State lawmakers and the plaintiffs in the case over congressional redistricting maps each filed their own set of maps in a Tallahassee circuit court Tuesday, bringing Florida a step closer to having a new set of maps which could radically change Florida’s political landscape.
But the maps weren’t entirely met without criticism, since it appears some of the map-makers and the maps themselves have ties to Democratic-leaning organizations.
The fight over which maps should be accepted as the law of the land has been the topic of hot debate in recent months. The Florida Legislature convened for a special session to create a new congressional map in August, but couldn’t reach agreement on a map.
The two chambers were ordered to file their maps by Judge Terry Lewis as a result of the impasse.
On Tuesday, both the Senate and the House submitted their own maps. The Senate put forth two maps one of which was rejected by the House during the special session. That map featured an amendment from Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, which would have kept Hillsborough and Sarasota counties intact.
The Senate’s second map was put forth by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, after the special session ended in an attempt to make amends with the House. That map got rid of most of Lee’s amended lines but still left Sarasota County in one district.
House lawyers stuck to their guns, submitted the map they originally proposed during August’s special session.
Lawyers for the House said professional staffers prepared the congressional base maps without “any external pressures or influences,” which is what they were instructed to do from the court.
"Consistent with the directive from the presiding officers, neither professional staff nor legal counsel had any interactions with any person including members of the Legislature or Congress, their staff, and political consultants concerning their work on the base map prior to its public release on August 5, 2015,” read the brief. “Neither professional staff nor legal counsel assessed the political implications of the base map, except where consideration of political data was legally required to assess compliance with state and federal minority voting-rights provisions."
The League of Women Voters and Common Cause also offered up three different maps. One map would modify eight South Florida districts, including two districts Districts 26 and 27 which are now held by U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
The other two maps primarily focus on Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen’s districts with different options in each.
The creators of the plaintiffs’ maps came into question for alleged partisan bias, however. The map-drawer, John O’Neill, is employed by Washington, D.C.-based Strategic Telemetry, which was co-founded by Ken Strasma, who served as Barack Obama’s 2008 targeting director. The maps were also drawn by Harvard University Professor Stephen Ansolabehere with some assistance from Maxwell Palmer, a Boston University assistant professor. Lawyers for the plaintiffs acknowledged the maps were directly reviewed by the Democratic Congressional Caucus Committee something not admitted until the very last line of the filing.
The filing says: “In addition, Perkins Coie attorneys discussed aspects of the Romo Plaintiffs’ Proposed Remedial Plan with staff members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and NCEC Services.”
The apparent Democratic hand in the map-reviewing process was met with criticisms since the redistricting case centered heavily on gerrymandering efforts from Republican consultants in Florida.
Judge Lewis will hear testimony from the parties to argue which map is most suitable for Florida’s districts. Lewis will then have until Oct. 19 to decide which map he will recommend to the Florida Supreme Court.