'Fair Districts' Supporters Consulted Democrats On Maps

CBS Miami | 09/15/2015

TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – After successfully arguing that a congressional map drawn by the Legislature impermissibly favored Republicans, voting-rights groups and voters have offered four sets of proposed districts that were discussed with Democratic-leaning consultants, according to court papers filed Tuesday.

The filings mean Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis will have seven maps to consider in a hearing, scheduled to begin Sept. 24, after which he is supposed to select a map for consideration by the Florida Supreme Court. The Supreme Court invalidated the current congressional map for violating the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” guidelines approved by voters in 2010.

Lawmakers met in a special session last month but couldn’t reach agreement on a redistricting plan to try to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. That has led to the issue going back before Lewis, with the House filing one proposed map Monday and the Senate filing two.

The long-running legal fight has focused heavily on arguments by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause Florida and a group of voters that the Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting process in 2012 was improperly influenced by GOP operatives.

But the new court filings indicate the Legislature’s opponents also have received behind-the-sceneshelp. In the case of one map, proposed by a group of voters known as the Romo plaintiffs, employees of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the U.S. House, had input on the districts.

According to a court filing, attorneys for the group of voters “discussed aspects of the Romo plaintiffs’ proposed remedial plan with staff members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” among others. The brief does not elaborate on what parts of the plan DCCC aides talked about, or whether they suggested any changes.

However, it says the plan largely follows the last version of the map approved by the state House during the failed redistricting special session last month. The only proposed changes are in four South Florida districts. Some critics have complained that in following an order by the Florida Supreme Court to unite the city of Homestead into one district, the Legislature tried to do so in a way that would help Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo hold onto his seat.

The Romo plaintiffs initially opposed a court order requiring all sides to disclose who helped in drawing the maps submitted this week to Lewis.

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida proposed three maps Tuesday that each also appear to be aimed at rearranging Curbelo’s seat. Two of the maps would simply change Congressional Districts 26 and 27, represented by Curbelo and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, respectively.

Another one of the maps backed by the “coalition plaintiffs” would reconfigure eight districts, making seven of them more compact and splitting seven fewer cities, according to the papers filed with the maps.

Those plans were drawn by an employee of Strategic Telemetry, a firm whose founder worked for the presidential campaigns of Democratic nominees John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. Strategic Telemetry is also ensnared in a controversy over maps it helped craft for Arizona’s independent redistricting committee.

“They do work for DCCC and also ran into problems in Arizona where they drew maps for their ‘independent’ commission and have been accused of gerrymandered districts in favor of Democrats,” a spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in an email to reporters.

“The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.”


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