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Republican leaders acknowledge some redistricting records destroyed

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

House and Senate Republican leaders, battling with Democrats and their allies over last year’s Senate and congressional redistricting, acknowledged in new court filings that some records that may now be sought could have been destroyed.

The courtroom clash was taken to a higher level last week when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers could be forced to testify about discussions and strategy that went into the recast political boundaries.

Democrats allege Republican leaders huddled with consultants and exchanged email in an illegal effort to keep the GOP in command of the state Legislature and congressional delegation.

But in documents filed Dec. 9 in the ongoing case in Leon County Circuit Court, attorneys for the Legislature argue that while they have already turned over 10,000 records, not everything Democrats may demand are still available.

The filing cited a House rule allowing that documents “no longer needed for any purpose . . .shall be disposed of systematically,” barring extraordinary circumstances. Legislative attorneys argued that Democrats and their allies failed to notify top lawmakers that they planned to challenge the congressional and Senate boundaries that went into effect last year.

What’s missing is unclear. But the filing suggests that emails, text messages and other communication between lawmakers are likely among the records that have been erased.

Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court already show that emails were exchanged among aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps. At the time, Gaetz and Weatherford were the redistricting chairmen of their respective chambers.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.

Weatherford, who like Gaetz is expected to be asked to give a videotaped deposition in the case, said the House did nothing wrong in its handling of redistricting documents.

“Any accusation that the Florida House of Representative thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false,” Weatherford said. “We not only complied with the letter and the spirit of the public record laws and longstanding House rules, but also went above and beyond those standards when it came to redistricting.

He added, “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents.  They should know better.”


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Florida Supreme Court rejects Republican leaders’ bid for shield in redistricting cases

Friday, December 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that state lawmakers can be forced to testify in redistricting cases claiming that backroom huddling with consultants and a flurry of email exchanges were part of an illegal effort to keep Republicans in command of Florida.

The 5-2 ruling by justices sided with the League of Women Voters of Florida, which disputed the stand by lawmakers that “legislative privilege” shields them from testifying in lawsuits challenging the state’s new congressional and state Senate maps.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority, said constitutional standards approved by voters in 2010 specifically were designed to keep partisan politics out of the once-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries.

“We conclude that there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of legislative privilege to present the discovery of relevant evidence,” Pariente wrote.

Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.


Documents show more map exchanges between GOP and consultants

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Documents released Thursday in a wide-ranging lawsuit over last year’s redistricting effort raise more questions about communication between Florida Republicans and party consultants over proposed maps, possibly in violation of the state constitution.

In a deposition given last month, campaign consultant Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged having received draft versions of proposed congressional redistricting plans from Kirk Pepper, a top aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Reichelderfer received seven proposed maps in a Dropbox account, two weeks before they were made public.

In his deposition, Reichelderfer was asked, “You got them for a reason, isn’t that right?”

The consultant responded, “I assume it was for a reason.”

Asked if it was to determine how the maps performed, politically, Reichelderfer said, “I could have done that, yes, sir.”

Democratic-allied voter groups want congressional and legislative maps thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

The Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and individual voters organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.


Disputed redistricting emails to get closed-door review

Friday, May 31st, 2013 by John Kennedy

More than 1,800 pages of emails and other documents from Republican consultants will be reviewed in coming weeks by a former Florida Supreme Court justice who will determine whether they should be made public in a lawsuit looking to overturn the state Senate’s new redistricting map.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis on Friday said that Major Harding, chosen by lawyers for both sides as a special magistrate in the case, should go through the disputed records behind closed doors to decide their fate.

Lawyers for voters groups want access to the material from Gainesville-based Data Targeting, Inc., a political affairs firm, which counters that the information is both irrelevant in the lawsuit and also poses a business threat, since the data could contain trade secrets.

Adam Schachter, attorney for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, said Friday that so far, only 166 pages of documents have been made public by the firm. Another original party in the lawsuit, the National Council of La Raza, withdrew from the case this week.

The voter groups contend that redrawn Senate districts should be thrown out because Republican leaders illegally shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

But the organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

In a brief hearing Friday, Lewis acknowledged the mass of emails he’d reviewed included some names he was familiar with from the political fight over redistricting. Others were from people he didn’t know — but “some (emails) suggested that somebody was being copied” with the information exchanged, Lewis said.


Redistricting redux: Florida justices asked to let voters’ challenge continue

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court was asked Thursday to let a lawsuit proceed in circuit court on whether Republican legislative leaders violated new redistricting standards by sharing critical data and proposed maps with political consultants.

But a lawyer for the state House and Senate said the challenge by voters groups including the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and National Council of  La Raza, should be dismissed.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, representing the Legislature, said the state constitution allows only the Supreme Court to rule on the state’s redistricting plan — and validated the once-a-decade rewrite last year.

Cantero said that allowing the voters’ group challenge to proceed “opens up the possibility for serial redistricting litigation.”

Justice Charles Canady agreed.

“There can be a succession of claims and this can go on and on and on,” Canady warned. “We can be litigation the redistricting plan for the next decade.”

But Justice Barbara Pariente said that the voter-approved Fair District amendments to the constitution, which prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents, have complicated the existing constitutional standards for redistricting.

The “intent” of legislators is a factor courts must consider. That’s not likely possible to determine in the narrow time-frame given the Supreme Court for review of redistricting plans, she said.

“It may be a little messy until we get the law straightened out,” Pariente said.

The voters’ groups want a lower court to determine whether the Senate and congressional maps are invalid, because Republican leaders violated the Fair Districts standards. Court documents in that case filed in Leon County Circuit Court show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee. Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.



Bogdanoff, Sachs set to meet with voters Saturday

Friday, October 12th, 2012 by Ana Valdes

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) and Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Boca Raton), who are both vying for a senate seat in District 34 on Election Day, will be in Palm Beach County on Saturday to rally voters in the newly-drawn Palm Beach-Broward district.

Bogdanoff will be bicycling through coastal communities starting at 7:30 a.m. at El Prado Park in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Bogdanoff will finish at Boston’s on the Beach in Delray Beach. Throughout the tour, which Bogdanoff is calling Ellyn’s Bicycle Classic, the senator is expected to make stops in Boca Raton and Highland Beach.

Meanwhile, Sachs will be canvassing in Boca Raton Saturday morning. The senator is meeting firefighters at Panera on Military Trail in Boca Raton, according to campaign officials.

The District 34 race between Sachs and Bogdanoff is the only Senate district in Florida where two incumbents are running against each other. It’s also a race both Republicans and Democrats consider key for the future of their parties.

Sachs and Bogdanoff are both facing a largely new set of voters.

Forty-nine percent of constituents in the new district are from Bogdanoff’s old district, and 39 percent are from Sachs’ former district. But the new district is also mostly Democratic, where 58 percent voted for Barack Obama in 2008, possibly putting Bogdanoff at a disadvantage.

Randolph, who antagonized GOP, to seek Fla Dem top spot

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Rep. Scott Randolph, an Orlando Democrat who has regularly antagonized House Republicans with his biting floor debate, announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election this fall in a district dramatically redrawn district following this spring’s redistricting.

Instead, Randolph said he will focus on his candidacy for state Democratic Party chairman and efforts to deny Republican Gov. Rick Scott a re-election victory in 2014.

“I am proud of my legislative service,” Randolph said. “For six years I fought back against a radical agenda that continues to shift the tax burden to the middle class, that has shrunk Florida’s commitment to spending on Florida’s students in public schools, and which has led an unrelenting attack on women and all of Florida’s families.”

Randolph’s most memorable moment in Tallahassee may have come when he lashed out in debate against proposed tougher abortion laws by noting that the Republican-ruled Legislature put more focus on protecting businesses from regulation than women’s rights.

Given that, Randolph said, his wife should “incorporate her uterus,” to avoid GOP interference. He was later warned by Republican leaders not to talk about body parts on the House floor.

Randolph’s wife, Susannah, leads Florida Watch Action, a Democratic-leaning grassroots group and is former campaign manager for former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. She also heads the Pink Slip Rick effort, a kind of flash-mob campaign critical of Gov. Rick Scott.

Randolph has been chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, but is looking to succeed former state Sen. Rod Smith as Florida Democratic Party chairman next year. The House District 47 seat Randolph now lives in has gone from Democratic leaning to a toss-up district. Randolph said three-quarters of the residents there don’t live in the district he has served since 2006.

In announcing he would not seek re-election, Randolph endorsed former Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart for the seat. Former Rep. Bob Brooks of Winter Park is among two Republicans running for the seat.

GOP leaders praise lawmaker heading toward exit

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 by John Kennedy

Leading Republicans praised a Central Florida House member who formally announced Tuesday that he was at least temporarily ending his legislative career — rather than challenge a fellow GOP lawmaker in a redrawn House district.

Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who is in his second term representing parts of Orlando, revealed his decision in a Tuesday Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel. Eisnaugle said he wouldn’t duel with “my friend and fellow conservative,” Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, for the House District 44 seat they both share in the new, redistricted House map.

Precourt is a close ally of  incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.  But Eisnaugle’s decision to take one for the team also helped underscore the position of House and Senate Republican leaders that legislative and congressional maps were not drawn to help incumbents, a view apparently now shared by courts and federal officials, who have given the plans the go-ahead.

Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry said Eisnaugle’s “decision to put his family and his personal commitments above himself is commendable.”

Weatherford also held out the possibility that Eisnaugle’s decision to step aside — for now — may help his political future.

“ He is a true rising star,” Weatherford said of Eisnaugle. “I believe he will continue to earnestly serve his community, not as an elected official, but as a neighbor and a friend. That’s the kind of leadership that earns the trust of voters; it’s why I believe he will be back in the Florida Legislature one day.”

Court rules against Democrats in congressional redistricting

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats were dealt another blow in redistricting Monday when a Leon Circuit Court judge denied their bid to have the 27-seat congressional plan declared invalid.

The ruling by Judge Terry Lewis comes after the Florida Supreme Court on Friday upheld the Republican-ruled Legislature’s map for redrawing Senate boundaries. Democrats and allied organizations also had sought to have the Senate plan ruled unconstitutional for favoring incumbent Republicans and hurting minority voters.

Earlier in the day Monday, the House also announced that the U.S. Justice Department had concluded its review of the House, Senate and congressional maps and determined that they complied with the Voting Rights Act. The preclearance determination is a key step in assuring that the redistricting plans will be in place for candidate qualifying, June 4-8.

Democrats did not immediately respond to the actions. But Republicans cast the federal approval as effectively the end of the redistricting fight.

“Today’s preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice signifies the final approval of the state legislative and congressional maps passed by the Florida legislature,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “I appreciate the hard work of my colleagues and all of the input we received from Floridians throughout the process.  With their help, we were able to draw fair and compact maps that puts the interests of Floridians over the interests of politicians.”

Justices need a lesson in state elections law, a lawmaker says

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Fallout continued Thursday from actions by three Supreme Court justices filing their candidacy papers last week, with a Republican state lawmaker calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to examine whether state law may have been broken.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that according to media reports, including a story in the Palm Beach Post, court employees assisted the justices in notarizing documents and filing their documents with the state’s Division of Election. The filings were completed just minutes before a noon Friday deadline.

Plakon pointed Scott to a section of state elections law that prohibits candidates from using the services of public employees during working hours in the “furtherance of his or her candidacy.” A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor.

“We have a responsibility to the people of Florida to see that our laws are followed by all, regardless of status or position,” Plakon wrote in his letter to Scott.

A Scott spokesman, Lane Wright, said the governor was traveling Thursday and had not seen Plakon’s letter. But Wright said the governor would look into the request.

Plakon was House sponsor of a proposed ballot measure in 2010 aimed at allowing Floridians to opt out of federal health care overhaul. In a 5-2 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the amendment’s ballot summary was misleading and unconstitutional. Two of the justices who were part of the majority, Jorge Labarga and James Perry, were subjects of an unsuccessful attempt to deny them merit retention that year.

An organization called Restore Justice 2012, whose leader, Jesse Phillips, is close to Plakon, is working to deny Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince another six-year term on the court in merit retention this year. The three justices joined in the majority decision in the health care ballot case.

Dan Stengle, legal council to Quince, Lewis and Pariente, has denied any wrongdoing by the justices in their haste to file papers last week. Although he acknowledges that several court employees assisted justices, Stengle said that the financial disclosure documents filed are similar to those filed every year by public employees. It’s not unusual for justices to ask a clerk or other employee to notarize the paperwork, he said.

In defense, Stengle released copies of disclosures filed two years ago by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, who were unchallenged by critics in their merit retention contests. Supreme Court employees also notarized these documents, the records show. The only difference, Stengle implied, was that the latest filings were played out publicly — in a scramble that forced a delay in a court hearing, when justices learned their paperwork was not complete.

For his part, Plakon said he was not supporting Restore Justice 2012. But Plakon acknowledged that he disagreed with the majority ruling in the health care ballot case and that it helped “bring attention to the issue of judicial activism.”

Restore Justice put a statement on its website about Plakon’s letter, and also sent an email to potential supporters that carried a solicitation for contributions.

“This whole ordeal illustrates the problems that inherently arise when activist judges selectively uphold the law when it is convenient to their agenda, and ignore or rewrite it when it’s not,” the campaign wrote.

Phillips, who leads the campaign, told the Post, “I’m taking a wait and see attitude. But I agree with (Plakon’s) statement that no one is above the law.”

Florida’s congressional map under fire in court

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Legislature’s plan for redrawing congressional boundaries was derided Wednesday for packing minority voters into districts and protecting Republican incumbents in arguments by lawyers for the Florida Democratic Party and allied organizations before a Leon County judge.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is expected to rule quickly in the challenge, which was filed in February when the Legislature completed the plan for drawing 27 Florida congressional districts. Lewis has acknowledged that any delay could interfere with candidate qualifying in Florida, which is scheduled to begin June 4.

George Meros, attorney for the House and Senate, defended the congressional plan. He said it meets Voting Rights Act standards, along with Florida’s voter-approved constitutional amendments which require that districts be compact and drawn without concern for incumbents or parties.

Meros said opponents are disputing that the proposed boundaries and recommending they be redrawn to “disperse” black, Democratic-leaning voters into neighboring, white-dominated districts where their influence would be diminished.

Meros said Democrats were pushing for a “black diaspora” that would reduce black voting population, likely in violation of federal law.

“If they are reduced, there will be litigation,” Meros said.

The Florida Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, La Raza and Common Cause-Florida filed their lawsuit immediately after the Legislature approved new congressional boundaries. The state Supreme Court has since upheld the Legislature’s plan for redrawing House seats, but rejected the Senate’s remapping as designed to protect incumbents and preserve Republican control of that chamber.

The Legislature redrew the Senate plan. That proposal is scheduled to be argued Friday before the Florida Supreme Court.

Marc Elias, attorney for voters backed by the Florida Democratic Party, criticized the congressional district plan, saying it was built on the current map created in 2002 that left Florida “the most gerrymandered state in the country.” In repacking minority voters into districts, lawmakers failed to provide any analysis that showed the practice was needed.

“We started with a gerrymandered plan and we continue in 2012 with a Republican Legislature’s gerrymandered plan,” Elias said.

Florida Senate offers 100-page defense of its redistricting plan

Friday, April 13th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A week before the Florida Supreme Court hears new arguments in the state’s redistricting case, the Florida Senate submitted Friday a 100-page defense of its plan for redrawing  its 40 district boundaries.

The new map is the Legislature’s second and final chance to complete a plan that meets constitutional standards, after a first attempt was ruled invalid by justices.

The Republican-ruled Senate urged justices Friday to respect the Legislature’s latest effort, and disregard an alternate plan provided earlier this week to the court by the Florida Democratic Party and allied organizations.

In its brief filed Friday, attorneys for the Senate argued that justices defer to the plan drawn by lawmakers. The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the authority of plans drawn by lawmakers earlier this year, ruling in a Texas case.

“This court has expressed its reluctance to drawing a plan itself, noting that such an obligation is ‘the course of last resort,’” Senate lawyers wrote.  “Not only that:  it would be the first time in this state’s history that this court draws a reapportionment plan where the Legislature did not decline to do so.”

Indeed, the court’s 5-2 decision last month rejecting the Senate plan — but upholding new House district lines — marked the first time Florida  justices overturned a legislative redistricting plan.

But Florida Democrats offered their own proposal, contending the Legislature’s latest try resulted in a redrawn plan which still “reveals an intent to favor incumbents and contains multiple districts that plainly and directly violate constitutional standards.”

While the Senate plan includes 23 Republican-leaning districts and 17 favoring Democrats, the Democratic proposal creates a 20-20 voting balance.

But Senate lawyers said that approach conflicts with what analysts say is the state’s natural bias toward Republicans.

Although Democrats hold an almost 500,000 voter advantage statewide, research by Stanford University and University of Michigan political scientists concluded that Democratic voters tend to cluster in Florida cities — allowing Republicans to become the dominant party in a majority of legislative districts.

Most of all, Senate attorneys argued against the Democratic proposal, concluding, ”An alternative proposal does not invalidate the actual plan, even if it is ‘better’ or more nearly approximates constitutional ideals.”

Florida Democrats offer Supreme Court a Senate map

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With the Florida Supreme Court set to hear arguments this month on the Legislature’s second attempt at redrawing Senate boundaries, the state Democratic Party weighed in Tuesday with a proposal of its own.

Democrats are offering justices an alternative after concluding that what the Legislature has drawn “reveals an intent to favor incumbents and contains multiple districts that plainly and directly violate constitutional standards.”

Effectively, the Legislature’s round two includes many of the same flaws that led justices to reject its first attempt in a 5-2 decision last month, Democrats maintain. And while justices sent the rejected plan back to lawmakers to revise in a special session, a second turn-down will result in a court-drawn plan.

Democrats clearly are banking on justices seeking guidance with their map-making by reviewing alternative plans that have been put before them. 

The Democratic Party plan evenly divides the 40-member Senate along partisan lines — with a proposed 20 seats having a voting history that favors Democrats, and 20 Republican-leaning. The Legislature’s plan before justices includes a 23-17 GOP edge in voting performance, analysis shows.

While the latest legislative plan before justices also only puts two current incumbents in the same district — Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland — the Democratic plan makes three likely matchups, including Gardiner against neighboring Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

In South Florida, Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would be paired. So, too, would be Sens. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate.

In Palm Beach County, the Democratic proposal also would add a little more political uncertainty.

The Legislature’s proposed central county seat, with a majority black-Hispanic voting population, would be changed to span the upper half of Palm Beach County, from the coastline to the Glades. Reps. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, and former Rep.  Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, have all been eyeing that seat.

A south county Senate district, already targeted by Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, looks like it stays largely intact, in the Senate plan.


UPDATE: Bondi sends new Florida Senate maps to Supreme Court, oral arguments set

Thursday, April 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Florida Supreme Court has set April 20 for oral arguments on the revised Florida Senate maps submitted for review today by Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Senate has hired former Supreme Court justice Raoul Cantero at $675 an hour to help sell its maps to his former colleagues.

The revised Florida Senate maps are now in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court after Attorney General Pam Bondi sent them to the high court for review today. And the group that backed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment responsible for the Court’s rejecting the original maps also filed their competing plan, saying the Senate’s modifications still don’t meet muster.

Bondi waited less than 24 hours to send the original maps – rejected by the Court last month – but hung on to the revamped districts for more than a week. She had until April 11 to deliver them. The Court has 60 days to act on the plan, and can approve it or reject it and replace it with one of its own or another, such as the Fair District’s proposal.

Democrats complained that Bondi’s delay was intentional and part of a Republican strategy to pressure the Court and the U.S. Justice Department into hurried scrutiny of the proposed districts. Candidate qualifying for the November elections begins on June 4, meaning political wannabes may be filing to run in districts that may not exist by the time the election rolls around.

Also today, the groups that backed the constitution’s new “Fair Districts” amendment – the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Florida Common Cause – submitted their own version of the Senate’s 40 districts they say are more likely to comply with the amendment that, among other things, bars lawmakers from crafting maps that protect incumbents.

While the Court signed off on the Florida House’s redrawn 120 districts, the justices found the original set of Senate maps “rife with objective indicators of improper intent” and tossed out eight of the 40 Senate’s proposed districts.

“The Court gave the Senate a second chance, but the Senate just did exactly what it has done in every redistricting cycle – drawn districts to protect themselves and their political allies rather than protecting the voting rights of all Floridians. That is why we felt compelled to propose an alternative plan,” LWV president Deirdre Macnab said in a statement.

A week after redistricting finished, Bondi still holds Senate plan

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

A week after the Florida House approved the Legislature’s latest attempt to redraw Senate districts, the plan Tuesday still had not been forwarded by Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to the state Supreme Court.

Bondi’s delay is raising concerns among Democrats — who say it’s part of a larger GOP strategy to heighten pressure on the court and U.S. Justice Department, which also must approve the state plan. Candidate qualifying is set to begin June 4, and the timetable for the reviews already comes close to hitting that deadline.

 ”Florida Republicans efforts to delay the court’s review of the maps is nothing more than a Hail Mary pass,” said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. ”After the Florida Supreme Court’s historic rejection of the first state Senate map, Republicans are not confident their second gerrymandered map can withstand court muster so they are stalling.”

The week that has passed since the special session ended with a redrawn Senate plan represents a marked contrast to Bondi’s speed in sending both a House and Senate redistricting proposal to the court in February.  Under state law, Bondi has 15 days to act after legislative approval.

But when the first plans were approved, Bondi sent the maps to justices about 24 hours after the final vote in the Senate. At that time, Republican legislative leaders had talked of fixing any failings the court might find in the maps while the Legislature was still in session.

Instead, justices unanimously approved the House plan. But they rejected the Senate’s proposal in a 5-2 decision also made public March 9, the last day of the regular session. The special session which ended last Tuesday was called by Gov. Rick Scott for lawmakers to redraw the Senate map.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he has “no idea” why Bondi has held the revamped plan a week.  Bondi’s office said the attorney general has until April 11 to file a petition with justices.

“We will file the petition by the deadline,” said Bondi spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale.

Weatherford said he is confident, “it will not have an effect on the (qualifying) deadline.”

But Democrats say the clock-eating approach fits a pattern.

Attorneys for the Republican-led Legislature have already sought — unsuccessfully — to have a trial delayed until after the November elections on the lawsuit filed by Democrats and allied organizations challenging proposed congressional district boundaries.

Last week, Bondi joined with House and Senate attorneys in asking federal officials to begin their review of the new Senate plan — even before it goes to the state Supreme Court.

 But Democrats think that request, likely a longshot, may be mostly public relations. They say it’s intended to blunt accusations that Republicans are stalling  in hopes courts will adopt the current map to avoid adding chaos to the candidate filing period.

“I don’t know if the Justice Department will look at the Senate map,” Weatherford said. “But now there’s nothing stopping them.

“The Supreme Court could look at it, too, even before it’s sent by the attorney general. It’s all online,” Weatherford said. 


Florida Senate redistricting plan sent to Justice Department

Friday, March 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The U.S. Justice Department was sent the Florida Senate’s latest attempt at redrawing its own political boundaries Friday in a bid to have the plan approved by the state’s scheduled June 4 candidate qualifying period.

The Senate map, endorsed this week by the House, still must go to the state Supreme Court, which then has 30 days to act on the proposal. Justices rejected the initial Senate rewrite, forcing a 15-day special session which ended with Tuesday’s House vote.

But federal officials have their own 60-day window to review the proposed map. In light of the advancing date for candidates to file papers, attorneys for the House, Senate and Attorney General Pam Bondi, are clearly hoping the Justice Department review will overlap with that of Florida’s high court.

“In light of the imminent qualifying period, prompt consideration is requested,” the attorneys concluded.

The state is already in uncharted waters with the Supreme Court rejecting the first Senate plan as favoring incumbents and packing minority voters into districts.

Justices had validated legislative maps drawn by lawmakers in each of the previous 10-year redistricting cycles dating to 1972, when the court was first brought into the process.

Just in time for new race, Rader cleared of complaint from 2010 campaign

Friday, March 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Just in time for another election cycle, former Rep. Kevin Rader had a complaint filed against him dismissed Friday by the state Commission on Ethics.

Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, was accused in 2010 of failing to disclose his partial ownership of an underwriters’ group on his state financial disclosure forms. Rader, at the time a state Senate candidate, said he owned Advanced Insurance Underwriters through another firm, Rader Insurance Inc., which he did disclose on the forms.

State ethics investigators found probable cause that Rader should have revealed his connection to Advanced Insurance. The matter emerged when Victoria Thiel, a tea party activist, filed the complaint a month before the November 2010 election Rader lost to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

But Rader fought the charge. His attorney, Mark Herron, filed a legal challenge with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, arguing that ethics investigators misapplied the state’s disclosure law. As part of Friday’s finding, that case also will be dropped.

“In the heat of a campaign, people sometimes will file complaints without merit,” Rader said. “I’m extremely happy this has been dismissed and the commission took no action.”

Rader last month announced that he would challenge Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, in this summer’s Democratic primary.

But with Senate district boundaries still not set, Rader also acknowledged he is considering running in a proposed district in the Lake Worth-West Palm Beach area that has a majority black and Hispanic voting age population. Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed candidate papers this week to run in that district. Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also is weighing a campaign for the seat.

“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen, because know one knows what these districts are going to look like,” Rader said.

After the first redrawn Senate boundaries were rejected as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, the Legislature has completed its second attempt at map-making. The redrawn plan now must win approval from justices.

Clemens files papers to run for Senate

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Shortly before the House approved the Senate’s plan Tuesday for redrawing district boundaries, Rep. Jeff Clemens filed campaign papers to run for newly carved Senate District 27 in Palm Beach County.

The Lake Worth Democrat said the proposed central county district, with a majority black and Hispanic voting-age population, contains about 95 percent of the current House seat he has held since 2010.

“Other people may get into the race, but this makes sense for me,” Clemens said.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, has said he is also considering running. Former Rep. Kevin Rader, a Boynton Beach Democrat who has said he plans to challenge Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, also is said to be sizing up the boundaries of District 27, which includes a big chunk of urban Palm Beach County, including Lake Worth, Lantana, Riviera Beach and parts of West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach.

The Senate map still must be upheld as constitutional by the state Supreme Court. Clemens was among House Democrats who joined with Hispanic Republicans in voting against the measure Tuesday, approved in a 61-47 vote.

Clemens isn’t the only House Democrat eyeing the latest district plan.

Senate Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West said Tuesday he expects soon to announce his candidacy for the four-county District 39 seat now held by term-limited Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, which her son, Rep. Dwight Bullard, also a Miami Democrat, also plans to seek.

Senate panel thinks it’s got a winner — lottery system yields new district numbering

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by John Kennedy

After two days of testimony about oddly shaped district “appendages” and increasing tension between senators, the Senate Reapportionment Committee wrapped up its work Wednesday by bringing out lottery machine cages to select random numbers for new Senate boundaries.

“Bizarre is the word,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach.

Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, recommended the lottery-like selection process to determine odd-or-even number districts. Odd-numbered districts get four-year terms, even districts draw two-years. In throwing out the Senate’s first attempt at line-drawing, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the original numbering plan favored incumbents.

Gaetz said he was intent on finding an “incumbent neutral plan.”  Gaetz said the system he deployed was reminiscent of what he recalled being used by the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) at his girlfriend’s church during schoolyard socials when he was a teenager in North Dakota.

But the system wasn’t fully embraced.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Tampa, said the Senate shouldn’t be “casting lots,” for districts and later sought unsuccessfully to have the selection stopped on grounds it violated state gambling laws.  Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, condemned the lottery, saying it was wrong to bring a “quick pick” approach to settling public policy. 

Another critic, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Jacksonville, questioned whether the green lottery balls used to determine the even numbered districts had been recently painted, making them heavier and affecting when they dropped from the cage. She was assured by Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of  Weston that the balls were green when shipped to the state from a factory.

The Senate now is positioned to debate  its latest proposed redistricting plan Thursday, with a vote scheduled for the next day. Gaetz said he will include an amendment to the plan Thursday that incorporates the new odds-and-evens numbering system that emerged from the lottery system.

How the Senate rolls: Lottery system planned to choose district numbers

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Senate Reapportionment Committee brought out lottery balls in spinning cages Wednesday as senators tried to devise a system where the number of Senate districts would not be seen as favoring certain incumbents.

The Florida Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Senate’s first attempt at drawing district lines. Among the problems justices found, was district numbering that would have allowed most incumbents to serve for as long as 10 years, which the court said defied the state’s constitutional eight-year term limits.

Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, advanced the idea of a lottery system to choose district numbers which would determine whether a seat is for a four-year or two-year term this fall.

Most of the committee agreed to the concept. But some questioned the technique.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, said spinning lottery balls in cages on the Senate floor would disrupt the chamber’s “decorum.”  He suggested the lottery be held in the offices of the Senate secretary with videotape rolling.

“We will not have the fanfare, but the integrity of the Senate will be assured,” Simmons said.

But like most issues in the Senate, battle lines quickly emerged. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said that if the lottery method was used, it was necessary that it be conducted on the Senate floor.

“I believe strongly that whatever we do has to be done on the floor of the Senate in front of God and everyone,” Latvala said.

After a heated debate, the committee has deferred a decision on the numbering system until the redistricting plan goes to the Senate floor.

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