November 23, 2014

GOP consultants' 'almost paranoid' mission to circumvent Fair Districts

@MarcACaputo @kmcgrory

The Republican consultants had to be hush-hush — “almost paranoid” in the words of one — because of their high-stakes mission: Get go-betweens to help circumvent a Florida Constitutional ban on gerrymandering.

The plot was spelled out in a newly released batch of once-secret emails that show how the consultants surreptitiously drew congressional and state legislative maps. They then recruited seemingly independent citizens to submit them in an effort to strengthen the hand of Florida Republicans when the GOP-led Legislature redrew lawmaker districts in 2011.

The year before, Florida voters overwhelmingly amended the state’s constitution to prohibit legislators from drawing legislative and congressional districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. Citing the new amendments, a coalition of voting-rights and liberal groups called the Fair Districts Coalition sued the Legislature over its maps.

The emails, under court seal until this weekend, played a key role in a recent court victory to force the Legislature to redraw some of Florida’s congressional districts. The correspondence will take center stage in a related case challenging the state Senate maps.

The emails also provide a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of how political players used secrecy and deception as they recruited third parties to submit maps, some of which were drawn by Gainesville-based Data Targeting firm, led by political player Pat Bainter.

“Want to echo Pat’s reminder about being incredibly careful and deliberative here, especially when working with people who are organizing other folks,” Data Targeting’s Matt Mitchell wrote in a Nov. 29, 2011 email. “Must be very smart in how we prep every single person we talk to about all of these. If you can think of a more secure and failsafe way to engage our people, please do it. Cannot be too redundant on that front.”

“Pat and I will probably sound almost paranoid on this over the next week, but it will be so much more worthwhile to be cautious,” Mitchell concluded.

Story here

Download Data Targeting emails

Groups ask Florida Supreme Court to impose a "meaningful remedy" to redistricting issues

The coalition challenging the Florida Legislature's 2012 redistricting plan has filed its initial appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The coalition, made up of individuals and voters rights groups, has been battling to have the maps thrown out, saying they violate Florida's constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering.

In August, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the Congressional map was indeed unconstitutional and ordered two districts to be redrawn. But the coalition says Lewis did not go far enough.

The trial court, the coalition said in a brief filed Friday, "erred by only requiring two districts to be redrawn, by allowing the Legislature to provide the remedy by quickly passing a new plan that is largely the same as the old plan, and then by deferring to the Legislature's decision to maintain an apportionment scheme that ensured continued Republican domination over an electorate evenly divided between the two political parties."

The groups argue that the plan as a whole "was motivated by unlawful partisan intent," and that seven districts remain unconstitutional.

The coalition is asking the court to invalidate the entire apportionment plan and impose a "meaningful remedy." 

More specifically, its members would like to see the high court formulate its own redistricting plan, approve one of the plans created by the coalition, or rely on a redistricting expert to prepare an entirely new plan.

Read the brief below. Note that parts involving sealed documents were redacted.

Download Redacted_brief

New documents, emails show GOP consultants steered Republican lawmakers in redistricting process

Republican consultants worked side-by-side with Republican lawmakers in guiding them on drawing new Florida congressional districts that intentionally favored incumbents in violation of the Fair District amendments to the state constitution, according to documents and emails contained in a long-running redistricting lawsuit.

The Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau first obtained the lengthy documents, posting all 538 pages on its blog, Political Fix Florida, on Sunday. The Herald/Times also obtained the same documents.

Read and peruse them here.

Read the story here or after the jump.

Continue reading "New documents, emails show GOP consultants steered Republican lawmakers in redistricting process" »

November 21, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court denies stay in Bainter case

The U.S. Supreme Court won't keep secret documents used in Florida's redistricting case out of the public eye.

Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter had asked the high court to keep the documents sealed while he appeals a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating their release. But Justice Clarence Thomas denied the request Friday.

The documents will be made public on Dec. 1.

The emails and trial transcripts were part of a legal challenge to the Florida Legislature’s 2012 redistricting plan. In that case, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Congressional map and said Republican consultants like Bainter had engaged in a "secret, organized campaign" to create gerrymandered districts.

Several voters rights groups asked for the documents to be unsealed. But Bainter has been fighting to keep them private, arguing that their release would both reveal trade secrets and violate his first First Amendment rights.

FSU trustees praise Thrasher's response to shooting

In the same room where he was jeered and heckled by Florida State students as a candidate for university president, John Thrasher drew widespread praise Friday for being a reassuring presence in the aftermath of Thursday's shooting at the campus library.

Only 10 days on the job, Thrasher attended his first meeting of FSU's board of trustees Friday, a day after troubled gunman Myron May shot and wounded three students, one critically, before being shot and killed by university police. Thrasher has met numerous times with FSU students, attended a candlelight vigil and personally reopened Robert Manning Strozier Library Friday morning as 100 students waited to get inside to study for pre-holiday exams.

"I remember this room," Thrasher said at the Turnbull Conference Center in opening comments to the trustees who endured criticism for hiring a lawyer with a conservative record best known for a long career as a legislator, lobbyist and political insider. "The campus, in my opinion, is coming back together. We hurt. We all hurt for the folks that are there in the hospital."

FSU trustees watched a video of a Thursday night candlelight vigil in which students sang Amazing Grace and Thrasher told them: "We're stronger. We're more passionate and we care about each other." The video ended with the playing of the FSU song, Hymn to the Garnet and Gold.

On the Tallahassee campus, students' views of Thrasher are not so effusive. But in random interviews Friday, some said he improved his standing with the student body with his response to the shooting.

Thrasher said FSU football players will wear symbols of ribbons on their helmets for Saturday's nationally televised home game against Boston College. He said actor Burt Reynolds, who played football for the Seminoles, will throw down the spear at the end of pre-game ceremonies and FSU is asking the network to show the three-minute video of the candlelight vigil.

"Getting to back to business is an important thing," said Stefano Cavallaro, FSU's student government president and university trustee.

Trustee Ed Burr of Jacksonville, who chaired the presidential search committee, expressed the view that Thrasher's handling of the crisis vindicated their decision. "I doubt that 10 days into it we'd be tested on the credibility of our choice," Burr said, "but we were."


November 20, 2014

Florida Supreme Court grants 10-day stay for secret redistricting docs

The clock is running out on political consultant Pat Bainter.

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered the release of emails and trial transcripts used in the recent redistricting case -- documents Bainter considers private and has been battling to keep out of the public eye. 

Earlier this week, Bainter asked the court to keep the records sealed so he could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But Florida's high court is giving him just 10 days, according to an order issued Thursday. 

The order states that "no further stay will be granted."

"This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed, and the public's right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion.

That means unless a further stay is granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the records will be unsealed at 3 p.m. on Dec. 1.

In her opinion, Pariente seemed doubtful that the nation's high court would take the case.

"I fail to see any federal question as a basis for obtaining certiorari review in the Supreme Court" she wrote, adding that she had granted the 10-day stay "only out of deference to the United States Supreme Court."

Is 50 the new zero in Orange County schools? Jeb Bush's claim faces PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a speech that we shouldn’t worry so much about students’ self-esteem when it comes to setting grades.

And he wagged his finger at Orange County, Florida.

"This morning, over 213 million Chinese students went to school and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect their students’ self esteem," he said in his keynote to the National Summit on Education Reform on Nov. 20, 2014. "Yet in Orange County, Fla., last week I read that debate actually did occur at a school board meeting. The school board voted to make it impossible for a student to receive a grade below 50. You get 50 out of 100 just for showing up and signing your name. This was done  -- and I quote here from a local official -- ‘so that the students do not lose all hope.’ "

Bush went on to cite statistics that showed students in Shanghai far outranking their peers in the United States in reading and math.

"An overriding concern for self-esteem instead of high expectations does not get you to No. 1," he said. "It gets you to No. 21."

So is 50 the new zero in Orange County schools? PolitiFact went in search of answers.

Obama's False claim about his position on executive order for immigration

resident Barack Obama is on the verge of announcing significant executive actions that could affect at least a portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.

As is often the case these days, rumors and pieces of the plan have floated through the media for a couple weeks now, and Obama appears ready to announce the full details Thursday night in an address to the nation.

The decision to act unilaterally without going through Congress is not only controversial, but could it also be a change in direction for the Obama administration?

Obama doesn’t see it that way. The Democratic leader was asked about his immigration plan during his trip to Australia for the G20 Summit on Nov. 16.

Jim Avila of ABC asked, "In 2010, when asked by immigration reform advocates to stop deportations and act alone on providing legal status for the undocumented, you said, ‘I’m president, I’m not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.’ In 2013, you said, ‘I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.’ Mr. President, what has changed since then?"

Obama replied: "Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed. When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress. And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities. There are certain things I cannot do. There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws."

First, Obama is revising history. While at one point he used the "I am not a king" line to rebut those who asked why his administration wasn’t doing enough to address comprehensive reform, as you’ll see, he continued to use it when asked about other, more limited uses with his executive powers.

Second, taking any additional executive actions, no matter how limited, is still a reversal from his positions over the past few years.

Turn to Steve Contorno's fact-check from PolitiFact to read more.

Rep. Gaetz recalls Myron May, 'caring' classmate

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, knew Myron May, the man identified by police as the gunman in the FSU shootings, from their days working together in student government at Florida State.

May was a member of the Student Senate and Gaetz was president of the Insight political party on campus. The Insight party was focused on community outreach programs, and May got involved in the party’s community service committee.

“I knew him as a sensitive and service-oriented person,” Gaetz said. “You just have to wonder what happens in people’s lives that can lead to such depravity.”

May’s Facebook page noted that he was a member of Phi Beta Sigma, an African-American fraternity, where the identities of new pledges were kept secret until a public ceremony. Gaetz recalled May wore a shirt with the nickname “Sensitive Joe” across the back at a Sigma pledgeship ceremony.

“He was such a caring individual,” Gaetz said. “Of all the people I knew at Florida State, he would be at the bottom of my list of someone who would be aggressive in any way.”


Another South Florida government will have to hold 2015 budget do-over vote


Make that two local governments that will have to adopt their 2015 budgets and property-tax rates again — two months after the new fiscal year began — after bungling public notices in September.

The city of Miami Beach has been cited by a state agency for a mistake in a newspaper advertisement that underestimated how much revenue would come into an area of the city targeted for redevelopment. The Florida Department of Revenue also dinged Miami-Dade County this week for making its own advertising error.

Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales informed Mayor Philip Levine and city commissioners in a memo Thursday that a do-over of the Sept. 30 budget and tax-rate votes is needed — along with another public hearing — in the next two weeks. Morales asked for it all to take place Dec. 2.

“My prediction: It will last 30 seconds,” Levine told the Miami Herald on Thursday.

Like with the county, there will be no need to mail new tax notices to property owners, because the numbers listed in them were correct, according to Morales.

“Nothing is changing,” Morales told the Herald. “The only issue is that we accurately need to reflect the statutory requirement.”

More here.