Court gets 7 proposed Florida congressional district maps as Democrats weigh in

Mary Ellen Klas | Miami Herald | 09/15/2015

TALLAHASSEE - Legislators and the challengers to Florida’s congressional districts submitted seven maps Tuesday to a Tallahassee judge who must decide whether to accept modifications made to South Florida and Hillsborough County districts and whether any of the plans were drawn to protect partisans or incumbents.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis has been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court to recommend one of the maps as the final configuration of Florida’s 27 congressional districts for the 2016 elections.

Four of the options have come from the plaintiffs, one of whom disclosed in court records they consulted with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when drawing their alternative to the Legislature’s map, and the other — the League of Women Voters and Common Cause — disclosed that their map drawer is a company that has done work for Democratic candidates.

Three of the proposed maps come from the GOP-controlled Legislature, which is trying to win court approval after twice having maps rejected because they showed they improperly attempted to benefit Republicans.

Lewis has scheduled Sept. 24 as the date for him to hear testimony and arguments from the parties over which of the proposed maps to choose. He must make a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court by Oct. 19, and is expected to choose a map that best adheres to the court’s guidelines for drawing the map. The House submitted the map that was approved by a 60-38 vote during the special session in August, when lawmakers tried and failed at their third attempt at reconfiguring the congressional districts. The Senate submitted one map that has never been voted on — a proposal by Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton — and another that was approved by the Senate but rejected by the House.

The House map was drawn by the redistricting staff of the House and Senate and then slightly modified to keep the cities of Groveland, Auburndale, Riviera Beach and Sunrise in single congressional districts.

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause offered three maps as their submission to the court, each with different options.

Each of the plaintiffs’ maps propose revising Miami-Dade Districts 26 and 27 now held by Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The plaintiffs had complained that the configuration sought in the House and Senate base map kept the City of Homestead whole as the Florida Supreme Court had ordered, but it did it in a way that moved black communities of Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and West Perrine out of Curbelo’s district to make it more favorable for his reelection.

But the plaintiff’s proposed maps now are coming under fire for favoring Democrats. The Florida Senate was quick to note that the group of Democratic-leaning voters known as the Romo plaintiffs consulted with the Democratic Congressional Committee when drawing their map, and the League and Common Cause used John O’Neill, a mapping software technician employed by Strategic Telemetry, located in Washington, D.C.

Strategic Telemetry was retained by the independent commission of Arizona and was accused by Republicans of drawing maps in a way that favors Democrats. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the challenge to the Arizona independent commission but a new challenge is pending alleging the redistricting maps unfairly favors Democrats. Republican Arizona Secretary of State Michelle Reagan has joined with Republicans asking that the congressional map in that state be thrown out. 

In their filing with the court, the League and Common Cause accused the Legislative staff of choosing a configuration for Districts 26 and 27 “that would retain and increase Republican advantage” and claimed those districts were evidence of “partisan taint.” They said that O’Neill instead started with the House map and modified it, making Districts 26 and 27 more compact.

In their filings with the Tallahassee court, the Florida House and Senate said their maps were drawn by staff with minimal input from legislators, but neither of them included any record or recording of the non-public meetings.

The Senate took more of a gamble by including the map drawn by Senate staff at the direction of Galvano six days after the special session ended. It also submitted the map approved by 23 senators that includes the changes to Hillsborough County promoted by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Galvano said his map was intended to be a compromise between the map that passed the House and changes sought in the Senate, with the exception of keeping Hillsborough whole — a change that House leaders suspected was intended to benefit an unnamed Republican.

Instead, Galvano’s revisions, known as Plan S026C9066, rejects the Hillsborough changes and incorporates all the changes made to the base map drawn by the House and Senate staff. The Senate notes that 23 of the 27 districts “are identical to districts in the last map passed by the House” and it retains “17 of the 27 districts” in the base plan.

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