Monday, June 18, 2018
Politics

Judge orders Florida Senate redistricting trial to move forward

TALLAHASSEE — Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds rejected a request by the Florida Senate to have the court hire a redistricting expert to redraw the Senate maps, saying "we just don't have enough time left" to hire a newcomer to the process and get the boundaries set in time for the 2016 election.

The quick decision after a 30-minute hearing Friday was a blow to the Florida Senate, whose lawyers argued that by hiring an expert to draw the maps instead of relying on the Legislature or challengers, they could "streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida's taxpayers."

"It appears to me we just don't have enough time left to engage in any process, other than the one we are currently on," Reynolds said in denying the Senate request. "I do that with some reluctance because I could use all the help that I can get in making this decision.''

He ordered the five-day trial to proceed Dec. 14-18 and said proposed maps must be submitted to court by next Wednesday and discovery — including questioning of legislators — can proceed after that.

If the court had agreed to hire one of the three university professors recommended by the Senate, it would have given the Senate a tactical victory in the bitter redistricting fight.

Although there were only slight differences between the House and Senate over the final proposed maps, they were significantly different from those offered by the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs' maps create more competitive districts than either the House or Senate maps and bring the 40-member chamber to near parity between Republicans and Democrats. By contrast, the map that passed the House could give Republicans a 22-18 advantage, while the plan that passed the full Senate gives the GOP a 23-17 advantage.

If a redistricting expert were allowed to start from scratch, that could have undercut the ability of either side to get their map adopted. It also could have shielded from the record depositions and evidence about how the maps were drawn during the special legislative session. At issue is whether or not lawmakers were engaged in drawing districts to protect incumbents.

At least one powerful senator has called into question the process used by lawmakers. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said during the session that he had "lost confidence" in the Senate's legal team and called the starting base maps that came from the House and Senate a "defiant" attempt to ignore the rulings from the Florida Supreme Court.

He also said he was willing to testify about the decisions that were being made behind the scenes regarding the map-drawing process.

"I'm going to plead the fifth and go into the witness protection program," Lee told the Times/Herald at the time. "I will be a witness for David King. I hope they ask the right questions because I'll tell the truth. I know how we got here today."

King, the attorney representing the challengers — the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida — urged the court to reject the Senate request, saying it violated the consent order the Senate signed in July. Legislators called the special session to redraw the Senate map after agreeing to end the lawsuit from King's clients and conceding they had violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution when they drew the map in 2012.

When lawmakers ended the session with no agreement, the burden fell to Reynolds to hold a hearing on how to redraw the map.

King said the argument by Senate lawyers that conducting a five-day trial was too expensive is "an amazing recognition on behalf of the Legislature… after they spent $11 million defending their unconstitutional maps."

He said "what's obviously at play here" is the House and Senate "don't want to defend" the maps they passed and claimed were constitutional during the legislative session.

The challengers have suggested that even though the Senate admitted to unconstitutionally protecting incumbents in the 2012 map, legislators continued to violate the Fair Districts provisions to the state constitution when they drew the latest plans.

Raoul Cantero, a former Florida Supreme Court justice who represents the Senate in redistricting litigation, argued Friday that bringing in a "neutral" outside expert "would give the public the greater confidence that whatever plan is adopted for the state Senate districts for the state of Florida is a neutrally drawn map."

Reynolds read from the Florida Supreme Court's July 9 opinion, which invalidated the congressional redistricting map and said the burden was on the Legislature to defend the map as "not motivated by improper intent."

He suggested that during trial he will attempt to have facts established about each district and he will appeal to the map drawing experts of the Legislature and the challengers when proposing an alternate map. He said he would like to narrow the discussion to the differences between the proposed maps and hopes to piece together a "constitutional map" that meets all the criteria of the court and the Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution.

"But the ship has sailed," he said. "We're on the sea and we hope to hit land sometime by the end of December.''

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at [email protected] Follow @MaryEllenKlas.

Comments
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says heís willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says heís willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18
Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

The Trump administrationís move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.Itís also...
Published: 06/17/18

Pasco Political Notebook

Perenich to ĎWalk the DistrictíStephen Perenich, Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, Florida District 12, will be "Walking the District" June 25-29. Perenich will be walking 55 miles in five days, starting in Dade City and heading...
Updated: 11 hours ago
GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

WASHINGTON ó Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administrationís aggressive policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tol...
Published: 06/14/18
Sarah Sanders and  Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Sarah Sanders and Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Press secretary Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah are considering stepping down, according to a CBS report. Sanders promptly responded in a Tweet saying, "I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS." Does @CBSNews k...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

WASHINGTON ó The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year and signaled that it may step up its pace of rate increases because of solid economic growth and rising inflation. The Fed now foresees four rate hi...
Published: 06/13/18
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

TAMPA ó Law enforcement officers never want to be outgunned. Neither do political candidates.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister need not worry.The Republican candidate has amassed what appears to be a record-sized war chest of just more than $1 mil...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

TAMPA ó June 16 will mark a year since President Trump announced a tougher Cuba travel policy, but unlike in much of the nation, the changes donít seem to have hurt local bookings to the island.The number of people traveling between Tampa and Havana ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/13/18