Thursday, June 05, 2014

Fair Districts lawsuit pulls the curtain from schemes by Florida GOP: now the decision is with the court … by gimleteye

The Orlando Sentinel published a piece of amazingly restrained anger by Scott Maxwell, concerning the drama in a Tallahassee court room through which Fair Districts is alleging that GOP leaders and operatives are violating the Florida Constitution. "Here's the key thing to remember, my fellow Floridians," Maxwell wrote, "You overwhelmingly voted for Fair Districts. All you wanted was for the politicians to play fair. And that was simply too much for them to take."

What is being skipped over is how much of OUR money is being used by the Republican legislature to defend its indefensible efforts to gerrymander districts.

For Fair Districts, Miami attorney and key organizer Ellen Freiden wrote yesterday, "The trial ended today. History was made. The machinations of Tallahassee politicians in trying to avoid following the FairDistricts amendments have been exposed. Legislators and staff actually had to testify in public about how they drew the maps. The curtain was pulled back on the map-drawing relationship between legislative leadership and political operatives. And it was not pretty."

No it wasn't pretty. It was damn ugly. And what neither Maxwell nor Freiden come out and say, is that it was a Republican operation. Remember, it was the Florida GOP that fought to impose a supermajority of the popular vote to amend the Florida Constitution by ballot referendum. Instead of a simple majority, it now takes 60 percent of the popular vote to change the constitution.

That is a high threshold, but the Florida voters VOTED for FairDistricts. Republicans and Democrats and Independents: everyone wants district maps to be fairly drawn. (Where is Fox News on this story?)

So now it is out in the open: the Florida GOP went to amazing lengths to void the will of the people. And Democrats mainly, but some Republicans too, went to the mat in state court to enforce the law against the lawbreakers.

Freiden writes, "Now we wait for the judge to decide whether or not the evidence proves that the 2012 Congressional map violated the constitution. Both sides are submitting arguments to the court in the next two weeks. A decision will follow.

But for now, we can be very satisfied that all the hard work has exposed the following to public view:

· Legislative staffers meeting with professional partisans to plan how the partisans could be involved in redistricting without anyone knowing.
· A deputy chief of staff for Speaker Cannon sharing draft maps with a political operative giving him the opportunity to make changes and comments.
· Various operatives being paid by the Republican Party for redistricting services.
· Legislators and staff destroying documents.
· Operatives destroying documents.
· Secret meetings between legislative leaders to hammer out how the districts should be drawn that resulted in the map becoming more biased towards one party.
· Political consultants secretly drawing maps and then having them submitted to the legislature by citizens who were allegedly “interested in the process”.
· One “interested citizen” testifying that he did not draw a map and did not submit the map that was filed on the public website in his name. (See Article below).
· Districts from the “citizen” (really operative) maps are identical to districts in the final map.
· Experts testifying that the 2012 Florida Congressional map is the most biased map they have ever seen and that it would be statistically impossible for this bias to be a coincidence.
· High ranking Republican Party officials in Washington and Tallahassee vetting and modifying maps before they are released!

Orlando Sentinel
Florida redistricting trial reveals secrets and schemes
Scott Maxwell- June 4, 2014

Dear fellow Floridians,

I have some bad news for you:

Your state legislators are a bunch of phonies.
Wait a minute. That's not very nice. Nor is it complete.

So let me try again:

Your state legislators are a bunch of low-down, scheming, email-deleting, secret-meeting-holding, money-wasting, constitution-violating, voter's-will-ignoring, snake-in-the-grass phonies.

That's more like it, as it's the picture that has clearly emerged over the past two weeks in a Tallahassee courtroom. The setting has been the trial over Florida's whacked-out political districts.

Legislators have been accused of violating the Fair Districts amendment by using politics and partisanship to draw the state's congressional and legislative districts.

Anyone with one good eye could already see they had pulled off a scam. Instead of sensible districts that follow geographic boundaries and keep communities intact, legislators drew snake-like districts that slither through as many as eight counties.
But now we have gobs of witnesses, evidence and testimony to prove it.
Among the courtroom revelations:

•Former Speaker Dean Cannon's office deleted emails related to redistricting.
•Lawmakers routinely staged secret meetings — while proclaiming the process "transparent."
•Lawmakers' offices shared internal data and drafted maps with political consultants before finalizing them.
•Some of the districts — which legislators had claimed were drawn and submitted by an average citizen — appear to have actually been created by a GOP operative and submitted under a phony name.
•One political scientist testified that it would have been "virtually impossible" for legislators to have drawn the warped districts they did without intentional political bias.
•Another expert — one who has studied gerrymandered districts all over America — called Florida's districts the most biased he had ever seen.

It went on and on. And keep in mind: Some of the most damning evidence came from people who worked for and with the legislators.
Afterward, House Speaker Will Weatherford still tried to claim the redistricting process was "extremely open and transparent." His pants immediately burst into flames.
Still, one of the strangest moments in this trial over closed doors happened behind closed doors.

Yes, the presiding judge and Supreme Court actually closed the proceedings to the public, kowtowing to a GOP operative who whined that he wanted to keep documents secret — even though they were part of a trial over public policy. Why not? Citizens have been shut out all along.

If there's any good news in all this, it's that the League of Women Voters — a lead plaintiff in this trial — had the gumption to file a lawsuit that revealed this farce. If there's any justice, it'll force the state's districts to be redrawn.

So who are the bad guys in this? Mainly GOP legislators, who thwarted the voters' will and staged these elaborate partisan schemes.

Yet, Republicans had help from some Democrats who were more interested in protecting their own political fiefdoms. Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown — inhabitant of one of the most gerrymandered districts in America — even traveled to Tallahassee this week to defend her district.
Of course she did. Brown allowed herself to be used as a pawn. Republicans overstuffed a handful of districts, such as hers, with black Democrats, so that they would have oodles of extra whites and Republicans for themselves.

The result: A state with far more registered Democrats ended up with far more Republican-leaning districts and Republicans winning 17 of the 27 districts.
Talk about cooking the books.

This is why you have fewer competitive races each year. The deck is already stacked; many districts pre-ordained.

Here's the key thing to remember, my fellow Floridians: You overwhelmingly voted for Fair Districts.

All you wanted was for the politicians to play fair.
And that was simply too much for them to take.
Orlando Sentinel
Redistricting power play plays out in a Tallahassee courtroom

By T. Christopher King, Guest columnist
June 4, 2014

I have always been proud of my dad. He is kind, he is generous, he has loved his family so faithfully, and he has been a consummate professional in his work as an attorney in Central Florida for the past four decades.

But I am not sure I could be any prouder of my dad than I have been over the past two weeks. You see, my dad, David King, and his band of brothers we call King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth, P.A., based in Orlando, have been fighting the entire establishment in Tallahassee for the cause of Fair Districts, and we have been able to watch the fight on public television.

We have all heard the terms gerrymandering and redistricting, but few of us really appreciate the significance of those terms. Put more simply, think of it as the distribution of power and authority. While Florida is a state of great political diversity, gerrymandering is an age-old practice by which the party in power protects its power and stifles the power of our citizens.

The party in power does this by drawing the congressional and state districts in such a way that the voter makeup within those drawn districts will be predisposed to re-elect the current leaders and disproportionately favor the party in power.

Take, for instance, these facts: Statewide, Florida has sided with the Democratic presidential candidate in each of the last two elections, and the Democratic Party has upward of 460,000 more registered voters than theRepublican Party. Yet, our congressional delegation is nearly 2-1 Republican (17-10), the state House has 75 Republicans to 45 Democrats and the state Senate has 26 Republicans to 14 Democrats. Why? Because of the age-old practice of gerrymandering.

In 2010, the voters had enough. Led by a citizen campaign largely championed by the League of Women Voters, the citizens of Florida voted overwhelmingly for constitutional amendments 5 and 6 — the Fair Districts amendments — with 63 percent of the vote. This vote resulted in constitutional provisions that prohibit favoritism of incumbents or parties in redistricting and proscribe new standards of compactness where districts "utilize existing political and geographical boundaries." One look at the new maps that were produced by our Republican legislative leaders demonstrates that while the law changed, gerrymandering continued.

And so the citizen campaign that fought first to get the Fair Districts amendments on the ballot against stiff opposition and then fought to get it passed against stiff opposition must now fight to get it implemented against even stiffer opposition. For two years, evidence, depositions and legal proceedings have been ongoing, and for the past two weeks, the citizens have been able to watch a trial that literally put our sitting speaker of the House and president of the Senate on the stand to answer for the alleged failed implementation of the Fair Districts amendments.

Trial testimony has revealed secret meetings between top legislative leaders, their staffs and paid Republican political operatives to discuss redistricting. Trial testimony has revealed that proposed redistricting maps were made available to a leading Republican operative by the speaker of the House's office weeks before they were made available to the public. Expert witness for the plaintiff and professor at the California Institute of Technology Jonathan Katz concluded that the maps drawn for congressional districts were the most biased he had ever examined — easily twice as pro-Republican leaning as Texas maps drawn by the chair of that state's Republican Party.

Stanford political scientist Jonathan Rodden also testified that he found it "virtually impossible" that the Legislature had drawn the current map without some intentional level of partisan bias.

Ultimately, legal insiders recognize that with the stakes so high, whatever decision the court makes in what has been called "an epic battle" and "Florida's Game of Thrones" will likely be appealed and decided by the Florida Supreme Court. And the outcome will determine who our future leaders will be and what the future of Florida will look like.
As I have watched my dad on television these past two weeks, I have marveled at his ability to take this highly complex subject and make it his domain. With professionalism and respect, he has asked our most powerful leaders the most challenging questions. Regardless of the outcome, he has lifted a veil on the techniques used by those in power to stay in power.

I could not be more proud of my dad.

T. Christopher King is the president and CEO of Elevation Financial Group LLC, in Winter Park.


Cato II said...

David King did a terrific job showing that Republican meddling resulted in a map that was created with the intent of favoring the GOP and disfavoring the Dems. The Defendants, including the NAACP, would like to focus on the fact that the Democratic Party plan was just as bad as the Republicans'. However, that is not the standard in the Florida Constitution. If the plan was drawn with the forbidden intent, then it cannot stand. Unfortunately, it may be 2016 before we see a plan in place that is not corrupted.

Anonymous said...

As long as the three Black Congressional seats are maintained, they can divide up the state any kind of way they want. But if the strategy is to eliminate these three Black Congressional seats, divide the few Blacks in the state to use as filler in other districts, there will be major problems and issues with any new map. So if new maps are to be drawn, given our history of discrimination, the map drawing process should first take these three districts out, then draw the rest of the Congressional districts.