GOP use of strawmen to submit redistricting maps focus of unsealed testimony

Matt Dixon | Naples DailyNews | 11/25/2014

Lawyers challenging the legality of Florida’s congressional districts focused on the use of “strawmen” to submit proposed maps when they questioned GOP political consultant Pat Bainter about the Legislature’s 2012 redistricting process, according to testimony in the case unsealed Tuesday.

The lawyers for groups challenging the redrawn congressional districts stressed the fact that third parties were recruited to submit maps drawn by GOP political consultants like Data Targeting, Bainter’s company.

“The documents tend to show how the non-parties enabled the Legislature to create a mere illusion of public hearings and comment by arranging for strawmen to submit maps” read a motion filed by the plaintiffs.

Bainter had fought to keep his testimony and hundreds of pages of emails sealed as part of the redistricting lawsuit. He argued they included “trade secrets” and were protected by the First Amendment because his firm was not a named party in the case.

As part of the underlying lawsuit, a group of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, claim that congressional maps favored the GOP, which is at odds with anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution.

They won during a 12-day trial this summer, and new congressional districts were drawn during a special legislative session. Lewis approved those maps, a decision being appealed by the plaintiffs.

Bainter lost a separate battle to keep his company records secret when the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that they had to be made part of the public record. They were not set to be released until Dec. 1, but the Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau published 538 previously sealed emails Sunday, which prompted the Florida Supreme Court to unseal the remaining documents early.

Records released Tuesday include Bainter’s testimony and a handful of motions that underscore the growing tension between the two sides as the more than two year legal saga continues.

Bainter’s attorneys argued that Leon Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis erred in allowing the private documents to become part of the case, so the plaintiffs had to use a “maze of misinformation and misrepresentation” to convince the court to make the records public.

During trial, Bainter was forced to take the stand, but Lewis agreed to close the courtroom for his testimony.

The newly released transcripts show David King, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, focused much of his time on the fact that political consultants drew maps and later recruited third parties to submit them as part of the formal process. One of the key cogs in that effort was Stafford Jones, head of the Alachua County Republican Party.

In one previously unreleased email, Bainter discusses submitting a map drawn by GOP consultant Marc Reichelderfer. Jones was influential in finding people to submit that and other maps for formal consideration by lawmakers.

“Stafford [is] getting me ten more people at least” to submit maps, read a Nov. 2011 email sent from Bainter to members of his staff.

Bainter said it would be impossible for him to submit maps under his own name because he’s a political consultant.

“I would be damned if I did and damned if I didn’t,” he said. “You would be claiming that I was trying to influence the process.”

The plaintiffs have argued that paid political consultants using third-parties to submit maps is a clear sign that the process was at odds with the anti-gerrymandering constitutional provisions. Bainter said those amendments have unfairly targeted political consultants, who should have the same rights as every other state resident to have input in the process.

“Based on my profession alone, I was somehow supposed to be excluded from what otherwise is a process of our Democratic republic,” Bainter said during his testimony.

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