May 23, 2014

GOP official doesn't know how his maps made it into public plan, final proposal

Frank Terraferma Redistricting trialA Republican Party of Florida official testified Friday that maps he drew and gave to a GOP redistricting consultant were identical to a map submitted by a member of the public, significant parts of which were used by lawmakers in the final congressional map.

The testimony of Frank Terraferma, director of House campaigns for RPOF, came as lawyers for the League of Women Voters and a coalition of voters are trying to show in circuit court that “legislators and staffers collaborated” with political operatives to conduct a "shadow" redistricting process "that was not only apart from the public process — but actually perverted the public process itself.”

The groups are challenging the state’s congressional map and accusing legislators of violating the 2010 constitutional amendment requiring them to draw districts that do not protect incumbents or members of a party. The trial is in its fifth day.

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Redistricting challengers ask Supreme Court for emergency ruling in secret docs

A coalition of voters challenging Florida's congressional maps filed an emergency petition in the Florida Supreme Court Friday, asking the court to allow documents from political operatives who advised legislators to become part of the ongoing redistricting trial.

The court has given respondents until 3:30 p.m. to reply.  Download SC14-987

The First District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that 538 pages of maps, emails and memos are confidential “trade secrets” that may not be entered as evidence in the trial that is now in its fifth day in circuit court in Leon County. As a result, portions of the appeal and the attachments will remain under seal, attorneys said.

The ruling was a setback to League of Women Voters and seven Florida voters who are suing the state for violating the law that prohibits legislators from protecting political parties and incumbents when redistricting the state’s congressional boundaries. Download Motion to expedite briefing (00087321)

The plaintiffs have spent the first four days of the trial arguing that “legislators and staffers collaborated” with political operative Pat Bainter, of Data Targeting, and other partisan operatives “to conduct a separate redistricting process that was not only apart from the public process — but actually perverted the public process itself.”

They said in their motion that they want the Supreme Court to act quickly because "if the Court does not grant interim relief, it will lose the ability to grant the Plaintiffs the primary remedy they seek in this litigation—the redrawing of congressional districts before the 2014 election."

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May 22, 2014

Day Three of redistricting: Window into reality and the defense of secret deals as 'entirely proper'

Senate President Don Gaetz testified under oath Wednesday that it was “entirely proper” for him to meet in secret with House Speaker Will Weatherford to reach a deal over a congressional map as part of the Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting process.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, who along with Weatherford was chairman of his chamber’s redistricting maps in 2011-12, told the court that he and Weatherford met twice and agreed to settle on the Senate’s map design for the final joint congressional map. It included a provision that boosted the number of black voters in the meandering congressional District 5, a Democrat-majority district that slices through dozens of towns to collect black voters from Jacksonville to Orlando.

“It was entirely proper, it was entirely ordinary that we would meet as two committee chairs to work out differences,’’ Gaetz said during more than three hours of testimony.

The entire congressional map, particularly District 5, is being challenged as unconstitutional by a coalition of voters led by the League of Women Voters. They contend the redrawn map violates the “Fair Districts” standards added to the state Constitution by voters in 2010. It requires that districts may not be drawn to protect incumbents and or political parties.

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May 21, 2014

Gaetz is grilled about Senate maps, secret meetings -- and what the Senate didn't do

Gaetz redistricting trial

Florida’s precedent-setting redistricting trial is on its third day with Senate President Don Gaetz under oath, being grilled in detail about the deal he reached in secret with the House and Senate on the congressional map.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was in charge of the Senate redistricting effort in 2011-12, told the court there were two meetings between him and his counterpart in the House, current House Speaker Will Weatherford, in which they agreed to settle on the Senate’s map design for the final joint congressional map. The proposal boosted the number of black voters in the meandering congressional district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and is the subject a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and a coalition of voters.

The groups contend that the congressional seats violate the "Fair Districts" standards added to the state constitution by voters in 2010 which says that says districts cannot be drawn in a way to favor incumbents or members of a political party. 

Weatherford acknowledged during testimony on Tuesday that the map was the subject of an amendment introduced with no discussion by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, chairman of the House’s congressional redistricting committee after Gaetz and Weatherford had reached the deal.

Gaetz told the court that there was no requirement for them to notify the public of the meeting but claims "the door was open" and anyone could have walked in. Under cross examination, he said the map received bi-partisan support of the committee 21-5.

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May 20, 2014

Weatherford: I never asked staff to make Brown's district more compact

Weatherford redistricting trialFor the first time in state history, House Speaker Will Weatherford took the stand in the redistricting trial over the state's congressional districts Tuesday and defended the congressional map the Republican-controlled legislature drew. Story here. 

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, defended the map, and the decision to boost the black population in the meandering congressional district held by U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. He acknowledged he never asked his staff to make the district more compact but supported the Senate version in a compromise that brought the number of black majority voters in the district over 50 percent. 

The distict, which stretches through several counties, was first drawn by a federal court in 1996 to increase the odds of electing a black to Congress and has been a central objection in the now-pending lawsuit against the congressional districts drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature. Brown has held the seat since then.

Plaintiffs allege that Republicans sought the district and Brown, the incumbent, supported it because it helps to pack Democrats into a district in a way to make adjoining districts stronger for Republicans. The multi-county district became the foundation of the map that legislators ultimately approved in 2002 and again in 2012. The 2012 map came despite new constitutional guidelines approved in 2010 that Florida's districts be compact -- and not reduce minority representation.

Weatherford, who headed the House redistricting effort, testified on Tuesday that the compromise "made the map better" because it reduced the number of cities and counties that were divided. When pressed under questioning, he also said he never asked staff to try to make the Jacksonville-based minority district more compact. 

"We relied heavily upon counsel and staff to make sure it was drawn in a legal manner,'' he said. It was the first time a sitting legislator has been called to testify in a pending lawsuit and the first on redistricting. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in December in a landmark decision that legislative privilege is secondary to the protections in the constitution, which prohibit legislators from redrawing maps with the intent of favoring for an incumbent or political party.

Plaintiff's lawyer David King pressed Weatherford: "You never gave your staff any direction to try to draw it in a more compact manner?"

Weatherford repeatedly avoided a direct answer: "I don't remember asking my staff to draw District 5, aside from asking them to draw in a way that was legally complaint."

Later, King asked about the seven proposed congressional maps and noted that none of them deviated from what King called the "serpentine district."

"We drew the best set of maps we thought we could,'' Weatherford said. "We wanted to give members as much opportunity to see the different methods in drawing a map but there is more than one way to draw legally compliant maps."

Weatherford said the final congressional map was a compromise agreed to between Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who led the Senate redistrictin effort.

"We knew and we believed that our map was superior to the Senate map, particularly as it relates to cities and counties splits,'' he said.

Kirk Pepper, House speaker's aide, says he gave redistricting maps to friend as a favor

Pepper Redistricting testimony

In the second day of the redistricting trial on Florida's congressional maps, Kirk Pepper, the former deputy chief of staff to former House Speaker Dean Cannon, provided a window into the friendly and revolving world between political consultants and legislative staff.

Under oath in the second day of the trial in Leon County Circuit Court, Pepper acknowledged for the first time that he not only supplied maps to political consultant and friend Marc Reichelderfer before they were available to public, he supplied them on two flash drives.

Reichelderfer, a consultant to Cannon, testified Monday that he did not know how he obtained the maps although he did recall receiving some from Pepper. Pepper has since gone to work for Capitol Insight, the lobbying firm founded by Cannon.

Why was it acceptable for a House insider provide the work product of the House legislative staff to a political operative before the public had access? 

"In hindsight I wouldn’t do that again but it was intended to help a friend who was cut out of the process [from which] he makes his living,'' Pepper testified. He later elaborated: "I was making him aware of it so that he, as a friend, would know where the political landscape is going the landscape in which he makes his living in. I was trying to do something nice for a friend of mine."

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Day One of redistricting trial: Reichelderfer endures for 6 hours, focus is his special access

ReichelderferFlorida’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.

Read more here:

May 19, 2014

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.

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January 17, 2014

Brown blasts lawsuit aimed at dismantling her district

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown on Friday slammed the federal lawsuit against the state that is aimed at dismantling the meandering district that she represents. The plaintiffs in the case are Gainesville residents but they are being represented by two law firms with ties to the Democratic Party.

Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, represents a multi-county district that was first drawn in 1992, during a different era -- when the courts required that districts be drawn to maximize minority voting strength. Since then, Florida voters enacted a law requiring that districts be compact, preserve minority voting strength and prohibit any attempt to favor incumbents.

The plaintiffs allege that the district, which was endorsed by the NAACP, violates their federal right to equal protection because they allege that it packs black Democrats into the district in an attempt to make the adjoining districts more white and Republican. They describe the district as following a "serpentine route." 

Brown, a 21-year incumbent, said in a statement that rejecting her district will set the clock back.

"Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls in 1871, a time span of 129 years,'' she wrote. "Overturning the current District 5 map would ignore an essential redistricting principle: maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts.  Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district 'compactness' while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts fragments minority communities across the state."

She acknowledged that her district, congressional District 5, "is essentially the same as the previous District 3, which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court."

In addition to the federal lawsuit, the district is being challenge in circuit court in Florida by some of the same plaintiffs for violating the constitutional protections that prohibit legislators from favoring incumbents or political parties. Brown failed to mention, however, that the district upheld by the courts in the past was drawn prior to the enactment of the current constitutional amendments.

Here is Brown's full statement (her emphasis added): 

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January 16, 2014

Corrine Brown's snake-like district draws yet another lawsuit

Florida’s famously convoluted congressional district, held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, is under fire again as two Gainesville men have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to order the Legislature to redraw the map before the November election. 

William Everett Warinner and James C. Miller, Sr., both registered voters in Brown’s district, claim that the “serpentine route” of the meandering district violates their constitutional rights to equal protection because it packs blacks into the district in an effort to “bleach” the adjoining districts to benefit Republicans. 

Warinner is among the plaintiffs already challenging Florida’s entire congressional redistricting map in state court, alleging that it violates the redistricting amendments in the state constitutional because the map was drawn with partisan intent. They are represented by some of that same law firms that represent the state and federal Democratic parties. Download Brown Amended Complaint E-Filed

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