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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.

 

Florida’s redistricting fight continues on paper trail

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Republican-allied campaign research and consulting firm surrendered more than 1,800 pages of records this week but asked a judge Thursday to block a demand by Democratic-leaning groups for more emails and documents in a lawsuit over last year’s legislative redistricting battle.

Data Targeting, Inc., a Gainesville-based political affairs firm, said in a motion filed with Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that organizations seeking the records are on an “old-fashioned fishing expedition.”

Lawyers for the company add that documents sought may include “proprietary” information that could threaten relationships with clients and reveal business secrets.

Lewis is expected to rule Friday in the matter, part of a post-redistricting clash that is already in the Florida Supreme Court. There, justices are being asked to dismiss the lawsuit before Lewis, which was filed by the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza.

The voter groups contend that redrawn Senate districts should be 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.

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.

Court documents filed earlier with 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.

The  Supreme Court last year ruled the Senate’s initial proposal for redrawing the 40-member chamber unconstitutional. The 5-2 decision found  the Senate plan protected incumbents, packed minority voters into districts and numbered Senate districts in a way to give incumbents more time in office.

It marked the first time since the court was brought into that stage of redistricting in 1972 that justices overturned a legislative map. The House map was approved by justices.

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.

 

 

Cannon: House to appeal Amendment 6 ruling

Thursday, September 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The state House plans to join a pair of Florida members of Congress in appealing a federal judge’s ruling that upheld a new, voter-approved standard for lawmakers when they draw congressional and legislative boundaries next year, House Speaker Dean Cannon said Thursday.

The move extends a battle between the Republican-ruled Legislature and the Democratic-allied Fair Districts campaign, which spearheaded the effort leading to voter approval of Florida constitutional amendments 5 and 6 last fall. Cannon, R-Winter Park,  and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, argue that Amendment 6 violates the U.S. Constitution by attempting to make state law apply to a federal matter.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro rejected the lawsuit earlier this month. But Cannon said Thursday that Ungaro is wrong.

 He drew on a federal court’s two-decade old ruling that in Florida, voter-approved term limits could not apply to members of Congress, in making the case for appeal.

“The federal court said, ‘no it doesn’t apply to congressional seats because Article 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution says only Congress and the federal constitution can prescribe limits like that,” Cannon said. “And we think the exact same argument applies here.”

The Legislature must draw new districts in time for the 2012 elections to reflect 2010 census data. The process in Florida and other states has historically been dominated by partisanship and political considerations. But Amendments 5 and 6 state that districts cannot be drawn to favor incumbents or political parties and must be compact and adhere to existing city, county and geographical boundaries “where feasible.”

The amendment also states that districts must not deny minorities the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

Fair Districts and its supporters have called on Cannon to end the legal attack on the amendment — approved by 63 percent of voters. But Cannon said the thousands of dollars in taxpayer money spent challenging the measure is needed.

“This lawsuit is not about any specific map, or even this specific year,” Cannon said. “It’s about defining the responsibility of our state Legislature under the federal constitution.”

But Dan Gelber, a former Democratic legislator who now represents Fair Districts, said “it is offensive to spend taxpayer money to fight your own constituents.” He noted that Florida taxpayers are paying for legal costs on both sides — for the Secretary of State to defend the new state standards, and for the House seeking to overturn it.

“It shows are desperate the Republican-ruled Legislature is to retain their ability to draw district lines the way they want,” Gelber said.

Cannon, though, assured that lawmakers will abide by the Amendment 5 and 6 standards when they begin line-drawing as early as next month. Cannon acknowledged that it could prove months before a ruling emerges from 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals.

Redistricting hearings called a “charade” by critics

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Supporters of the Fair Districts constitutional amendments guiding redistricting blasted Florida legislative leaders Tuesday for what some called a ”charade” of more than two-dozen public hearings scheduled to begin next week.

Former Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and lawyer now representing Fair Districts, was joined by the Florida NAACP, the state’s League of Women Voters, and Democracia, an Hispanic voters’ organization, in denouncing the Legislature’s slow-developing time frame to redraw political boundaries for state House, Senate and congressional districts.

Twenty-six public hearings are scheduled through the summer, including an Aug. 16 session at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. But the discussions are not intended to focus on line-drawing.

Instead, the Legislature won’t begin drawing maps in earnest until January. With legal challenges, Gelber and others said it was likely Floridians and candidates won’t know their districts until close to the beginning on candidate qualifying in June.

“That these are transparent hearings, that’s just a sham,” said Deirdre Macnab of the League of Women Voters.

The organizations have written House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and House and Senate redistricting chairs criticizing the schedule and urging that they drop what critics call a gag order in which the letter said lawmakers have been warned they “should not make public statements about redistricting lest they betray intent to engage in political favoritism.”

The organizations also called on U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, and Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, to drop their lawsuit challenging the Fair Districts amendments, approved by voters last fall. The measures prohibit lawmakers from drawing district boundaries to help one party or individual incumbents.

Taxpayers are picking up the legal tab for both sides in the lawsuit, which is scheduled for oral arguments in Miami federal court in July.

“It’s time we stop spending taxpayer funds to defeat the purpose of the voters,” said Leon Russell of the NAACP.


UPDATE: Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, responded to the Fair Districts criticism, saying all Floridians’ “viewpoints are heard,” in the process. He also urged critics to draw their own versions of the maps, a challenge Haridopolos earlier issued.

“I once again invite them to submit their own maps so everybody can see their concept of a ‘fair district.’ If the past is any indication though, they’ll come up with an excuse not to participate in this important process,” he said.

Groups file suit against governor over halt to redistricting changes

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Supporters of two voter-approved constitutional amendments changing the way Florida lawmakers draw Congressional and legislative districts filed a lawsuit today demanding that Gov. Rick Scott move forward with the federal approval needed to implement the changes.

Shortly after taking office, Scott put the brakes on predecessor Charlie Crist’s request to the U.S. Department of Justice for the “pre-clearance” required whenever Florida makes changes to its elections laws affecting voters’ rights.

Scott reappointed Kurt Browning as Florida’s secretary of state. Browning, originally appointed by Crist, left his post last year to lead the fight against the “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters in November that now bar lawmakers from drawing districts that favor political parties or incumbents.

(more…)

UPDATE: Dems outraged over Scott secret withdrawal of redistricting amendments

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott responded to his withdrawal of redistricting amendments for federal approval.

“Consistent with Governor Scott’s effort to assess the rules, regulations and contracts of the previous administration, he has withdrawn the letter requesting a DOJ review of Amendments 5 and 6. Census data has not been transmitted to the state yet and the Legislature will not undertake redistricting for months, so this withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and congressional districts,” Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said in an e-mail.

In his first few days on the job, Gov.Rick Scott quietly withdrew the state’s request for a federal go-ahead to move forward with two redistricting amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November.

Scott sent the request to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has to sign off on any changes to Florida elections laws affecting voters’ rights, on Jan. 7, just two days after he announced the reappointment of Department of State Secretary Kurt Browning. After Browning left Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration last year, he headed up a political committee that fought Amendments 5 and 6, aka the “Fair Districts” amendments. Crist’s temporary secretary of the state department submitted the application for “preclearance” to DOJ officials on Dec. 10

Scott’s move, offered with no explanation to the feds and no public announcement, left Democrats and supporters of the amendments hopping mad, and the state’s top Democrat is demanding Scott resubmit the preclearance application.

(more…)

Fair Districts ad: politicians like bank robbers and foxes in the hen house

Monday, October 11th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Politicians are foxes guarding the hen house or bank robbers protecting the banks when it comes to drawing their own districts, a new ad by the backers of Amendments 5 and 6 accuses.

The amendments would change the way Congressional and legislative districts are drawn by prohibiting them from favoring incumbents or political parties.

Opponents of the measures are fighting back – they’ve enlisted the help of former NAACP president and civil rights icon Benjamin Chavis to boost their argument that the proposals would make it harder for minorities to get elected.

Supporters of Fair Districts, the group that collected the petitions to put the amendments on the ballot and is running the ad, include the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and national groups – including ACORN – that traditionally back Democrats who’ve pumped millions of dollars into Fair Districts’ campaign fund.

But the amendments are pitting minority leaders against one another and Democrats.
(more…)

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