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Legislative lawyers detail role of national Democratic operatives in redistricting feud

Democratic operatives working for two national groups played a significant role in helping one set of plaintiffs in Florida's redistricting trial draw alternative maps that are now being offered as an alternative for the court to consider, according to depositions made public Wednesday in the trial.

The depositions were cited at a hearing before Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis by George Meros, a lawyer for the Florida House of Representatives. Meros worked to discredit a map presented by the the Romo plaintiffs, one of the voters groups that brought the lawsuit. The other group of plaintiffs is led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

This is the second time that Democratic political operatives were found to be as interested in gerrymandering their districts as Republican operatives were accused of doing for their maps. According to records released last year, Florida Democrats plotted with congressional leaders and political consultants to redraw congressional districts to benefit their party, according to new court records that show they were just as interested in gerrymandering as Republicans.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that Republican legislative leaders allowed GOP political operatives to "infiltrate" the redistricting process and "making a mockery" of their claims of transparency. Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats do not control the Legislative process and there is no evidence to show that the maps drawn by their operatives were ever voted on by lawmakers. They have relied on the court as the venue for them to make their case about alternative maps. 

The plaintiffs now want Lewis to consider their map as an alternative to the one drawn by the Republican-led Legislature last week. Mero said the testimony showed that the map was drawn by Eric Hawkins, a consultant to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, a Washington-based consulting firm organization that works to elect Democrats.

In a letter to Lewis late Wednesday, Meros referred to the depositions of Hawkins, as well as Mark Gersh, former president of NCEC Services, and Brian Smooth and Brian Zuzenak, both from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Among the points Meros wanted Lewis to note about the evidence:  Download 2014 08 20 Letter to Judge Lewis.pdf

* In depositions during the discovery portion of the trial, Gersh and Hawkins testified that the National Democratic Redistricting Trust hired NCEC to draw redistricting maps in Florida.

* Smoot testified that the executive director and trustees of the Democratic Redistricting Trust were all former political operatives at the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee, which is the campaign arm of Democrats in Congress. 

* The NCEC provided drafts of the Romo proposed map to the DCC at two meetings in Washington at which they discussed how the district would affect the election changes of Democratic incumbents, according to Zuzenak's deposition. 

* All of Florida's Democratic congressional representatives met secretly with operatives from the NCEC when they presented the map, except the three African American legislators, according to the depositions. The goal was to obtain the support of the Democratic members of Congress for the map. 

* After the secret meeting with the delegation, the Romo plaintiffs presented the map that dismantles the district now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, and replaces it with a Democrat-leaning district that stretches across North Florida and which is designed to elect a black.