House defends its base map, done in secret behind 'rekeyed' door
The lead map-drawer for the Florida House told a Leon County Circuit Court on Thursday that he did not know that they were moving black communities out of U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district when they were drawing the Legislature's base map.
Jason Poreda, staff director of the House Select Committee on Redistricting said "I had no idea" that he was shifting a community dominated by Democrats out of the district in a way that challengers argue made it more favorable to a Republican.
Plaintiffs allege that the map was drawn in a way to help U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo win re-election by moving three African-American communities -- West Perrine, Palmetto Estates and Richmond Heights -- from his District 26 and into Ros Lehtinen's District 27, because she was a stronger incumbent.
Poreda testified the change was made to follow the Florida Turnpike and pick up population in order to abide by the Flroida Supreme Court ruling that rejected a previous map that split the City of Homestead.
Poreda's testimony consumed much of the afternoon hearing in the three-day trial before Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis. Lewis has until Oct. 17 to recommend a map to the Florida Supreme Court as the replacement for the congressional map drawn by legislature in 2012 and invalidated by the court in July.
Poreda testified that on the final attempt to redraw the congressional redistricting map, the work was done by three members of the House and Senate staff in a locked suite that had been rekeyed and where ''no one else had a key to the room, not even the janitorial staff."
After the court ruled that lawmakers allowed political operatives to infiltrate the process in 2011-2012 and invalidated the subsequent map, the court ruled that the Legislature now has the burden to prove that it drew a map without favoring or disfavoring incumbents or political parties.
He said they drew the maps only checking for the population of those districts and not taking into consideration party registration or the number of black voters.
He acknowledged the conversations were not recorded, even though the court had encouraged lawmakers to "record all public meetings"
"No, but the map that we were drawing was a starting point for the legislative process,'' Poreda said.
He also agreed with plaintiffs attorney Tom Zehdner who asked if "many of those decisions made in private, closed discussions" had made it into the final map.
Lewis then turned to Poreda and has his advice on the plaintiff's alternative maps, particularly their configurations for Districts 26 and 27. Poreda replied that he thinks District 26 was “so heavily Democratic that a Republican candidate would not be able to win.”
According to the data, the Hispanic voting age population for District 26, held by Curbelo, in the plaintiff's map known as CP1 is 68 percent, while the percentage in the House and Senate maps it is 70 percent.