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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.


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.

Florida House keeps it brief, shines spotlight on FSU b-ballers

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida House members straggled back to Tallahassee after just four days off for a brief kick-off to an “extraordinary” special session followed by an update from their lawyer about the Senate’s faulty legislative maps.

The Florida Supreme Court signed off on the House’s newly drawn maps but rejected eight of the Senate’s proposed 40 districts, meaning the upper chamber will have to do the heavy lifting for the next 10 days.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, told happy House members they won’t have to return to the Capitol next week but to be prepared to come back on March 26-28 to finalize the Senate’s new plan.

The House’s redistricting lawyer George Meros will give the redistricting committee an update on what the court found wrong with the Senate maps this afternoon.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford said he’s working with his Senate counterpart Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and trusts the Senate to abide by the court’s directions on how to fix the maps.

“I am confident in the Senate’s ability,” incoming House Speaker Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said. “We’re working with them. We have a good conversation going with them. We’re showing deference to them but certainly we have opinions about how the Senate maps should look…. But I think the court gave some pretty specific recommendations. It’s my understanding that they’re taking those recommendations seriously.”

A visit from Florida State University basketball coach Leonard Hamilton provided the highlight of the 11-minute floor session. Hamilton stuck around for photos with members after being introduced by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, the “Seminole Caucus” cheerleader-in-chief.

The Seminoles won the ACC championship this week, and Hamilton, in his tenth year as head coach at FSU, was recently named the ACC coach of the year.

“Today we proudly send our Seminoles to Nashville for the first rounds of the NCAA tournament and wish them the best against St. Bonaventure, wherever that is,” Patronis said.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also took a moment on the floor to give his legislative aide Jacquet a shout-out. Jacquet yesterday defeated three other candidates to win a seat on the Delray Beach City Commission.

Benacquisto first to qualify by petition for ballot

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate District 27′s Lizbeth Benacquisto became the first in her chamber to qualify by petition for reelection, according to a press release issued by her campaign today.

But right now it appears the Wellington Republican won’t be representing Palm Beach County by the time the November election rolls around. Under the proposed Senate maps, Benacquisto’s district would be confined on the other coast to Lee and Charlotte counties. Her district currently stretches from West Palm Beach across the state through Hendry and Glade and winds up in Lee and Charlotte.

Benacquisto is already facing a GOP primary opponent – state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers – in her reelection bid.

Benacquisto, elected to the Senate last year, gathered more than the requisite 1,580 signatures to qualify by petition, according to the release, a “clear indication that Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto has broad grassroots support.”

House Ok’s high court overhaul for ballot

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Less than a year after the Florida Supreme Court killed three proposed ballot measures pushed by the Republican-ruled Legislature, the state House voted 79-38 along party lines for a measure completely overhauling the seven-member panel.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the move is designed to improve the court’s efficiency. Democrats weren’t so sure.

“No one party should be in control of all levels of government,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. “This is an attempt by leadership to not only command the governor’s office, the House and the Seante — but also the judiciary.”

The legislation (CS/HJR 7111) is a proposed constitutional amendment going before voters next year. If 60 percent approve, the Supreme Court would add three members be split into two divisions — one civil, one for criminal cases.

The state Senate also would gain authority to confirm the governor’s appointments to the court. The Legislature also would have more power to repeal court rules, while the Supreme Court would gain a guaranteed level of state funding — topping what it historically has drawn.

Democrats said Republicans are court-packing — seeking a friendly panel that may play a key role in reviewing legislative redistricting next year.

But GOP leaders disputed that Friday, saying, instead, they are looking at modernizing the high court and improving justices’ ability to deal with death penalty cases.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-New Port Richey, said he’s tired of hearing Democrats accusing ruling Republicans of devious plans and “sticking it” to various interest groups.

“Today, I am voting for this bill, to stick it to every Death Row inmate,” Corcoran said.

A Senate version of the proposal is still awaiting a full chamber vote.

Update: Amends 5 & 6 sent to Justice Department after GOP delay

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The House and Senate agreed Tuesday to send to federal officials the voter-approved Amendments 5 and 6, apparently ending an icy standoff between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic-allied supporters of the redistricting measures.

Sending the amendments to the U.S. Justice Department for “preclearance,” is a routine step in the redistricting process. But Scott added a level of intrigue when he quietly withdraw the state’s request soon after taking office.

Supporters of the so-called Fair Districts amendments, which are aimed at requiring that compact legislative and congressional districts be designed by lawmakers without concern for incumbents or political parties, sued Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning to force the review to proceed.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, include the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters,  Democracia, a Hispanic political action group, and five individuals from Monroe County. (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.


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.

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.

Red to blue: Dem registrations inch ahead of GOP in Klein’s congressional District 22

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 by George Bennett



Fresh figures from the Palm Beach and Broward county elections offices show Democrats have inched ahead of Republicans in voter registrations in congressional District 22, a seat the GOP held from 1981 to 2007 and that many Republicans still regard as winnable.

District 22 voters have sent a Democrat — U.S. Rep. Ron Klein of Boca Raton — to Congress in the last two elections and Democrat Barack Obama carried the district by 4 points in the November 2008 presidential election.

But until this month, the district had a plurality of Republican voters.


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