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.

November 09, 2015

Court to decide which map is 'just right' in congressional redistricting hearing Tuesday

GoldilocksThe Florida Supreme Court is Goldilocks in the redistricting saga that comes before it on Tuesday as lawyers for the House, the Senate and a coalition of voters groups try to persuade the panel in robes that their map is "just right" for the 2016 elections.

They all want the Baby Bear treatment.

The House, which took the Papa Bear approach and adopted a map drawn by staff following rigid rules and no exceptions, will try to say that its map is best. The Senate, which welcomed the input of its members like a more lenient Mama Bear, will say one of its two maps is best. And the junior player in the group -- the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- wants the court to follow the lead of the lower court and pick its map which blended the maps from lawmakers with a new configuration in South Florida.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis's Oct. 9 ruling adopted the bulk of the House and Senate maps in the northern and central portions of the state but rejected the proposed boundaries for District 26 in Miami-Dade County, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, and accepted the configuration drawn by the challengers.

It's uncharted ground for both the court and the parties but the ruling will carry new weight that could influence the outcome of the redistricting trial scheduled for December when the court recommends a state Senate map. It's high stakes for everyone and, unlike Goldilocks, we don't expect the court to be sleeping. 

The map recommended by Lewis throws at least three incumbent congressional candidates in much more competitive districts and Miami Dade, once again is at the heart of the dispute. In addition to Curbelo, the ruling could mean new boundaries for Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and it shuffles the landscape for Congress in the central and northern parts of the state. 

Lewis concluded that he did “not find from the evidence that the staff map drawers had a conscious intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.” But he said “I remain convinced” the best way to determine if there had been improper partisan intent was to explore the reasons for drawing districts that comply with the other standards, such as geographical compactness.

To that point, he criticized the “very minimalist approach” lawmakers used to rectify the flaws in Miami-Dade’s Districts 26 and 27 as something that “does concern me.”

In its July 9 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to keep the city of Homestead whole, and the Legislature’s solution was to create a district that performed better for Republicans by removing the black communities of Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and West Perrine from District 26 into the neighboring District 27, now held by Ros-Lehtinen.

The House and Senate argued that the only way to avoid reducing the ability of Hispanics to elect their own candidate was to leave the district more Republican-leaning as they have proposed. But Lewis rejected that argument, noting that “Hispanics have consistently elected the candidate of their choice” in the region.

He also rejected Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno’s testimony that the district as proposed by the challengers will “lock out” Hispanic voters.

“His testimony was long on pure opinion based on experience and short on systematic, scientific analysis of accepted statistical data,” Lewis wrote.

Meanwhile, we await what the court will do with the Senate maps. A hearing before Judge George Reynolds is scheduled for Tuesday and both sides have accused the other of manipulating the process.

More here.

November 05, 2015

Richard Corcoran: 'the system is broken'; time to consider independent redistricting commission

As the special session on congressional redistrict was imploding in August, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president, declared: "Bring me something that works." 

Now, after a second special session imploded Thursday and legislators left town without an agreement on a redistricting map to draw state Senate boundaries, incoming House speaker Richard Corcoran and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva are also on board. 

"The system is completely broken and it needs to be fixed and I’m completely open to a commission,’’ Corcoran, R-New Port Richey, told the Herald/Times.

Oliva is skeptical that anyone will be unbiased, said he is also open to the notion.

"I'm for looking into it because I certainly think we need to have maps that aren't disputed into the next census,'' Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, told reporters after the session ended. 

"I'm not as optimistic that those people will be so significantly more impartial than these people,'' he said. 

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who has proposed a bill creating an independent commission to handle the state's redistricting, said he has been approached by several Republicans who are ready to consider taking the job away from legislators.

"The Legislature is incapable of drawing its own maps that don't have political intent,'' he said. "You can't put 40 people together and have them set aside their own personal viewpoints and ambitions to have an unbiased process. It's just simply impossible."

But David King, attorney for the coalition that led the legal challenge, said lawmakers should not blame the Fair Districts amendments, which were approved by 63 percent of the voters in the 2010 election, for their inability to reach an agreement.

"Change is very hard to accept — especially when it requires our elected officials to set aside their own personal interests,’’ he said in a statement. "By blaming the amendments, rather than themselves, they are simply perpetuating their opposition to the will of the people and engaging in the very conduct that Florida voters clearly wanted to eliminate from our state."

Six states have their districts drawn by bipartisan panels or independent commissions, and Ohio has a proposal on its 2015 ballot to create an independent redistricting commission. In Arizona and California, a primary goal of the independent commissions is to create more competitive districts. More from our story on the issue here. 

Sen. Bill Galvano ready to gamble on a vote over Florida House redistricting map

In what may be seen as a Hail Mary pass to see if they can get enough votes to send the courts a Senate redistricting map that has the Legislature’s stamp, the Florida Senate leadership agreed to put the controversial House map up for a vote after exhausting all other options.

The decision was made after the two redistricting chairmen, Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva, met in a rare two-person conference committee Thursday afternoon. They had spent the morning reviewing the House map, as well as six new options for revising three Hispanic districts in Miami Dade that believed would draw opposition from Miami's three Hispanic senators. Then, with no discussion, they rejected the options and agreed to support the House plan. 

The Senate then scheduled a 4 p.m. vote on the map, as a full-court press for votes continued behind the scenes.

Senate President Andy Gardiner walked the halls, individually meeting with senators to persuade them to vote for the House bill and avoid another embarrassing meltdown that he told members could lead to the court drawing a second redistricting map. 

"They don't have the votes,'' predicted Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "They were caught between a rock and hard place. They needed to alter the map for political purposes and in order to get 21 votes and if they did that then the map becomes unconstitutional."

Continue reading "Sen. Bill Galvano ready to gamble on a vote over Florida House redistricting map " »

November 04, 2015

Short of votes in Senate, Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva agree to try to revise Miami districts again

Redistricting conferenceMiami-Dade's Hispanic districts remained the focal point of the high stakes conflict between the House and Senate over the redrawing of the state Senate boundaries Wednesday as it became apparent that Senate leaders did not have the votes to pass a House map that significantly revised the configuration of the South Florida districts.

The full Senate met for 30 minutes to take up the House's redistricting map, S9079 and, rather than taking up a vote on the compromise plan, they agreed to a rare two-person conference committee to work out their differences.  

Two hours later, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, met for 10 minutes in the Senate's cavernous conference room, filled with two dozen curious House and Senate members, deeply concerned about what any new map could mean to their political future. 

With little debate, Galvano and Oliva agreed to have staff make changes to only the Miami portion of the House map, picking up a configuration previously offered in a draft map known as S9080 and S9074. 

Continue reading "Short of votes in Senate, Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva agree to try to revise Miami districts again" »

November 03, 2015

House quickly advances its redistricting map as eight Republicans defect on vote

Oliva mapFlorida legislators made quick progress on redrawing the Senate map Tuesday, voting out a Florida House proposal after just an hour of debate, but the measure appeared headed for trouble as lawmakers edged closer to the self-imposed Friday deadline for the special session with no agreement in sight.

Eight Republicans joined with 39 House Democrats to reject the House map, S9079, as 73 Republicans supported it. The map, proposed by House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, attempts to follow the anti-gerrymandering guidelines of the Florida Constitution and includes three Miami-based Hispanic-majority seats, and four black majority-minority districts.

"It feels like we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day movie,’’ said Rep. Lori Berman, D-West Palm Beach. "Once again our chamber and the Senate have two different maps."

The full Senate is expected to reject the House plan, then call for a conference committee to work out differences before the end of the week. Lawmakers called themselves into a three-week special session -- the second redistrictign session this year -- to revise the Senate map after a lawsuit brought by a coalition of voter groups prompted them to conclude that the plan they enacted in 2012 violates the Florida Constitution.

The proposed House plan has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for targeting certain Republican incumbents, and for weakening the Hispanic vote in Miami Dade County.

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November 02, 2015

More late-night maps: challengers submit two new Senate plans

There was another round of map making intrigue in the Legislature Monday as the redistricting challengers offered up two alternatives  maps on the eve of the House's floor debate — this time proposing a fourth Hispanic seat in South Florida and an African American district contained solely in Hillsborough County.

The coalition of voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida “is concerned that the Legislature's proposals continue to reflect constitutional infirmities and evidently fail to take into account ongoing developments in minority voting in certain communities,” wrote David King, lead attorney for the groups that have challenged the Legislature’s redistricting maps.

He urged lawmakers to update its redistricting data, start over, and consider the plaintiffs’ maps.

The two proposals, CP-2 and CP-3, provide two alternatives to the minority majority seats before both the House and Senate. One creates a Hillsborough-only African American minority seat that doesn't cross Tampa Bay. The other creates a fourth Hispanic seat in South Florida. 

King said that Rep. Jose Oliva's plan, S9079, "while better than [Senate] Plan 9124, retains features that appear intended to create a more favorable map for Republicans at the expense of equality of population, compactness, and respect for geographic and political boundaries.

"Moreover, the Coalition believes the Legislature may violate the Florida Constitution if the Legislature neglects to create a fourth majority-minority Hispanic district in South Florida, in light of the evident ability to draw such a district."

The Florida House put its mark on the Senate redistricting map Monday, approving a new plan that merges pieces of the Senate plan and that of the challengers with its own additions in a way that slightly improves prospects for Democrats.

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Questions raised about House's intentions for changes in Senate map; Jack Latvala sees revenge

As House members convene to discuss proposed changes to a Senate redistricting map this afternoon, questions are emerging about what was the intent behind the changes.

In the House's proposed Duval County-based African American minority access district, for example, the black voter registration is dropped below any level previously proposed in a base map drawn by House and Senate staff.

"I can't wait to hear the explanation,'' said Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who now holds the seat. "It's comical and certainly unnecessary,'' she said. 

Her current district includes a black voting age population of 43 percent and the proposed Senate map, and similar proposal by the redistricting challengers, lowered that to 42.7 percent but under the map proposed by House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, the percentage drops to 41 percent. 

"I’m not sure what the overall strategy is there,'' Gibson told the Herald/Times. "Is his intention to have two Republicans represent Duval in the way he has it drawn? But every time you chip away you chip away at the ability of minorities to elect a candidate of your choice."

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