The Fair Districts coalition broke its silence on the legislature's nearly completed redistricting maps late Thursday and delivered a 12-page letter to lawmakers lambasting their proposals for manipulating the political boundaries for partisan and incumbent advantage, in violation of the state Constitution.
"It appears that all maps under consideration were drawn with an intent to gain partisan advantage and/or to protect incumbents," the group wrote in its letter to House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford. "The Legislature's refusal to follow this efficient and logical redistricting method proves that it wanted to retain its ability to surreptitiously favor a party or incumbents, and the numbers bear this out."
In short, the group which helped bring new state's redistricting standards to the state Constitution, accuses lawmakers of not only strategically protecting incumbents with the drawing of districts but doing it to strengthen weak districts, pick favorites in competitive areas, pack minority voters into districts and strategically secure a Republican majority for the next decade.
Each of those tactics is implicitly prohibited in the constitution under the new Fair District amendments 5 and 6, the group claims.
"Neither map reflects the true partisan performance of Floridians,'' the coalition said, and "would still cement a severe partisan imbalance."
As an alternative, the coalition has offered maps for Congress, the Senate and the House districts by nesting "House Districts within Senate Districts so that not a single House seat breaks a single Senate line. This "nesting" gives voters the advantage of having a more efficient and logical form of representation with a dedicated delegation that can work together to serve the needs of Florida's communities,'' the letter states. "In our maps, there is a ratio of three House districts to every Senate district."
Weatherford will offer the House and congressional maps when the committee meets this morning. He had asked the group to provide the committee to appear in the Redistricting Committee to explain their methodology for drawing their proposed House, Senate and congressional maps but chose to send the letter instead. Their alternative maps are expected to be soundly defeated.
The House is expected to vote out its maps next week, followed by a vote of approval by the Senate. The attorney general will then send the legislative maps to the Florida Supreme Court for the required 30-day review and the congressional map will go to the governor for his signature.
The coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida had offered little detail about their objections to the redistricting plans, except that they believed they were not compliant with the new redistricting standards. Its letter reads like a summary of its legal argument in the court proceeding. Download Ltr to Weatherford1-26-12
Here is the letter Weatherford sent to the coalition: Download Letter from Weatherford to LWV
Here are some highlights:
* Legislators manipulated the boundary lines to stengthen the districts of incumbents in weaker seats. For example, the newly drawn congressional District 27 "was used as a way to remove high-performing Democratic areas from vulnerable incumbent Republicans' districts, thereby making their seats safer." The group said the districts of Republican Dan Webster of Orlando
* The group commends the House for attempt to "comply with the amendment's prohibition on political favoritism to a greater degree than did the Congressional or Senate map" but says the House's proposed map "would still cement a severe partisan imbalance."
* On average, each Senate district is comprised of parts of 7.325 House districts. The Senate's proposed minority Districts 19 and 34 are each comprised of no less than 12 House Districts. No Senate District has less than 4 House districts and eight Senate districts have 10 or more House districts.
* In the congressional map, District 27 "was used as a way to remove high-performing Democratic areas from vulnerable incumbent Republicans' districts, thereby making their seats safer." The group alleges that both maps benefit Republican Dan Webster's district. For example, "Republican Daniel Webster's district had performed Democratic in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections, but after pulling his district's Democratic voters into the new District 27, Webster's proposed new district performs over 50% Republican."
* Republican U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams "had previously represented a vulnerable Republican district. Her new district excludes the significantly Democratic voters she currently represents, thereby increasing the Republican lean in her new district. Republican Dennis Ross's new District 12 shed a group of Democratic voters by giving them to the new District 27, making his new District 15 "approximately two points safer than his old District."
* And Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, of Congressional District 15, "was able to shed Democratic voters into the new District 27 and now has a safely Republican seat."
* The House's congressional map was also able to "improve the Republican performance of Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's district by about 1.5%, thereby reducing her vulnerability. In recent elections, Ros-Lehtinen's district that had been trending increasingly Democratic."
* The group also criticized the way lawmakers handled minority districts. For example, in District 21, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart "received more Republican voters to make his seat safer by about two points." Under the House's proposed map, Diaz-Balart's will run in District 25, a district that votes solidly Republican.
* Under the House's map, the group alleges that at least 16 of the 25 incumbents will run in safely Democratic or Republican districts in 2012.
* The Senate and House proposals "both have 14 safe Republican seats and only 7 safe Democratic seats. If candidates run good campaigns, connect with the voters and turn out the vote, either party should be able to claim a majority of Florida's Congressional delegation. Under almost any calculation, the Senate will be 2 to 1 Republican. This proposed map is even more firmly skewed than the 2002 map."
* The Coalition Map was drawn "without regard to political party control. This is evidenced by the fact that the Coalition Map nests its House districts within its Senate districts. This has the effect of making it easier for voters to know who their representatives are, and provides a more efficient and logical form of representation.
* Some districts were clearly designed "to help shore up vulnerable Republican incumbents or to create seats for Republican state legislators planning to run for higher office….73% of the existing constituents are kept in the same districts under the Senate's proposed Congressional map."