David Simmons explains why he wanted to protect Stargel and Grimsley
A one-minute conversation between Sen. David Simmons and the staff redistricting director was replayed in the ongoing redistricting trial Monday as plaintiffs tried to show that many senators know where each other lives and worked to protect each other when drawing maps.
The phone conversation, which occurred at 9 a.m. on Oct. 26, came in the midst of the Senate redistricting session as Simmons was attempting to draft his own alternative to a Senate map that was widely unpopular with several senators.
"With respect to the maps, going to go ahead and revise the maps to get what I would consider to be more aesthetic situation. I want Highlands County out of District 18,'' Simmons told Jay Ferrin, the Senate's redistricting director, according to the recording replayed before Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.
"There's another reason that I have,'' he admitted, "and that is that I do not want two of our female senators running against each other because I don't think it's appropriate and I think that's the result of that. I don't consider that acceptable. So I want you to work it so that it looks better and those two are not forced into running against each other for no purpose whatsoever."
Ferrin, sounding bit flustered, responded: "I don't have any knowledge of where people are living. If you want me to separate Highlands County from District 18, just tell me that."
"Okay,'' Simmons said.
The brief exchange is one of more than 80 hours of recordings made of House and Senate staff as they drew maps and discussed them with lawyers and senators. After the exchange, Ferrin drafted a letter disclosing the conversation to Senate President Andy Gardiner saying that Simmons had instructed him to "alter a draft map specifically unpair two sitting female senators."
"You learned from that that there was one senator who had a pretty acute understanding of where senators live,'' suggested David King, lawyer for the plaintiffs. Ferrin agreed.
The recording was admitted as part of the record without any objection from the Legislature's lawyers and without any context as to what prompted the conversation.
Reached late Monday, Simmons said he made the phone call because he was in the process of drawing a map that would xxx but the plan "made a mistake" and merged the districts of Sens. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, with Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.
"The state constitution says you cannot favor or disfavor an incumbent or a political party and that would have been disfavoring political incumbents,'' Simmons told the Herald/Times. "It was done by mistake if I had paired them together."
He said he learned of the addresses of the two senators by looking at the clerk's manual, which lists the hometowns of each senator but not their addresses.
"I saw where their offices were located and then I realized I had put two districts into one district,'' he said, adding that women are in the minority in the Senate so should not be disfavored.
"I consider putting them in the same district discriminating against them,'' he said.
In the end, Simmons said he never submitted his map.
"I was working on a map to try to get a consensus among all the Senate -- Democrats and Republicans, minority and non-minority -- so that we could pass a map,'' he explained. "I was told that the House didn't want to change what it had already done so I just dropped it. But I was trying to get consensus."