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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senators under oath: bastards, dysfunction and distrust during redistricting session

9

December

"Is that a typo on the date?'' asked Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, during depositions in the Senate redistricting trial two weeks ago.

He was being asked to comment on the prospect that Senate President Andy Gardiner and Senate redistricting chair Bill Galvano may have privately selected the map they would submit to court in the pending litigation nearly a month before filing it -- a map they would never bring up for a vote before the Legislature adjourned its special session.

The potential plan came as a surprise to Latvala when lawyers for the redistricting challengers presented him a a memo detailing how Galvano and Gardiner had agreed to submit the map to court Oct. 24, even though they were pushing another map through the legislative process.  If true, it raises questions about the seriousness of the legislative leadership's attempt to reach agreement on a Senate redistricting map during the three-week special session.

Latvala was one of two senators whose depositions were released by the Senate Tuesday as part of the pending redistricting trial scheduled to begin Dec. 14. The other was Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who testified that he believes the map that passed the Senate was handpicked by Galvano, but it was Latvala's inability to get the changes he wanted that led to the ultimate impasse. Download 15-11.25 depo of Lee 

"We were engaged in a legislative leadership battle. Although that battle imploded the moment Senator Latvala couldn't get the maps he wanted over the weekend, he was nonetheless just as frustrated with his Senate president for his refusal to put his thumb on the scale on his behalf. And he took those maps down,'' Lee said under oath.

Lee suggested that both Democrats and other Senate Republicans were involved in Latvala's attempt to influence the maps and that Latvala had them on lock down. He didn't mention that, after Latvala conceded he'd lost the fight to Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, before the final vote on a Senate map, many of Latvala's supporters continued to object to the map, bringing it defeat.  

Latvala was asked to comment on the memo filed with the court that said that "On October 24, 2015, Senator Galvano directed [staff director Jay] Ferrin to draw the Senate's proposed 12 remedial plan. Mr. Ferrin drew the plan" which merged two previously drawn base maps. Galvano "reviewed the draft plan and approved the plan without further changes,'' the memo continues. "Senate Counsel George Levesque, Raoul Cantero and Jason Zakia reviewed the Senate's proposed remedial plan before its submission to the Court. President Gardiner approved the decision to file the map with the Court."

Senate attorney Jason Zakia said there is no evidence to show the map was drawn with the intention of holding it to submit to court at a later date. But Latvala interjected: "the date of the 24th is the day after the first bill came out of committee, before we had any idea of what the resolution was going to be."

 


 

Latvala testified that he was not aware of the plan to draw and submit the map and never discussed it with other senators during the three-week special session that ended in stalemate last month. But after questioning, Latvala scolded David King, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, for suggesting that Gardiner and Galvano hatched the plan to submit a map to the court without every getting Senate approval.  Download 15-11.23 depo of Latvala

"I believe they thought they were going to get a map. They worked very hard to get a map that would be passed by both houses of the Legislature,'' he said. "...If I had to guess, when it was over, they went back to something they had on the shelf and said, how about this?,'' he said.

"Is it a good idea, in your judgment, Senator, that only two members of the Senate arguably saw the Senate map,'' asked King, who represents the coalition of voter groups led by the League of Women Voters, according to a transcript of his deposition. 

"No,'' Latvala answered. "It's not a good idea. No." 

During his deposition in the Tampa law offices of Hill Ward & Henderson, PA, Latvala admitted to lawyers that he voted for the Fair Districts amendments that many leaders in his party sought to defeat.  On the advice of his lawyer, Pete Dunbar, he repeatedly evoked "legislative privilege" and refused to answer numerous questions.

For example, King asked him about a text he sent to Sen. Lee on Oct. 23, shortly after Latvala appeared before the Senate Reapportionment Committee and criticized Senate leadership for selecting a base map drawn by staff that was the "outlier" among the base maps because it split counties, such as Alachua. He hinted the map was chosen to benefit incumbents in violation of the constitution.

"History was repeating itself," he warned, but the committee voted for the leadership plan anyway, along a party-line vote. 

During that time, Latvala was struggling to gather the pledges he needed to become Senate president -- a quest he would abandon a week later. His frustration emerged in a text message to Lee as the redistricting meeting was coming to a close. 

"I think I'm done,'' he texted Lee. "I've had enough. Let the bastards have the place. I'm going home."

But when King pressed Latvala for details about the source of his frustration, he wouldn't cooperate.

"So is it your testimony that you don't recall that this had anything to do with your testimony in front -- in front of the Committee on Reapportionment?'' King asked. "Hard to say,'' Latvala responded. 

Plaintiffs allege that Latvala's goal was to protect the districts of senators who pledged to support his attempt to become Senate president in 2016, a violation of the Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution, which prohibit protecting incumbents. 

Those motivations were spelled out more clearly in Lee's deposition.

 Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, attempted to draw a map to help Latvala supporters but that proposal was not accepted, Lee said. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, also tried to revise the map over the weekend in a way that Latvala could support but that also was never submitted.

Finally, Lee explained, when Galvano didn't have the votes to pass SB 9078, an amendment was drafted by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and "this was the price of getting a bill into conference, and it needed to happen and pass."

..."I think {Latvala's]ideas or his preferences were embedded in the map that was offered by Senator Clemens,'' Lee said. "But Senator Clemens would not accept the southeast Florida configuration that Senator Diaz de la Portilla was insisting upon. And therefore that map didn't have support either, and we couldn't get that map off the floor."

"...over the weekend there was a map drawing -- series of map drawing sessions and that the Senator Diaz de la Portilla amendment was available for a number of different maps that were being offered by the chairman and Democrats,'' Lee continued. "But Senator Clemens would not go along with 25 Senator Diaz de la Portilla's amendment. And without their southeast Florida votes we were right back in the  same place."

A former Senate president, Lee said he "didn't come out of some political charm school" and believed the public was unhappy with the Legislature's handling of redistricting. But rather than address the challengers' complaint, he said the problems were being repeated.

"Because we essentially had been caught with our hand in the cookie jar, we were now on the honor system, and that everything we were doing was going to be viewed through the prism of who was doing it better,'' he said during his deposition at the Holiday Inn Express in Brandon.

But instead, they "did not really even try to fix it,'' he said. Lee said he believed the map chosen by Senate leadership performed best for Republicans and "putting your thumb on the scale in this case was, you know, largely out of bounds."

Lee was especially critical of Latvala who claimed a House amendment to the Senate map connected one district using telephone lines in order to pair him with Sen. John Legg, New Port Richey, in revenge for his opposition to the Senate leadership's bill.

"I know Senator Latvala was of the opinion that the process was prejudicial to his interests to become Senate president and that he needed to, in the map, he needed to pick up some opportunities to improve his narrative for continuing this three-and-a-half-year battle with Senator Negron, which frankly wasn't going very well...'' Lee said. "There were only two ways to do that. You either had to lose Republican seats, and those seats come from Senator Negron's field of supporters, or you had to pick up competitive seats in areas where Senator Latvala had a viable candidate, whether it be open seats or others, really open seats.

While Latvala "viewed the maps we passed as being an effort to protect Senator Negron and his majority Republican supporters,'' Lee said that in fact, he believes "there were questions raised by a lot of us in our heads, and I think certainly by me in my head, whether or not just the opposite was true, whether or not this was a map that was drawn, you know, in a very fair and balanced way, and that it was really Senator Latvala that was trying to pick up an advantage."

Later, Lee was asked if he took part in a meeting with fellow Republicans in February 2015 in which they discussed having to redraw the Senate map of to help raise money "to employ consultants to help with the new Senate map?"

" No, sir.  I can't, frankly, recall having a Republican caucus meeting since I've been back,'' he said. "The Republican caucus has been so dysfunctional since I've been there, I'm not sure that that wouldn't erupt into a food fight."

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 9:59am]

    

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