Documents reveal secret Florida Senate process to draw district maps

Mary Ellen Klas | Miami Herald | 08/22/2015

The shadow redistricting process that brought down the congressional map also was in full swing in the state Senate’s efforts to redraw its own districts in 2011 and 2012, depositions and email documents submitted as part of a court case revealed.

The documents, filed Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Court as part of a lawsuit over the Senate map, show that Republican operatives faked “public” submissions, possessed draft Senate maps more than a month before senators, and submitted Republican-leaning maps that matched pieces that became the foundation of the adopted Senate redistricting plan.

The same tactics emerged in the congressional redistricting trial that led to the Florida Supreme Court ordering the maps being redrawn in a special session that ends this week.

Documents show that the elaborate plan, which included staffing up public hearings with fake testimony and building maps in the shadows, involved many of the same Republican advisors who influenced the congressional plan — long-time political consultant Rich Heffley, Gainesville-based operative Pat Bainter and Republican Party of Florida adviser Frank Terraferma.

Testimony also shows the degree to which former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was engaged in drafting the maps.

According to depositions and documents obtained by the Herald/Times, Heffley and Terraferma were working on producing maps that were identical to the staff-drafted map more than a month before the Senate released its proposed map on Nov. 28. And before the public release of that map, Gaetz was privately conducting secret briefings with individual senators, some via video conference, in which they discussed possible alterations to the map.

Gaetz would later tout the process as “the most transparent” redistricting in Florida history. But John Guthrie, former staff director of the Senate Reapportionment Committee who retired in June, said Gaetz intentionally met individually with senators so they could “share their reactions” and avoid the public meeting requirements of Senate rules.

Guthrie was asked by the plaintiffs’ attorney David King in a deposition taken July 29 whether the meetings were designed to be nonpublic. He answered: “That is correct.”

“One of the purposes of those meetings was for the chairman and staff to get insights from members of the committee about factors that — they may not have been otherwise aware of regarding what made sense in terms of providing effective representation to the constituencies in their region,” Guthrie said.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email that “there is no testimony by Mr. Guthrie — or anyone else — that Sen. Gaetz was aware of any efforts by Republican consultants to submit maps through the public submission process.”

The depositions are part of a second lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters challenging the Legislature’s redistricting maps for violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution. The Fair Districts amendments bar lawmakers from reapportioning the state in a way that intentionally protects or favors incumbents or political parties.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in July that the secretive process allowing GOP operatives to infiltrate the redistricting process had “tainted” the congressional map and proved it was the product of “illegal partisan intent.” The court ordered lawmakers to redraw eight districts, and they are in the final two days of a two-week special session to do that.

In a nod to the developing facts in the pending Senate case, the Senate admitted on July 28 that it violated the constitution’s anti-gerrymandering provisions, and joined with the House to schedule a special session for October to redraw their maps in an effort to have the case dismissed.

In his deposition, Guthrie recalled meeting with Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando; Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; former Sen. Nan Rich, D-Plantation; and the late Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami. Attempts to reach Latvala were unsuccessful. Gardiner would not comment on the meeting but said he is moving forward on a new Senate map guided by the court rulings “not available to President Gaetz in 2012.”

Rich told the Herald/Times on Thursday that she had many meetings with Gaetz and Guthrie and recalls telling him that she “felt very strongly that everything come through the committee process and not be brought by individuals who were looking out for their self interest.” She said she believed the map was unconstitutional and was one of only five senators, all Democrats, to vote against it.

Guthrie said in his deposition that the discussions resulted in changes to the maps. “I followed Sen. Gaetz’s direction as to whether or not he would like to make any modifications in the draft based on what we heard.”

As the House and Senate held public hearings in 2011, the documents show, GOP operatives were conducting a carefully orchestrated attempt to stock the meetings with people who could influence the testimony.

Alex Patton, a Republican consultant in Gainesville, was asked by his then-business partner Stafford Jones, who was chairman of the Alachua County Republican Committee, to read from prepared talking points and pretend to be confused about the Fair Districts amendments.

“Why do I got to be the confused guy?” Patton wrote in an email. He would later forward to the Senate redistricting website a map from Stafford that purported to be Patton’s work but was drawn by other operatives. The plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that it was the work of Heffley and Terraferma and that it was ultimately included in major parts of the final Senate map. Heffley denies the allegations.

Guthrie testified that he took direction from Gaetz and would occasionally share draft maps with Senate counsel Michael Carvin and Gaetz’s chief of staff, Chris Clark. Guthrie testified that while he saved about 50 draft maps, he routinely deleted draft maps and that is why he did not turn over to lawyers drafts that match those drawn by the operatives.

“My personal practice was not to retain the hundreds of thousands of iterations of — of draft plans that I went through in trying to craft or model districts, pursuant to Senator Gaetz’s direction, that complied with the state constitution,” he said.

Legislators testified in the congressional case that they routinely destroyed draft redistricting maps and emails, forcing lawyers to subpoena political consultants for their correspondence.

The documents filed Wednesday show that one of those maps, produced by Terraferma, the RPOF’s top map drawer, was provided in a zip file to Carvin on Oct. 28. Eight days later, testimony shows, Heffley, who was Gaetz’s long-time political consultant, wrote that this was to be the Senate map released to the public.

Terraferma then sent a note to Mike Wild at the Republican National Committee offices.

“I have seen, for the first time, this evidence, you know, today,” Guthrie testified. “I have no basis for disagreement.”

Betta denied the claim. “The only maps ever sent to the Senate Committee on Reapportionment were submitted through the public portal, and remain accessible on the Senate’s website to this day,” she wrote in an email to the Herald/Times.

Under questioning from King, Guthrie acknowledged that the political operatives knew more about the direction of the Senate map than the 28 members of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.

“You’re making a logical deduction,” he said.

The plaintiffs allege that the emails and draft maps demonstrated that the maps produced by Terraferma and Heffley included 14 of the districts that ended up in the Senate’s proposed map.

They say documents show a map numbered 143 was drawn by Terraferma and forwarded to Alex Patton who submitted it as his own, using his personal email account — not the email account from his political consulting firm.

Betta said the claim is “based on an erroneous assumption that a map within the consultants’ possession in October 2011 was their work product. It was in fact the work product of Senate staff.”

At one point, Terraferma noted that he had “downloaded the political data” on CDs he gave Heffley.

The district drawn for Bullard “was back in style,” Terraferma wrote, hinting that a previous version of the map had dismantled it. “Maybe we should call it the Lazarus seat instead,” he wrote.

Heffley said he worked as a political consultant to Senate campaigns and denied he was involved in the map-making process.

“I have testified under oath in court and deposition about not drawing maps,” he said Thursday. “Anything else to the contrary is completely and utterly false. I was a consultant to Senate campaigns. Period. I did not draw the maps or tell the Senate how to draw them.”

Documents show that other members of the RPOF staff worked to deliver support for the proposed Senate map. Andrew Wiggins of RPOF set a series of goals for getting enough public response, a process that enabled them to live up to Gaetz’s claim that this would be the most publicly responsive redistricting process in state history.

“Between November 29 and December 5 distribute all comments in support of proposed maps,” Wiggins wrote. The goals: 100 emails, 50 phone calls and 10 YouTube videos.

Another GOP advisor passed along a warning from Bainter, however.

“Pat said that he would rather us be careful and send out less messages,” Robert Krames wrote. “Don’t be passing around templates for people to distribute secondhand for you. Pat said he wanted to talk directly to anyone who we send a template to.”

Bainter’s partner, Matt Mitchell, sent a similar admonition.

“I want to echo Pat’s reminder about being incredibly careful and deliberative here, especially when working with people who are organizing other folks,” Mitchell wrote. “Must be very smart in how we prep every single person we talk to about all of these. If you can think of a more secure and failsafe way to engage our people please do it. … Pat and I will probably sound almost paranoid on this over the next week, but it will be much more worthwhile to be cautious.”


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