Politicos sought 'seat at table

By Aaron Deslatte[ck_comma] Tallahassee Bureau Chief | Sun Sentinal | 05/19/2014

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican consultant testified Monday that he and other political operatives wanted a "seat at the table" during Florida's once-a-decade redistricting process, despite constitutional reforms voters adopted to insulate the process from partisan politics.

Marc Reichelderfer, a consultant to former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, dominated the first day of the trial in Leon Circuit Court. He was questioned over whether the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature violated the state constitution by intentionally drawing lines to elect more Republicans.

The League of Women Voters and other groups have been fighting for two years to get access to legislative records and force them to testify in the case, which is focused for now on the congressional maps.

Florida voters in 2010 passed two constitutional amendments known as Fair Districts that banned the practice of intentionally drawing legislative and congressional lines to help or hurt an incumbent or political party.

David King, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Reichelderfer repeatedly about meetings he and other GOP consultants held with top lawmakers and their lawyers in the months after the November 2010 passage to discuss them.

Reichelderfer stated repeatedly "I didn't draw the maps," throughout the day of questioning in the Leon County courtroom.

"I think the political consultants wanted to have a seat at the table, and there were questions asked about how they could have a seat at the table, and it was later found out we couldn't have a seat at the table," testified Reichelderfer, a longtime Orlando consultant.

Among a list of questions Reichelderfer brought to the meeting is whether they should draw a Central Florida Hispanic seat, and whether a district held by Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, would need its African-American voter base boosted above 50 percent.

"Isn't it true you wanted to be able to participate in the process but you didn't want anyone to be able to know or see what you were doing?" King asked.

"I don't know that that's correct," Reichelderfer initially said Monday, although King then referred him to his May 2013 deposition in which he had stated, "I supposed that would be a fair representation."

Under questioning from House lawyer George Meros, Reichelderfer later said he was repeatedly told by Cannon he would not a "seat at the table" during the redistricting process.

In November 2011, former Cannon aide Kirk Pepper — who now works for Cannon's lobbying firm — gave copies of draft congressional maps to Reichelderfer two weeks before they were made public.

He testified Monday that he got the advanced copies so he and other political consultants could get a head-start on preparing campaign strategies for the coming 2012 elections.

"It was important for me professionally to know where these maps were going and get a lay of the land," Reichelderfer said.

"I did not tell them how to draw the maps. I did not tell them where to draw any lines on the maps."

Copyright © 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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