August 06, 2014

Legislators hope to make quick work of session to fix flawed map

Florida Capitol complexFlorida legislators will convene a rare summer special session Thursday with the goal of making quick work of a court-ordered fix to the congressional redistricting map.

Legislators will convene at noon, meet briefly and then adjourn to let the House and Senate redistricting committees hold a joint meeting to hear legislative lawyers explain their options for fixing a the congressional boundaries ruled unconstitutional by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis last month.

Lewis gave lawmakers an Aug. 15 deadline to repair two congressional districts – held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-WinterGarden. Although lawmakers have called the session to last a week, they expect to be finished by late Monday or early Tuesday.

Lewis ruled that the districts violated the Fair Districts rules of the state constitution and said he expects lawmakers to make Brown’s sprawling 10-county district more compact, while preserving the ability of African American voters to select a candidate of their choice, and to remove an “appendage” in the Webster district that gave an advantage to Republicans.

Continue reading "Legislators hope to make quick work of session to fix flawed map" »

August 05, 2014

Supervisors: special election is possible this year for revised congressional districts

Coalition proposed remedial mapElections officials in the counties facing redrawn congressional districts concluded on Tuesday that, contrary to arguments of Republican legislators, the state could conduct special elections for a handful of districts this year – but winners would not be chosen until after Nov. 4.

By postponing the primary and general elections for as many as 10 congressional seats in North and Central Florida, Florida could again become the last state in the nation to announce its elections results. But, officials said, it may be the only option to avoid electing candidates to Congress from unconstitutional districts.

“We decided we can do a special primary post the November election – there is a window of opportunity – but we need to decide what are those dates,’’ said Jerry Holland, supervisor of elections for Duval County and head of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections.

Elections for all other congressional districts that are unchanged by the map -- and all other races on the ballot -- will continue as planned under the current election schedule.

Continue reading "Supervisors: special election is possible this year for revised congressional districts" »

Galvano and Corcoran set guidelines for redistricting session

The heads of the House and Senate redistricting committees on Tuesday asked their staff to start developing remedial plans to fix the congressional redistricting plan but added a caveat: they must refrain from any conversation with congressmen and their staff and may not discuss the maps with anyone other than the legislature's legal counsel. 

The warnings from state Sen. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton Republican, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, come after legislators were stung by a ruling from Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis last month who concluded that lawmakers allowed Republican political consultants to hijack the redistricting process in 2012 and create a shadow process that "made a mockery" of legislators claims of transparency.

Legislators have convened a special session starting Thursday to fix two districts on the congressional map that Lewis ruled were drawn with unconstitutional partisan intent and were invalid. 

Galvano, a former state House member who did not serve in the Legislature when the first congressional map was passed, said in an email to members said he has asked staff "to refrain from discussing their map drawing efforts with anyone outside of the Legislature except our legal counsel and not to share their work product with any outside interests."

Corcoran, R-Trinity, said that "any member wishing to offer a plan or amendment should be prepared to explain in committee or on the House floor the identity of every person involved in drawing, reviewing, directing, or approving the proposal; the criteria used by the map drawers; and the sources of any data used in the creation of the map other than the data contained in MyDistrictBuilder."

Meanwhile, both expect a quick fix to the map -- a sign they are unlikely to make any significant changes -- and the session is expected to be adjourned on Monday or Tuesday. 

Here's Cororan's memo. Download Procedure for Special Session on Congressional Reapportionment

Here's Galvano's memo:

Continue reading "Galvano and Corcoran set guidelines for redistricting session " »

August 04, 2014

Are legislators headed for stand-off with judge and more litigation?

Coalition proposed remedial mapFlorida legislators indicated Monday that they will meet in special session this week to make the court-ordered repairs to two congressional districts in North and Central Florida but they will not accept holding special elections this year to put them in place.

In a joint email to legislators, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they “continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process.’’ But they also laid out the schedule for the special session they are convening on Thursday in response to an Aug. 15 deadline imposed on them by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ruled unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. He wants the Legislature to fix the map to make Brown’s snake-shaped district more compact and to remove an appendage in Webster’s Central Florida-based district intended to give Republicans an advantage.

He also said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for candidates in the districts with new boundaries. Voting would proceed normally for all the other races on the ballot.

But legislators want the new districts to take effect in 2016 and said that if Lewis attempts to hold a special election to implement the new boundaries this year, they will oppose it — potentially challenging his decision in state or federal court.

"Florida’s Supervisors of Elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date,’’ wrote Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel and Gaetz, R-Niceville. “The NAACP also pointed out in their motion to Judge Lewis that, ‘In a special election, get-out-the-vote infrastructure simply does not exist.’"

Under most scenarios, any changes to Brown and Webster’s districts could force changes in surrounding districts held by incumbent U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis, John Mica and Bill Posey, all Republicans.

Under a map proposed by the Democrat-leaning voting groups that filed the lawsuit, Brown’s district — which now snakes through North Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando, packing in Democrats and black voters — would be revised to be primarily a Jacksonville-based seat but cut across the top edge of the state into Tallahassee. Story here.

Map: Coalition plaintiffs proposed remedial map, exhibit 2 

Continue reading "Are legislators headed for stand-off with judge and more litigation?" »

Another casualty of the redistricting special session: legislative fundraising

Benacquisto fundraiserFlorida legislators not only have to cut short their summer vacations, but legislative rules require them also to put a halt to their fundraising for as long as they're in session this week to fix the invalid redistricting map. 

Legislative leaders indicated there's a chance theycould finish their work quickly and adjourn by Monday or, depending how willing the Democrats are to working with them to move things along, they could be in session until their Aug. 15 deadline to complete the map. 

Either way, the House staff reminded members today that House rules -- not state law -- prevents them from raising money while in session. The Senate has the same rule. 

So far we know that Sen. Lisbeth Benacquisto's Aug. 14 fundraiser in Fort Myers could be a victim and may need to be rescheduled.

Here's the memo from House Deputy General Counsel Steve Godwin to members:

Continue reading "Another casualty of the redistricting special session: legislative fundraising" »

August 03, 2014

Legislators plan to return for redistricting session on Thursday

Facing an Aug. 15 deadline, Florida legislative leaders will announce Monday that they will bring lawmakers back for a week-long special session on Thursday, Aug. 7, to revise the congressional redistricting map declared invalid by a judge.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

Lewis gave the Legislature until Aug. 15 to fix the map, an action that requires a special session of the Legislature and an abrupt halt to their summer vacations and primary campaigning.

Lewis also said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for the affected districts and he called for an Aug. 20 hearing to decide how to go forward.

The plan is to allow most of the legislature return to their districts after they convene for the opening session on Thursday. Only those legislators who are members of the House and Senate redistricting committees will stay to work out the details of the revised map. The full House and Senate will then return on Wednesday, Aug. 13 or Thursday, Aug. 14, to pass the final map before the deadline.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Senate leaders had advised him late Sunday that "we gavel in on Thursday."

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staff, Senate President Don Gaetz said they had not decided how to respond to Lewis' ruling but asked everyone to "keep and do not delete" all redistricting records in light of the pending litigation over congressional districts.

House deputy general counsel Steve Goodwin sent a similar email late Friday with the same directions to House members and staff. House members were informed in an email from House chief of staff Kathy Mears on Sunday that they will have an announcement about the legislative response on Monday.

In his July 10 ruling, Lewis concluded that Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process. He found that GOP political consultants conspired "to infuence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty" under the Fair District amendments.

The Legislature has chosen not to appeal the ruling but had asked the wait until after the Nov. 4 elections to revise the map. Lewis rejected that argument but left open the possibility that the revised map will not be in place this election cycle.

There is no indication whether political consultants or the public will be allowed to provide input into the redistricting session this time but House and Senate leaders are now officially asking members not to destroy any records.

Gaetz's memo defines documents that must be preserved as "all records related to the enactment of new congressional districts, including copies of unfiled draft maps, unfiled draft bills and amendments, correspondence, emails, texts and other electronic communications related to the enactment of new congressional districts, whether sent or received on official Senate accounts or devices or personal email accounts or devices.”

 

Slapped for making a 'mockery' of transparency, House and Senate now order redistricting docs retained

After being pummeled by a harshly-worded court ruling that concluded Florida's legislative leaders destroyed documents and allowed political consultants to "make a mockery" of their self-described transparency in the redistricting process, legislative leaders are now taking precautions. 

In an email late Friday to Senate members and staff, Senate President Don Gaetz asked everyone to "keep and do not delete" all redistricting records in light of the pending litigation over congressional districts. In a similar email at the same time, House deputy general counsel Steve Godwin gave the same directions to House members and staff and highlighted the same words. 

The emails came hours after Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ordered unconstitutional. He said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for the affected districts and he called for an Aug. 20 hearing to decide how to go forward.  Download Romo.remedy-order.august-1-2014-1

Gaetz along with House Speaker Will Weatherford must decide whether to appeal the order, defy the court, or call lawmakers into session to revise the maps. He said legislators "have not made a decision how to proceed "but sent out the records retention notice just in case. Lewis in his July 10 ruling found that the "winning is everything" approach to political debate today contributed to the climate that allowed GOP political consultants to conspire "to infuence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty" under the Fair District amendments.

Continue reading "Slapped for making a 'mockery' of transparency, House and Senate now order redistricting docs retained" »

August 01, 2014

Reaction to latest redistricting ruling: silence, confusion and joy

Confusion is the primary reaction to the redistricting ruling today as legislators, elections officials and others sort through the order to immediately redraw congressional maps and contemplate what impact it will have on elections this year. 

"It's like jello -- you don't know where it all stands but it certainly has explosive implications for Florida politics,'' said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida and a redistricting expert.

Responding to reporters question Friday, Gov. Rick Scott implied that he won't be getting involved in calling legislators back into special session to redraw the map but he sounded ready to put an end to the discussion.

"The Legislature is reviewing what the court decided and the Legislature has the power to make their own decision about calling special session," he said while campaigning Friday in St. Petersburg.

Ron Labasky, general counsel for the state's 67 supervisors of elections, said supervisors are trying to figure out what to do next.

"It's like a car wreck when everyone gets out of their car and wonders what happened and they're not too sure if they all had the same experience,'' he said. 

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who were ordered by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday to produce a revised map in two weeks, reacted with silence. They are expected to comment by Monday -- maybe in the form of an appeal to the First District Court of Appeal and a request for a stay. 

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, continues to oppose any suggestion that her winding, 10-county district be revised. Lewis threw out her district on July 10,  concluding it was drawn in violation of the state's Fair District rules because it was designed to benefit Republicans.

Continue reading "Reaction to latest redistricting ruling: silence, confusion and joy" »

Judge calls for special election and immediate revamp of congressional map

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled Friday that the Florida Legislature must immediately revise its flawed congressional map and ordered lawmakers to submit a revised map by Aug. 15 and the secretary of state to propose a special election plan for the affected congressional districts.

Lewis agreed with the Legislature's lawyers and concluded "there is just no way, legally or logistically, to put in place a new map, amend the various deadlines and have elections on November 4th as prescribed by Federal law."

While he acknowledged that there is no easy solution to fixing the map that violates the state's Fair Districts rules, he suggested "it might be possible to push the general election date back to allow for a special election in 2014 for any affected districts." Download Romo.Remedy Order.August 1, 2014 (1)

Lewis ruled on July 10 that the congressional redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led legislature included two districts drawn with illegal partisan intent which makes the entire map unconstitutional. His order on Friday requires the Legislature to modify the two districts, but it is estimated that could affect the lines of as many as 10 districts that touch them.

Continue reading "Judge calls for special election and immediate revamp of congressional map" »

July 24, 2014

Court asked to accept new redistricting map, delay primary elections

Florida should delay the primary or adjust its election dates this year in order to fix its unconstitutional congressional map and avoid an invalid election, lawyers for a coalition of voters argued Thursday in circuit court.

But lawyers for the Legislature told Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that fixing the map before the November elections would "cause horrific uncertainty" for voters and would be an extreme, unnecessary remedy.

Lewis' ruled on July 10 that the state’s congressional redistricting maps are invalid and declared two of the states's 27 districts unconstitutional – those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

But the Legislature surprised him last week and decided not to appeal the ruling. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz then urged Lewis to let them revise the map after the November elections, in order to avoid disrupting the fall elections and to comply with federal voting rules that impose a fixed schedule for sending ballots to overseas military.

The coalition of voters groups, led by the League of Women Voters, filed the lawsuit challenging the state's congressional map as violating the Fair Districts rules approved by voters in 2010.

After a 13-day trial, Lewis concluded that the Republican-controlled Legislature allowed “improper partisan intent” to infiltrate the redistricting process and seemingly ignored evidence that partisan political operatives were “making a mockery” out of their attempts to conduct themselves with transparency.

Continue reading "Court asked to accept new redistricting map, delay primary elections" »