December 30, 2015

Judge approves voting rights' groups remap of Florida Senate

A judge on Wednesday approved a new map of Florida's 40 Senate districts drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups, dealing yet another political and legal setback to the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Senate had no immediate comment on Circuit Judge George Reynolds' order. His 73-page ruling orders the Senate to randomly assign district numbers to all 40 districts within three days of a final judgment being entered.

Republicans currently control 26 seats and Democrats 14. After reviewing the approved map, known as CPS-4a, Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell posted on Twitter that the map appears to improve Democrats' chances of gaining seats next fall.

Corrine Brown files new challenge to congressional district changes

From the News Service of Florida:

Arguing that an east-west configuration for her district "combines far-flung communities worlds apart culturally and geographically," lawyers for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown asked a federal judge Tuesday to void Florida's latest congressional redistricting plan.

The complaint marks the next phase of a legal battle over the state's political boundaries that has raged for nearly four years. The first two drafts of a congressional plan --- approved by the Legislature in 2012 and tweaked in 2014 --- were thrown out by state courts for violating a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.

But the reorientation of Brown's congressional district, which has long ambled from Jacksonville to Orlando but now would run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west, prompted the Democratic congresswoman to file suit this year against the change. After the Florida Supreme Court officially approved the new district early this month, Brown was allowed to update her case Tuesday.

The challenge goes to great lengths to portray the areas encompassed by the Jacksonville-to-Orlando version of the district as a distinct region that includes African-American voters with similar interests and problems. It traces a history that includes the Ku Klux Klan, baseball player Jackie Robinson's spring training and the book "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Dozens of voters from the area joined Brown's lawsuit.

"Black voters have reaped substantial benefits by being in a district in which they can elect a candidate of their choice, including having a representative who understands the needs of the community she represents, brings infrastructure money to the district, helps black residents obtain government contracts, brings job fairs to the district, and is very accessible to her constituents," the complaint says.

Brown's Jacksonville-to-Orlando seat has long been at the center of conflicts in Florida over gerrymandered districts. Critics see it as an attempt to aid Republican campaigns, especially those in Central Florida, by concentrating African-American Democratic voters in a single district. But supporters say it ensures those voters the chance to elect a candidate of their choice.

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December 28, 2015

Congressional map shake-up: 'We're closer to fairness'

In the aftermath of another redistricting shakeup, Florida's congressional delegation is in flux as a court-approved map threatens to whittle away at the 17-member Republican majority while Democrats gain strength.

December’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court approved a map drawn by a coalition of voting groups — and it is having a ripple effect from Miami to Tallahassee.

At least five of the 27 members of Congress are edged out of their current districts. Four incumbents – U.S. Reps. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill, David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, Ron DeSantis, R-Port Orange, and Patrick Murphy, D-West Palm Beach — are not running for reelection. U.S. Reps. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, are considering moving to new territory.

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, is now forced to run in a district with a majority of Republicans or consider another race.

In Miami, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 230,000 voters, U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now have districts filled with many more Democrats.

And, across the state, incumbents find themselves representing communities that have never voted for them — prompting challengers, who otherwise may have waited on the sidelines for incumbents to retire, to consider running now.

"We’re closer to fairness,’’ said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and an expert on redistricting.

“You’re probably looking at Democrats getting 12 and Republicans 15 in 2016, rather than 10 and 17,” he predicted. The incremental shift will continue when Ros-Lehtinen, a popular Republican incumbent, retires. “That seat is likely to swing to the Democrat and then you’re looking at a 14-13 split in the delegation. That’s pretty fair.”

More here.

December 14, 2015

David Simmons adds context: pairing two female senators into one district would be 'discriminating against them'

A one-minute phone call between Sen. David Simmons and the staff redistricting director was replayed in the opening day of the Senate trial Monday as plaintiffs tried to show that many senators know where each other lives and worked to protect each other when drawing maps.

The phone conversation, which occurred at 9 a.m. on Oct. 26, came in the midst of the Senate redistricting session as Simmons was attempting to draft his own alternative to a Senate map that was widely unpopular with several senators. 

"With respect to the maps, going to go ahead and revise the maps to get what I would consider to be more aesthetic situation. I want Highlands County out of District 18,'' Simmons told Jay Ferrin, the Senate's redistricting director, according to the recording replayed before Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.

"There's another reason that I have,'' he admitted, "and that is that I do not want two of our female senators running against each other because I don't think it's appropriate and I think that's the result of that. I don't consider that acceptable. So I want you to work it so that it looks better and those two are not forced into running against each other for no purpose whatsoever."

Ferrin, sounding bit flustered, responded: "I don't have any knowledge of where people are living. If you want me to separate Highlands County from District 18, just tell me that."

"OK,'' Simmons said. 

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Senate redistricting trial opens with admission of guilt and fight over process

David King 1214The Senate redistricting trial began Monday with an admission of guilt by the Senate about past wrongs, and a rare agreement between the sides.

Lawyers for the House and Senate and the challengers, a coalition led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, agreed that two maps submitted in the 2012 redistricting fight as public maps were actually drawn by Republican political operatives.

Both sides agreed that Gainesville political consultant Alex Patton submitted a map on Nov. 1, 2011, as part of the public submission process, but “Mr. Patton didn’t draw that map and in fact it was drawn by the political operatives,’’ said Tom Zehnder, lawyer for the challengers.

They also agreed a map submitted by Republican political activist Remzey Samarrai of Micanopy was drawn by the group of Republicans working with Pat Bainter and others. (Our story on that here.

The admission by lawyers for the Florida Legislature helped to catapult the weeklong trial from a focus on past wrongs to a focus on current issues as they attempt to cover legal arguments, political intrigue and the gritty detail about geographic boundaries throughout the state.

The Legislature agreed in July that because of evidence that showed the GOP operatives had infiltrated the 2012 map drawing process, the map violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution.

The Legislature then tried and failed to draw a new map in special session but, after failing to get enoguh votes for a final proposal that would have created political winners and losers, the burden now rests with the court. Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds must decide between a map that was chosen by Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, alone but never voted on by the Legislature, or four maps drawn by the challengers.

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Judge Reynolds starts Senate redistricting trial today -- as each side claims the other drew maps to benefit partisans

Galvano mapThe weeklong redistricting trial scheduled to begin in a Tallahassee courtroom Monday will determine the fate of Florida’s 40 Senate districts and the future of the 29 incumbents seeking reelection.

The rare political scramble is forcing all of them back onto the ballot in November, including many of whom thought they could sit out this election because they were elected to a four-year term in 2014. And they each want to know: Who will have to move to get reelected, who faces new competition and who faces new communities to represent?

The remaining 11 senators are not seeking reelection because they are either leaving because of term limits, or seeking another office.

It is the vestige of the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution that were approved by voters six years ago, and the districts remain in limbo because legislators admitted to manipulating the political boundaries three years ago to benefit Republicans — in violation of the amendments — then tried and failed to redraw the Senate map during a three-week special session.

Now, the job of preparing a new map is left to Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds, and he has only a week to do it. Both sides have submitted maps and each will accuse the other of drawing a map with improper partisan intent.

More here.

December 08, 2015

Conspiracy theories, bastards and food fights: another day in the Senate redistricting saga

"Is that a typo on the date?'' asked Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, during depositions in the Senate redistricting trial two weeks ago.

He was being asked to comment on the prospect that Senate President Andy Gardiner and Senate redistricting chair Bill Galvano may have privately selected the map they would submit to court in the pending litigation nearly a month before filing it -- a map they would never bring up for a vote before the Legislature adjourned its special session.

The potential plan came as a surprise to Latvala when lawyers for the redistricting challengers presented him a a memo detailing how Galvano and Gardiner had agreed to submit the map to court Oct. 24, even though they were pushing another map through the legislative process.  If true, it raises questions about the seriousness of the legislative leadership's attempt to reach agreement on a Senate redistricting map during the three-week special session.

Latvala was one of two senators whose depositions were released by the Senate Tuesday as part of the pending redistricting trial scheduled to begin Dec. 14. The other was Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who testified that he believes the map that passed the Senate was handpicked by Galvano, but it was Latvala's inability to get the changes he wanted that led to the ultimate impasse. Download 15-11.25 depo of Lee Lee suggested that both Democrats and other Senate Republicans were involved in Latvala's attempt to influence the maps.

"We were engaged in a legislative leadership battle. Although that battle imploded the moment Senator Latvala couldn't get the maps he wanted over the weekend, he was nonetheless just as frustrated with his Senate president for his refusal to put his thumb on the scale on his behalf. And he took those maps down,'' Lee said under oath. 

Latvala was asked to comment on the memo filed with the court that said that "On October 24, 2015, Senator Galvano directed [staff director Jay] Ferrin to draw the Senate's proposed 12 remedial plan. Mr. Ferrin drew the plan" which merged two previously drawn base maps. Galvano "reviewed the draft plan and approved the plan without further changes,'' the memo continues. "Senate Counsel George Levesque, Raoul Cantero and Jason Zakia reviewed the Senate's proposed remedial plan before its submission to the Court. President Gardiner approved the decision to file the map with the Court."

Senate attorney Jason Zakia said there is no evidence to show the map was drawn with the intention of holding it to submit to court at a later date. But Latvala interjected: "the date of the 24th is the day after the first bill came out of committee, before we had any idea of what the resolution was going to be."

Continue reading "Conspiracy theories, bastards and food fights: another day in the Senate redistricting saga" »

December 03, 2015

Was the timing of the congressional redistricting ruling intended to influence the Senate trial?

CP1The Florida Supreme Court released its lengthy ruling validating the congressional redistricting map drawn by plaintiffs and approved by the trial court Wednesday, a day before the court routinely releases its opinions. So was the out-of-calendar release of the redistricting opinion  just convenience, or was it intended to send a message to the lawyers, and court, in the pending Senate redistricting trial?

The timing is important.

Friday is the day responses are due in the Senate redistricting case in which parties must specify their objections to the maps submitted. A pivotal issue in that case is the question of who shoulders the burden of proof to show whether the maps as submitted are drawn with partisan intent and the court's ruling addressed that issue at length.  Download Sc14-1905_Final_Opinion (1)

Meanwhile, depositions are underway. As the court released its opinion validating the lower court’s conclusion that the plaintiff's congressional map was not drawn with any attempt to favor or disfavor a political party, the principal mapdrawer for the challengers, John O'Neill, was being deposed in the Senate case.

O’Neill, a consultant with Strategic Telemetry, will be a key witness for the Senate as they try to show that the maps submitted by the plaintiffs – the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals – were drawn to favor Democrats in violation of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts rules of the state constitution.

The lawyers for the GOP-led House and Senate say that the four maps submitted drawn by O'Neill with consultation with another redistricting expert and they have ties to Democrats. They allege that the maps were designed to intentionally pack Republicans into districts in an effort to make adjacent Democratic seats more competitive for Democrats -- an allegation that has long been lodged against the GOP-drawn maps of the last 23 years.

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December 02, 2015

Reaction to Florida Supreme Court redistricting ruling

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

No matter how the lines are drawn Florida 26 will always be a competitive district deserving a representative with a strong track record of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done for ‎our community and the country. I have received a lot of support and positive feedback from the residents of Kendall, South Dade, and the Florida Keys during my first year in Congress, and I look forward to continuing my work on their behalf in the future.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

My love for South Florida knows no boundaries and every part of it is special to me. How can it not be when we live in paradise? I know it’s a humbling honor to represent our community and I’ll continue to work hard every day to continue to earn the trust so many have placed in me. I’m ready for the road ahead and hope South Floridians will join me in working to improve our home.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens:

To say that I am deeply disappointed by the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to approve the redistricting map drawn by the Fair Districts Coalition is a gross understatement. From the start, I strongly opposed the map known as CP-1 because it strips from District 24 several economic drivers and cultural attractions and threatens to return our community to its former status as the nation’s “most suffering” district. CP-1 removes from the district PortMiami, Bayside marketplace, AmericanAirlines Arena, Watson Island, Jungle Island/Parrot Island, and Bayfront Park, to name a few.

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Florida Supreme Court approves congressional map drawn by challengers


With just over four years left before another redistricting cycle begins, the Florida Supreme Court gave final approval to Florida’s congressional map Wednesday, rejecting the Legislature’s arguments for the fourth time and selecting boundaries drawn by a the challengers in time for the 2016 election.

“Our opinion today—the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment—should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,’’ the court wrote in a 5-2 decision.

The ruling validated the map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and several Democrat-leaning individuals, and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after the Florida Legislature tried and failed to agree to a map in a special redistricting session.

Although the boundaries are now officially set for the 2016 elections, the map is expected to be challenged by at least two members of Congress in federal court. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have already threatened a lawsuit for restricting the ability of their constituents to elect minorities to office.

House and Senate redistricting leaders, who have spent more than $11 million in taxpayer money unsuccessfully defending their congressional and state Senate maps, said they disagreed with the ruling but were not surprised by it.

"The court has taken a process that was already difficult and through their significant overreach and lack of judicial restraint made it much worse,'' said Rep. Jose Oliva, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. He said the challengers and the court exhibited "blatant partisanship" and he looks forward to a federal challenge over allegations that the map violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

David King, lead attorney for the challengers, called the ruling “the culmination” of years of effort and “millions of dollars” spent by the plaintiffs.

"We simply followed the constitution. We drew a map that followed the constitution, and now the Supreme Court has verified that,'' King told reporters. He said the plaintiffs are seeking to recover their attorneys fees under a law that allows the state to pay the legal costs borne by a private party that wins a verdict benefiting the entire state.

“If there’s ever been a case where the government should pay for litigation which has resulted in great benefit to the citizens of Florida, it would be this case," he said.

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