The role played by a longtime GOP political consultant in the drawing of state congressional districts is taking center stage Monday during the first day of a trial that could lead to the redrawing of all of Florida’s congressional seats.
A coalition of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, are challenging the state’s congressional maps in Leon County court. They charge that the maps are unconstitutional because politics helped shape the districts to an unconstitutional level. In 2010, voters approved the “Fair Districts” amendment, which aimed to remove politics form the once-a-decade redistricting process.
If Circuit Court Judge Terry Levis agrees, it could force lawmakers to redraw each of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
Longtime GOP consultant and lobbyist Marc Reichelderfer has currently been on the stand for nearly three hours. The court has just taken a 90 minute recess.
During depositions, it became clear that Reichelderfer was receiving congressional maps secretly from Kirk Pepper, a top aide for then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, prior to them becoming public.
“I remember getting them before they were public,” Reichelderfer, a longtime Cannon friend, said during testimony.
The maps were given to Reichelderfer through Dropbox, a third-party site that allows for the sharing of large files.
Attorney David King, who represents the plaintiffs, spent a lot of time focusing on a December 2010 meeting at the Republican Party of Florida headquarters. The meeting featured a host of GOP consultants and attorneys along with staff from state redistricting committees.
Issues related to whether or not outside political consultants, like Reichelderfer, could get “privilege,” or the ability to communicate confidentially with staff working on redistricting. We wanted to know “whether privilege could be attached to our conversations,” Reichelderfer said during testimony.
That point is key, as plaintiffs need to prove “intent,” or that it was the specific purpose of consultants and map-drawers to favor a political party. Just because GOP consultants saw non-public, does not mean they influence over the process, defendants are arguing.
“I did not tell them how to draw the maps, I did not tell them where to draw the lines,” Reichelderfer said.
King also tried to establish that maps created by Reichelderfer tried to place minority voters, which lean Democratic, in a handful of Central Florida districts. He argued that putting minorities into Democratic-leaning districts has the political result of strengthening surrounding Republican seats.
“It had been your approach for years to build up strong minority districts around them”[Republican districts?” King asked.
Reichelderfer said they only wanted to make sure that the seats complied with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it would be “politically disastrous” if the maps were tossed for race-based reasons.