Former House speaker says he didn't know about GOP redistricting meeting

Matt Dixon— Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau | | 05/28/2014

TALLAHASSEE — Former Florida House SpeakerDean Cannon said Wednesday he had no idea that his top staffers held a meeting at the Republican Party of Florida offices to discuss the state’s redistricting process, but would have had no concerns had he been made aware.

The testimony came during the seventh day of a trial during which plaintiffs are challenging the congressional maps drawn during the 2012 redistricting process. A coalition of plaintiffs contends the maps were drawn to favor Republicans, which would be at odds with language added to the state constitution in 2010.

Plaintiffs’ attorney David King focused, in part, on the December 2010 meeting with top state staffers involved with redistricting at state GOP headquarters. Others involved were Republican political consultants who participated in redistricting in the past, but weren’t allowed to take part as a result of the new language.

Throughout the trail, attorneys for the plaintiffs have tried to cast the meeting as secretive and evidence the partisan politics underscored the map-drawing process.

“So we are going to begin this open and transparent process with a secret meeting at the Republican Party of Florida headquarters?” King asked.

Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, said the intent of the meeting was to figure out how the new constitutional language should be interpreted, and whether outside consultants could have a role in the process.

We needed to know “how it would impact what we could do and could not do,” said Cannon, who served as speaker from 2010-12. “And what role was appropriate for people both inside and outside the Legislature.”

Cannon said he didn’t know top staff, including House redistricting director Alex Kelly, attended the meeting until after it took place, but was “comfortable” with state employees attending the meeting.

He also said that he was unaware that Kirk Pepper, one of his deputy chiefs of staff, was giving nonpublic maps to GOP lobbyist and political consultant Marc Reichelderfer, also a longtime Cannon friend. In his testimony, Pepper said he was doing it to “help a friend” who was cut out of the redistricting process.

Cannon called the decision “stupid.”

His testimony also delved into the strained relationship between the House and Senate going into the 2012 legislative session. Cannon led the House and clashed with then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

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