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.

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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.

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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."

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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. 

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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" »

Redistricting trial opens with Miami's districts at the heart of differences

Lewis 924

Allegations were flying in a Tallahassee courtroom Thursday as a three-day hearing into the latest congressional redistricting map began with lawyers for the Republican-led Legislature accusing challengers of drawing maps “in the dark,” Congressman Dan Webster tried and failed to “get a seat at the table” and three black communities in Miami-Dade County emerged as ground zero for differences over the final map.

“I have no fear that if we deal with the merits in this case we will satisfy the court,” said David King, lawyer for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which successfully challenged the Legislature’s 2012 congressional map that has forced the issue back to court.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis must now decide among seven different maps to recommend to the Florida Supreme Court, which invalidated the Legislature’s map because it was drawn with “improper partisan intent” and violated the constitutional ban on protecting incumbents and political parties.

Lewis must have his recommendation to the Supreme Court by Oct. 17 and ordered lawyers to have their proposed language to him by Oct. 2.

Although Republicans have been united in their defense of their maps until now, the arguments before the court revealed a broadening divide between Republicans in the two chambers — and a harbinger of the fight ahead over the redrawing of the Senate map in October. The House argues that its map, drawn by three Republican legislative staffers as a base for the discussion, is the purer one and devoid of any partisan intent.

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September 23, 2015

VIDEO: Congressional redistricting maps back in court this week


Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate, as well as a group of plaintiffs, will be back in court tomorrow to make their case for which congressional redistricting map Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis should recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.

Times/Herald bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and reporter Michael Auslen break down the latest in this first installment of the "Times/Herald Tallahassee Update."


September 22, 2015

Redistricting witness lists include Tom Lee, Bill Galvano & Dem consultants; Lee: 'I have clean hands'

With the House prepared to attack the Senate redistricting map in court this week, as well as the maps offered up by the challengers, the list of witnesses is getting long for the hearing before Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that begins Thursday.

The House and Senate have submitted their lists which include Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the primary authors of the two Senate maps, as well as a line up of redistricting experts and legislative redistricting staff.

Lee's modifications to his home county of Hillsborough, which were adopted in the final map approved by the full Senate, provoked House Republicans to suggest that the Senate map may have been drawn to benefit incumbents or Republicans. 

Lee told the Herald/Times that he is looking forward to testifying.

"I have clean hands,'' he said. "Nobody wants to play show and tell with me."

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