional map, nor did they play an active role in the development of the enacted Senate map. The Court has not declared unconstitutional any map developed during the time  Justice Cantero and Mr. Zakia have been the Senate’s primary legal counsel for redistricting."

According to the contract with the firm, White and Case was hired in March 2012 after the court had rejected the Senate map and before the Senate had redrafted its map. With White and Case as its counsel in July, the Senate decided to settle the lawsuit against its redistricting map, acknowledging that the map violated the constitution. 

Joyner noted that Cantero has been the lead counsel for the Senate and was in the deposition when former Senate redistricting staff director John Guthrie was deposed by challengers over the Senate map, a day after the Senate agreed to settle the case. As the Herald/Times first reported, Guthrie testified under oath that former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, intentionally met individually with senators so they could “share their reactions” to draft Senate maps and avoid the public meeting requirements of Senate rules.

Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he agreed with Gardiner’s decision not to retain a separate lawyer for Democrats because Cantero and Zakia work for all 40-members of the Senate, not just the 26 Republicans. 

“At this point they’re Senate lawyers and it’s all the Senate,’’ Galvano told the Herald/Times. “Both the maps that have passed through this process have been bipartisan so there hasn’t been a bright-line rule between Republicans and Democrats on what maps were passed and have gotten into the litigation process.

“So at this point the lawyers are only advising as to the interpretation of the law as its come through the Supreme Court and circuit court and what criteria they should use pursuant to the Constitution."

If Joyner asks to have her lawyer sit in, will he be allowed?

“At this point, her lawyer is not the Senate lawyer or the House lawyer and the procedure that has been established was: House and Senate staff, House and Senate lawyers, no members,’’ Galvano said. “So her counsel would be deemed independent counsel, not the chamber counsel so that’s how I think it would be viewed.” 


September 28, 2015

Redistricting hearing comes to a close: What have we learned? What's left?

Lewis and Poreda

Florida's third redistricting trial over the congressional map is reaching its close today. It's try No. 3 for Florida lawmakers after the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the congressional map used in the last two elections as being the product of "improper political intent" in violation of the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution.

Judge Terry Lewis will decide which of the seven maps proposed to him by the GOP-controlled House and Senate, or the variations on those maps drawn by the challengers, will emerge as the final political boundaries voters will see in the November 2016 elections.

At the core of the dispute are two questions: whether the House or Senate used the preferred approach to drawing its map and whether they both intentionally attempted to favor Republicans when they drew two districts in Miami-Dade County.

Lawmakers were handed an unprecedented set of directives in July when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the congressional boundaries used in the 2012 and 2014 elections were invalid because lawmakers had allowed improper interference by political operatives and created congressional districts that illegally favored incumbents and political parties. The court gave them specific guidelines for redrawing eight districts and ordered Lewis to review their work and make a recommendation by Oct. 17.

When lawmakers tried and failed to resolve their differences in an August special session, the court threw it back to Lewis, who had been supervising the case that has cost taxpayers more than $8 million for the last 3-1/2 years. 

The challengers, a coalition of League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals, told the court in closing arguments that they agree with 20 of the 27 districts proposed in a staff-drawn base map but want the court to adopt their changes to the remaining districts.

So, after three days of hearings, here are five things we learned and what is left unknown: 

Photo: House redistricting committee staff director Jason Poreda speaks with Judge Terry Lewis, courtesy of The Florida Channel.

Continue reading "Redistricting hearing comes to a close: What have we learned? What's left?" »

Senate president nixes 'dissatisfied' Democrats' bid for lawyers

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has rejected a request by Senate Democrats for outside lawyers to represent the minority party in the upcoming remapping of Senate districts that will require Supreme Court approval. Disappointed by what they call Gardiner's "deeply problematic" decision, Democrats are urging him to change his mind before the upcoming three-week special session set to begin Oct. 19.

"I do not believe the interest of the Senate would be served by granting a request to retain additional legal counsel to represent a group of dissatisfied senators in redistricting litigation, regardless of the partisan affiliation of those senators," Gardiner wrote in a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "I use the term 'dissatisfied senators' intentionally, because every redistricting proposal passed this decade has passed this body with bipartisan support."

Senate rules allow the president to hire outside counsel if "the interests of the Senate would not otherwise be adequately represented," but Gardiner said that's not the case with redistricting. He said Senate lawyers "advise and guide the work product that a majority of senators" will approve -- regardless of party affiliation.

Joyner fired back Friday with a second letter to Gardiner in which she renewed her party's request for separate legal support, saying her party questioned the impartiality of a Senate legal team that is led by a former Florida Supreme Court justice, Raoul Cantero and two associates at the White & Case law firm in Miami, Jason Zakia and Jesse Green.

Joyner reminded Gardiner of "your admission" in court documents that the current Senate map is unconstitutional because it was drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent in violation of the two "fair districts" amendments to Florida's Constitution that voters approved in 2010. 

"I have no doubt that they (Senate lawyers) served the majority well. It is their ability to fairly serve the 14 members of the minority party and the millions of constituents we represent which I see as deeply problematic," Joyner wrote.

Gardiner has allowed individual Republican senators to hire legal representation at taxpayer expense. He told Joyner he did so because those senators faced "specific discovery requests" that targeted their official duties.

September 26, 2015

Congressional redistricting fight: It's now about that Senate map

Tom Lee testimonySen. Tom Lee, one of the Senate’s most powerful Republicans, took the stand Friday in the ongoing trial over how to configure Florida’s 27 congressional districts and said that he did not draw a district to benefit himself and he had no intention of running for Congress.

It was a rare, personal moment in the unprecedented process that has reshaped how redistricting works in Florida.

But, while the testimony was designed by the Senate to undercut attacks by the Republican-led House that the Senate map was drawn to benefit incumbent Republicans, it also exposed how the congressional trial is really just a practice run.

Leaders in the House and Senate have concluded that the outcome of the trial will have a direct impact on the drawing of something more personal than congressional districts — the Senate map — because how the case is resolved could decide how much input legislators will have in shaping that plan.

“A lot of this is about precedent as we proceed with developing the Senate maps,” said Lee, R-Brandon, after testifying on the second day of hearings. “There are a lot of strategic decisions that will come back based on how the court treats the maps.”

The House is arguing that its map, drawn primarily by staff in a sequestered room with input from only lawyers hired by the GOP-led House and Senate is more constitutional because it shielded legislators from any improper partisan intent.

The Senate argues that the staff-drawn base map is the “starting point” and legislators should not be penalized for changing maps — even if they inadvertently benefit themselves — as long as there was not improper intent.

More here.

September 25, 2015

House, Senate agree to record meetings and pursue multiple base maps for Senate redistricting

@MichaelAuslen and @MaryEllenKlas

Florida House and Senate leaders have agreed to the basic terms of drawing "base maps," the starting points for a Senate redistricting special session next month.

Letters between House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, show changes from the congressional redistricting process in August, which could give senators more options and more control over the configuration of the districts where they will have to run for reelection.

The biggest difference is that House and Senate staff will draw multiple base Senate maps in consultation with attorneys. The congressional redistricting process used just one map, which the House was reluctant to change, even as members of the Senate proposed amendments making dramatic shifts.

All conversations with House and Senate redistricting staff will also be recorded. During congressional redistricting, only Senate conversations were recorded, but the House has agreed to follow the Senate's procedures, as they are drawing the Senate's map.

Galvano confirmed to the Herald/Times that staff will draw "five or six" such maps as a starting point for the redistricting special session Oct. 19-Nov. 6.

Continue reading "House, Senate agree to record meetings and pursue multiple base maps for Senate redistricting" »

Redistricting debate: Will redrawn Miami districts encourage or suppress Hispanic voters?

Dario Moreno

Photo: Dario Moreno

Armed with data, charts and expert opinions, lawyers in the trial over Florida's congressional districts sparred Friday over whether proposed maps before the court would elect or suppress Hispanic voters in Miami Dade County.

On center stage in circuit court in Leon County was Dario Moreno, the longtime professor of political science at Florida International University, and a national expert on the dynamics of the Hispanic vote in South Florida.

Hired by the Florida Legislature to be an expert witness in defense of every GOP-drawn redistricting map since 1994, Moreno testified that the alternatives offered up by the challengers would "pack Hispanics" into District 25 held by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart to create favorable neighboring districts for Democrats. Those districts, 26 and 27 are now held by Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. 

On the second day of a three-day redistricting hearing over the future of Florida's 27 congressional districts, the issue revolves around whether any of the seven proposed maps before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis would reduce access for Hispanic voters, a violation of the minority protections in the Fair District amendments to the state constitution. The GOP-led legislature has proposed three maps and League of Women Voters, Common Cause and Democrat-leaning plaintiffs in the case have proposed four maps.

At the heart of Moreno's analysis is the theory that Hispanic Democrats are "not turning out to vote in primaries" while black voters in the proposed districts do, thereby creating a situation that would "lock out Hispanics" from choosing a candidate of their choice.

Speculation that Hispanics will join with blacks to elect a candidate in Miami Dade is unrealistic, Moreno said, because "Miami-Dade County has no history of coalition voting between African-Americans and Hispanics."

Continue reading "Redistricting debate: Will redrawn Miami districts encourage or suppress Hispanic voters? " »

Tom Lee takes the witness stand to defend against claims he was drawing district for himself

Tom Lee testimonyThe Republican rift entered the courtroom Friday as Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee took the witness stand in the redistricting trial over the state's congressional maps and testified under oath that he neither intended to draw a map to benefit himself and not has any intention to run in the Hillsborough based district. 

The allegation that the Senate map was drawn for personal, partisan benefit, is the at the unspoken core of the public feud between the House and Senate over the congressional redistricting map. It was Lee's reconfiguration of Hillsborough that prompted House leaders to reject the Senate map and dissolve the special session in August without resolution. And it was Lee's district that was revised by Sen. Bill Galvano in a post-session map drawn in an attempt to "compromise" with the House before the court intervened.

The issue emerged in court in a polite but edgy exchange with Lee on the stand in the second day of the redistricting hearing. 

"Would you agree with me that if a legislator, whether a representative, or a senator or a congressman, drew a district that was favorable to that legislator that that would be a violation of the Florida Constitution?'' asked George Meros, lawyer for the Florida House.

"No sir,'' Lee replied. 

Continue reading "Tom Lee takes the witness stand to defend against claims he was drawing district for himself" »

September 24, 2015

House map drawer defends base map, saying he 'had no idea' it helped Curbelo

Jason PoredaThe lead map-drawer for the Florida House told a Leon County Circuit Court on Thursday that he did not know that they were moving black communities out of U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district when they were drawing the Legislature's base map.

Jason Poreda, staff director of the House Select Committee on Redistricting said "I had no idea" that he was shifting a community dominated by Democrats out of the district in a way that challengers argue made it more favorable to a Republican. 

Plaintiffs allege that the map was drawn in a way to help Curbelo win re-election by moving three African-American communities -- West Perrine, Palmetto Estates and Richmond Heights -- from his District 26 and into U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen's District 27, because she was a stronger incumbent.

Poreda testified the change was made to follow the Florida Turnpike and pick up population in order to abide by the Florida Supreme Court ruling that rejected a previous map that split the City of Homestead.

Continue reading "House map drawer defends base map, saying he 'had no idea' it helped Curbelo" »