November 27, 2015

Both sides now accuse the other of conspiring for political gain in Senate redistricting

Senate alt nfl

The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” trying to advantage Democrats.

The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,’’ wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.

But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.

The sparring legal briefs, filed late in the evening on Wednesday, offer a glimpse into the arguments in the Senate redistricting trial scheduled Dec. 14-18, before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.

Lawmakers tried and failed to adopt a Senate map for the 2016 elections during a three-week special session that ended early this month so the job was handed to Reynolds who has asked each side to present alternative maps.

The coalition named the incumbents they believed were protected by the proposed Senate map -- from Miami Sens. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, to Panhandle Sen. Greg Evers and Rep. Matt Gaetz -- and said the Legislature failed to enact a Senate map during its special session “because of partisanship, self-interest, and palace intrigue,’’ a reference to the Republican infighting over the future Senate presidency.

The Senate proposal was submitted to the court by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate redistricting chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a combination of two staff-drawn maps but it was never voted upon by the Senate.

The plaintiffs argued that the Legislature ordered staff to draw six “base” maps but never told them to “correct – or even consider – the constitutional defects identified by Plaintiffs” in the map the Senate had previously agreed had been illegally gerrymandered.

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November 24, 2015

Redistricting challengers abandon Senate maps that do not cross Tampa Bay

Screen shot 2015-11-24 at 10.32.10 AMIn an effort to "narrow the issues for trial," the challengers to the Senate's redistricting efforts on Tuesday withdrew two maps that contained a black majority district that do not cross Tampa Bay and made two changes in North Florida.

The challengers, a coalition of individuals and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters, had argued that the Legislature should have updated its voting data to include the primaries of 2012 and 2014 which would have helped to show the strength of black voting performance in the districts.

They presented the Legislature with a map that was based on the primary data, but it was rejected by the House and Senate as inaccurate and incomplete. 

David King, the lead lawyer for the group, and his legal team have concluded that the argument is not worth the fight as they prepare for a trial before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds Dec. 14-18.

He wrote in the motion filed Monday hat "although there is a likelihood that the Hillsborough-only district would retain African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of choice, Plaintiffs will rely only on their alternative version of District 19 that crosses Tampa Bay in CPS-3a, CPS-3b, CPS-4a, and CPS-4b, in order to narrow the issues for trial and ensure that African Americans retain their ability to elect candidates of choice.'' 

The withdrawn maps are CPS-2a and CPS-2b (see above.) King also submitted a corrected version of CPS-3b, which is the same map submitted to the Legislature and the court last week," except that Districts 1 and 2 have been replaced to exactly match the versions of Districts 1 and 2 in the other Alternative Remedial Senate Plans,'' he wrote.

Regardless of the configuration of Tampa Bay, all of the maps produced by the plaintiffs include 20 districts in which the majority voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and 20 districts in which the majority voted for Democrat Barack Obama. There is no guarantee that those districts will perform that way in Senate races but all the proposed maps pose a threat to the GOP's 26-14 majority in the Senate, which was elected with the now-invalidated map of 2012. 

This post has been updated to include that the maps withdrawn did not cross Tampa Bay. 

November 19, 2015

Will lawmakers try a quickie special session for Senate map submitted to court?

CPS2aAs the life size chess match that is Florida redistricting keeps playing out the next question is, will there be another special session?

The challengers have submitted six new maps and, based on preliminary analysis, it's clear their plans all draw 20 districts that favor Democrats and 20 that favor Republicans. (see pdfs below)

Meanwhile, Senate President Andy Gardiner said Thursday he choose to submit to the court a single Senate map, with pieces of two "base maps" that were drawn by staff, because "it's all recorded."

"For me, you go with base maps because you have a record – it’s all recorded, at least on the Senate side -- and it’s a Senate product,'' Gardiner told the Herald/Times when we caught up with him outside the Senate Republican office.

So what's the next move? At least three Republican senators are scheduled to be deposed by the lawyers for the challengers, the Herald/Times has learned -- Sens. Bill Galvano, Tom Lee and Jack Latvala.

Meanwhile, one option being discussed is to call a quickie special session to give the imprimatur of legislative approval to the Senate map when lawmakers convene for committee week Nov. 30. That would give them time to get a legislatively-approved map before the redistricting trial begins Dec. 14.

"I haven't thought that far,'' said Gardiner, R-Orlando, when asked by the Herald/Times. "I’m thinking turkey and getting the deep fryer ready."

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Coalition offers judge six variations for Miami and Tampa in new Senate maps

Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds was handed seven options for drawing the Senate maps on Wednesday, giving him the opportunity to be the “seamstress” he suggested might be needed to stitch together various pieces of the proposals.

Six of the proposed maps come from challengers to the lawsuit, a coalition of voters and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters. Each of their proposals is a modification of what they presented to Florida Senate during the special redistricting session that ended two weeks ago but the variations offer the judge a menu of options to two district areas: Miami Dade County and Tampa Bay.

The variations between the maps boil down to whether they create a fourth Hispanic district in Miami Dade County, or leave it at three, and whether they cross Tampa Bay to create an African American-majority district in Hillsborough.

Three of the coalition maps create a fourth Hispanic-majority districts in Miami Dade County while three create only three Hispanic-majority seats. Three of the maps cross Tampa Bay to create the black-majority seat while three do not.  Download 2015 11-18 Plfs' Not-Service of Remedial Senate Plans

Reynolds has the job of trying to sort them out during a five-day trial Dec. 14-18. He said in an emergency hearing last week that he might consider putting together pieces of different maps like “a good seamstress.”  

The House refrained from offering a map, relying on what it told the court last week --  that it would defer to the Senate to draw a map that rearranges the Senate’s political boundaries.

By contrast, the Senate leaders, upon the advice its attorneys, decided to create a new configuration, piecing together pieces of two different maps drawn by staff, including the bulk of one that was adopted by the full Senate.

But Senate leaders rejected the configuration for Miami that was voted upon by the Senate on a 22-18 vote, and instead chose a different version that was drawn by the staff as base map 9080. More here on that.

Here's how the coalition options break down:

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November 18, 2015

Senate submits to court a new redistricting map, rejecting plan that passed full Senate

S9078 S9080The Florida Senate offered the court yet another proposal for redistricting South Florida on Wednesday, submitting a configuration that merges pieces of a map approved by the full Senate with one that never got a vote.

The new configuration, chosen by Senate President Andy Gardiner upon the advice Senate attorneys, pieces together two different maps drawn by staff: S9090 (formerly S9078) -- the bulk of which was adopted by the full Senate, and S9080, a configuration that was rejected by three Miami senators and never came to a vote.

Gardiner rejected the configuration for Miami adopted drawn by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla that was voted upon by the Senate on a 22-18 vote, and instead choose a different version that was drawn by the staff.

Under the plan submitted to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is drawn into the same district as Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, likely forcing her to move from her West Kendall home. Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, is put into the same district as Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables.

The map stretches the African-American majority seat in held by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Lakes, to Broward, including the cities of Cooper City, Davie, and Southwest Ranches. And in Palm Beach County, Democratic Sens. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, and Joe Abruzzo of Boynton Beach are drawn into the same district. In all other parts of the state, the maps carefully avoids pitting incumbent senators against each other. 

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November 13, 2015

Judge rejects Senate request to hire redistricting expert, orders trial to proceed

Judge ReynoldsLeon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds rejected a request by the Florida Senate to have the court hire a redistricting expert to redraw the Senate maps, saying "we just don't have enough time left" to hire a newcomer and get the boundaries set in time for the 2016 election.

The quick decision after a 30-minute hearing Friday was a blow to the Florida Senate, whose lawyers argued  that by hiring an expert to draw the maps instead of relying on the Legislature or challengers, they could "streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida’s taxpayers."

"It appears to me we just don't have enough time left to engage in any process, other than the one we are currently on,'' Reynolds said in denying the Senate request. "I do that with some reluctance because I could use all the help that I can get in making this decision.''

He ordered the five-day trial to proceed on Dec. 14-18 and said proposed maps must be submitted to court by next Wednesday. 

If the court had agreed to hire one of the three university professors recommended by the Senate, it would have given the Senate a tactical victory in the bitterly-fought redistricting fight.

Although there were only slight differences between the House and Senate over the final proposed maps, they were significantly different from those offered by the plaintiffs.

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November 12, 2015

Senate asks court to hire redistricting expert to draw map, challengers disagree

Senate map

After months of feuding, the Florida House and Senate reached a redistricting truce on Thursday and asked the court to hire an expert to draw a new map revising the state Senate boundaries instead of conducting a five-day trial next month.

"The appointment of a consultant would streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida’s taxpayers by eliminating the need for costly discovery and a five-day evidentiary hearing,'' wrote the Senate lawyers to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. "It would also eliminate any suspicion that the adopted map was laden with improper intent."  Download Case No. 2012-CA-2842_Senate's Motion for Appointment of a Court-Appointed Consultant to Draw Senate Map (1)

Reynolds had asked the parties to submit a scheduling plan for the Senate redistricting trial by Thursday. But after receiving the call for an expert, Reynolds issued an order saying the trial would move ahead as scheduled, with maps submitted by next Wednesday. There was no mention of what he will do with the Senate's request.  Download Amended Order (1) (1)

The lawyers for the challengers, a coalition led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, were not happy with the Senate's request. They have drawn three proposed Senate maps and expect to present them in court, along with the Legislature's alternatives.

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November 11, 2015

Question now for court: Did Legislature intend to favor GOP in Miami on congressional map?

ParienteThe three-year battle over Florida’s congressional boundaries moved to the state’s highest court Tuesday where lawyers for the Legislature tried to get a trial court map declared unconstitutional but instead found themselves defending the way lawmakers handled two Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade County.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who authored the landmark ruling in July that invalidated Florida’s 27 congressional districts, grilled the attorney for the Florida House for “jumping over” portions of the ruling “as if it didn’t exist.”

“The reason that it was to be redrawn was it was drawn to favor the Republican Party,” Pariente told George Meros, the lawyer for the House.

But when the House redrew Districts 26 and 27 in Miami, “it was redrawn to favor Republicans even more than the original,” she said. “I’m having trouble with the House’s position here.”

Meros countered: “There is no evidence in the record… that these map drawers drew that configuration in order to improve Republican performance,” he said. “They had no idea.”

The Legislature’s handling of Miami districts is at the heart of the dispute over whether the court will accept or reject the map drawn by the challengers, a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. Story here. 

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November 10, 2015

Frederica Wilson: Proposed congressional district creates a 'fence of apartheid'

Brown and WilsonFor two years, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson represented Miami Dade communities that earned the dubious distinction of being considered "the most suffering congressional district in America" by the Gallup-Healthway's annual "Well Being Index".

That changed in 2012, when Florida legislators redrew her African-American majority district to include the Port of Miami, the Freedom Tower, Bayside Marketplace, American Airlines Arena, the FBI regional building, Watson Island, Jungle Island, Bayfront Park and the downtown financial district.

Wilson calls them the "economic engines" of her district and they not only help generate campaign contributions for her re-election bids, they help her link jobs to the underprivileged in the poorer regions and helped her district shed the label of the "most suffering district."

But the map that created the new configuration has been invalidated by the court, and a replacement proposal recommended by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis would reverse the progress Wilson says she has made trying to link the two communities and represent them as one.

"They have turned District 24 into the most suffering district again,'' said Wilson, who arrived in Tallahassee Tuesday to hear listen to the arguments on the map before the Florida Supreme Court. "It makes it impossible for me to champion these jobs."

She said she will join U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and file a lawsuit after the court approves a map, she said. Both of them attended the hearing on Tuesday before the court. 

The map, drawn by a redistricting expert for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, leaves most of the districts in North and Central Florida in the configuration approved by legislators but changes Miami Dade's districts, including Wilson's District 24, by moving black voters into Curbelo's District 26 and removing the areas Wilson considers her district's "economic engines."

"When you’re the congresswoman in a district a lot of things rely on that -- not only contributions to help you get elected but internships for the people you can set up so that they can get jobs here,'' she said. "I want to know why they would try to pack all the black people together? If you have no economic engines in your district all you can do is fight and fight and fight and you never win."

Wilson, who was in the state Senate when the previous district was drawn in 2002, said she considers this a throwback to the pre-Civil Rights era.

"It’s almost like, take the black people put them behind a fence of apartheid and let them manage because that where they belong,'' she said. "I lived through the Civil Rights Movement,'' she said. "I know what it is to be discriminated against and this reeks of it."

 Photo: U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Frederica Wilson outside the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday

Who is manipulating the redistricting process? Both sides take aim

Screen shot 2015-10-30 at 3.10.52 PMWho is to blame for the latest legislative impasse over redistricting?

The finger-pointing began quickly last week as Florida lawmakers adjourned their second special session on redistricting and faced the prospect of another court-ordered map.

Lawmakers blamed the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution as impossible to follow, and House and Senate leaders lashed out at the challengers — a coalition of Democrat-leaning individuals and voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida — for manipulating the process. This week, the challengers lashed back.

“I don’t believe the plaintiffs want to see a legislatively approved map,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting after the House passed its proposed map. “They’re not an honest player in this process.”

Florida lawmakers called the self-imposed special session after ending the lawsuit by the challengers and admitting that the 2012 Senate redistricting maps violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution because they were drawn with partisan political intent.

But when the challengers submitted maps the evening before a vote in the full House or Senate, lawmakers could not consider them, Oliva said. He called it “gamesmanship” that used “the legislative process of the people to manipulate the judicial process of the people.”

David King, the lead lawyer for the coalition, said Monday that it was the Legislature that was manipulating the process.

“The coalition does not consider redistricting a game,” he said in a statement. “It is a very serious effort to ensure that voters can fairly choose their representatives and to stop legislators from rigging districts to favor themselves and their political parties.”

More here.