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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.

House redistricting panel makes first moves, fights to follow later

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The House Redistricting Committee took its first tenuous steps Wednesday in what will certainly turn into a combative, partisan fight over redrawing House, Senate and congressional district boundaries — a battle that will likely consume much of next year.

Committee chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, began Wednesday’s first hearing saying he wanted to “set the tone,” for the lengthy rewrite, which will eventually include court reviews and an army of lawyers on both the Republican and Democratic sides.

“Once we get started its going to be fast and furious and there’s going to be a lot of work involved,” Weatherford said, also adding some cautions taken from an earlier letter to lawmakers from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

“Members should refrain from discussing their personal political ambitions, their personal district preferences or the ambitions or preferences of other candidates or office-holders with the chairman, the members or the staff of the redistricting committee…I think that’s pretty clear. But I’d read it three or four times,” Weatherford added. (more…)

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.


House, Senate will hold 20 hearings on redistricting

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House and Senate leaders will hold at least 20 public hearings throughout the state regarding the drawing of Florida’s legislative and Congressional seats, Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz announced today.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, who yesterday asked to join the lawsuit challenging one of the amendments approved by voters barring lawmakers from drawing districts that favor incumbents or parties, has yet to appoint his members to the House’s redistricting committee.

But Gaetz said that should happen soon and that the House and Senate will hold joint meetings around the state to get the public’s input on the new districts.

Florida lawmakers should be able to begin drawing new districts as early as the end of March when the block-by-block census data is scheduled to be released.

Lawmakers draw the new districts for legislative and Congressional seats every 10 years.

But they’ll have to do it differently this year based on two amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November that bar lawmakers from drawing districts that favor incumbents or parties.

Days after he took office, Gov. Rick Scott withdrew the state’s request to the feds to sign off on the amendments. Florida is one of several states that require U.S. Department of Justice approval before any changes are made to voting rights and elections.

Lawmakers fiercely opposed the amendments last year and tried to put their own redistricting amendment on the ballot to counteract Amendments 5 and 6, or the “Fair Districts” amendments, placed on the ballot through the petition initiative process. But the Florida Supreme Court threw out the legislature’s amendment, ruling it was misleading to voters.

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.


Florida gains two House seats, two electoral votes from 2010 census

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 by George Bennett

Florida will gain two congressional seats and become an even more coveted presidential prize with two additional electoral votes as a result of new census data released today.

Florida, which has 25 U.S. House seats now, will have 27 beginning with the 2012 elections. The perennially up-for-grabs Sunshine State will have 29 electoral votes in the 2012 presidential election, up from 27 in 2008.

The 2010 census pegs the U.S. population at 308,745,538 — up 9.7 percent from 2000. Florida’s population is 18,801,310 — a 17.6 percent increase over 2000.

Florida remains the fourth most populous state in the U.S. — trailing California (37.3 million), Texas (25.1 million) and New York (19.4 million).

Florida and New York will both have 27 U.S. House seats. Only California (53) and Texas (36) will have more.


How much clout will Florida gain with today’s census figures?

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 by George Bennett

The U.S. Census Bureau will release state-by-state population figures later this morning and reveal how many U.S. House seats each state will have beginning in 2012.

Florida, which has 25 House seats now, is expected to gain at least one and possibly two seats. That means the perennially up-for-grabs Sunshine State will also add one or two electoral votes for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Another big question: Will Florida overtake New York to become the nation’s third most populous state (after California and Texas)?

The figures are to be released at 11 a.m.

In the meantime, population buffs can check out the Census Bureau’s interactive map showing population and apportionment data from the 1910 through 2000 censuses. Note that Florida had fewer than 1 million people as recently as 1920 and only four congressional seats at the time. By the 2000 census, Florida’s population was nearly 16 million and it had 25 House seats and 27 electoral votes.

Rod Smith new Dem chief? ‘I believe I’ll be the appointee’

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Despite grumblings from Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel to the contrary, former state Sen. Rod Smith insists he’ll be the next state party chairman.

“I believe I’ll be the appointee,” said Smith, a Gainesville-area former prosecutor who most recently was Alex Sink’s running-mate in her losing bid for governor.

His bid to replace Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman, who is retiring, got a boost yesterday when an officer of the Alachua County party stepped down to make room for Smith.

Smith would have to be elected the chairman of the county executive committee or state committee man before he can be eligible to run as head of the FDP.

Once that happens, Smith said he’ll continue to build support from activists, donors and other county leaders.

“It’s a process that’s ongoing. It sometimes appears slow and ponderous but it’s an important process that allows people to have input about their concerns,” Smith, 61, said.


Senate prez keeps budget chair, makes RPOF head rules chief

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos tapped John Thrasher, head of the Republican Party of Florida, as chairman of the powerful Senate Rules committee and is keeping J.D. Alexander as budget chief.

Haridopolos, who officially takes over the helm on Tuesday, also assigned Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to lead the chamber’s reapportionment efforts.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, called Gaetz’s assignment perhaps “the most challenging committee chairmanship of all” because he’ll have to operate under the new reapportionment system approved by voters on Election Day that prohibits drawing districts that favor incumbents or political parties. One of the two constitutional amendments revamping reapportionment is now being challenged in federal court.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine

Thrasher, a St. Augustine lawyer and lobbyist who also served as House Speaker, took over the troubled state GOP earlier this year but has said he would step down as chairman after the November elections.

Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, has been in charge of the Senate’s budget for the past two years.

Alexander’s task isn’t an easy one either. He’s expected to have a $2.9 billion spending gap to manage, a new governor – Rick Scott – who wants to slash spending on state government and prisons, and no more federal stimulus funds to help plug the budget hole as he has for the past two years.

Conflict of interest for Thrasher as Senate elections chairman and head of RPOF?

Friday, January 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson wants Sen. John Thrasher stripped of two important committee assignments if he is annointed chairman of the state GOP as expected.

Lawson asked Senate President Jeff Atwater today to remove Thrasher as chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee and off the powerful reapportionment committee if he is also chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

“The conflict is evident: Senator Thrasher’s primary job as RPOF head is to see that Republicans win and maintain office through the elections process – a process in which his committees – one of which he controls – play a critical role,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee, wrote Atwater this morning.

Thrasher, a former House Speaker, returned to the legislature in a nasty special election to replace the late Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville. The trial lawyers’ association political arm targeted Thrasher in a racially-charged mailer that resulted in a shake-up at the Florida Justice Association leadership and forced former executive director Scott Carruthers to resign.

Thrasher’s special election drama was one of the reasons why Atwater appointed him to chair the committee, Atwater said at the time. Campaign reforms are at the top of Thrasher’s agenda this session, the Jacksonville lobbyist said late last year.

Along with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, I was deeply troubled by the announcement earlier this week that Republican Senator John Thrasher may take over as head of the Republican Party of Florida, while maintaining his seat in the Florida Senate.

“As you know, the task of the committee he chairs is to set public policy on maintaining fair and unbiased elections. The task of the second of which he is a member is to oversee the drawing of legislative districts. To allow Senator Thrasher to remain in dual chairmanship roles and/or as a member of a committee holding sway over fair representation would threaten the integrity of the process as a whole,” Lawson wrote.

Stay tuned for a response from Atwater.

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