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Friday, August 8, 2014

Florida legislators convene special session to redraw congressional maps

Posted By on Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 3:01 PM





House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz quickly ordered lawmakers into a special session this week to revise the congressional map struck down by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis.

Proving that the process is on hyper-speed, the chairmen of the committees working on a new map released a joint proposal hours after the session convened Thursday. The plan was approved by committees Friday and could gain approval from the full Legislature by Wednesday, before lawmakers return home for summer vacations, last-minute primary campaigning or helping get the kids ready for school.

The work is focused on correcting the two districts targeted by Lewis: Congressional District 5, represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, which sprawls across eight counties as it winds its way from Jacksonville to Orlando; and Congressional District 10, represented by Republican Congressman Dan Webster. At least five other districts abutting the problematic seats could be impacted by the changes.

Under the plan revealed by Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and his House counterpart, Land O'Lakes Republican Richard Corcoran, Brown's district would no longer include the city of Sanford --- it would instead pick up more of Putnam and Marion counties.

All of Seminole County, which includes Sanford, would be included in Congressional District 7, now held by Republican Congressman John Mica, while the changes would force Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis' District 6 to pick up more of Volusia County.

The plan released by GOP leaders differs significantly from a proposal by two voting-rights groups that were among those challenging the current map in court. Those groups wanted Brown's district to instead run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west.

"Slight alterations will not correct the constitutional defects Judge Lewis identified," wrote Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, and Peter Butzin, chairman of Common Cause Florida, in a letter Thursday to legislative leaders. "The snaking north-south configuration of CD 5 should be abandoned."

In a marked departure from the norm, the fourth floor of the Capitol appeared abandoned before, during and after discussions regarding the districts. Usually during session, the area between the House and Senate chambers is crowded with lobbyists.

The absence of Capitol insiders may be because Galvano and Corcoran issued a gag order for staffers, an apparent reaction to revelations during the trial about secret meetings, map-swapping and email exchanges between legislative aides and GOP consultants. Lewis decided that the political consultants manipulated the process that led to the tainted maps in what he called a "mockery" of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments.

Galvano, in a memo, warned staff "to refrain from discussing their map-drawing efforts with anyone outside of the Legislature except our legal counsel and not to share their work product with any outside interests in advance of the public release of the remedial plan."

Corcoran was even more pointed in his directive.

"House Redistricting Committee staff have been informed that they are to have no interactions with any member of Congress, Congressional staffer or aide, or with any political consultant," Corcoran wrote. "If any member of the House suggests to Redistricting Committee staff that a plan be changed with an intent to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party, staff should disregard the suggestion entirely and report the conversation directly to me."

One lobbyist offered a simple explanation for why he was avoiding the Capitol this week.

"I don't want to get subpoenaed," he said.

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