Friday, July 11, 2014

Killing the Florida Gerrymander: Court Ruling Is In

It happened last night, didn't see the news in the Tampa Bay Times until later today:
A judge threw out Florida's congressional map late Thursday, ruling that the Legislature allowed for a "secret, organized campaign" by partisan operatives to subvert the redistricting process in violation of the state Constitution.
In a 41-page ruling, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said that two of the state's 27 districts are invalid and must be redrawn, along with any other districts affected by them, to bring the map into compliance with the state's new Fair District amendments.
The case, brought by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, is expected to be appealed and ultimately decided by the Florida Supreme Court...
Lewis rejected challenges to districts in South Florida and Tampa Bay, but said that District 5, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, and District 10, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Park "will need to be redrawn, as will any other districts affected thereby."
The judge agreed with the coalition's prime argument: that Republican legislators and staffers collaborated with political consultants to create "a shadow redistricting process" that protected incumbents and the GOP...

While the judge is only ruling on two districts needing to be re-drawn, the effect on the connecting districts will force them to be reshaped to conform to the rules.  I mean, take a look at the 5th District that got struck down:

via the Washington Post 
It goes through five counties, two of them - Duval and Orange - densely populated counties - due to being urban centers Jacksonville (Duval) and Orlando (Orange) - that could have easily formed their own district if said districts were designed by population density alone.  It carves Alachua County in two, splits Putnam County down the middle, and wiggles down along the non-retirement-community part of Lake.  In fact, I see a tiny little foot (that dangly thing sticking out at the bottom half) that is going into a sixth county - Seminole - taking off a northern chunk of a geographically small - but packed - county.  Why the hell is that?

Well, because this district basically takes the minority populations of two urban centers - Jacksonville and Orlando - to shove both into one district so that the surrounding districts will be more White (and in some districts more elderly).  By putting the urban (read: leans Democrat) into one district, the GOP state leaders can carve out friendly (read: leans Republican) out of six districts.

And that is exactly what the judge found: there was evidence that the Republicans in the state legislature along with their allies on the outside consulting intentionally carved the districts to favor their own party.  Consider the 10th District, the other one Judge Lewis ordered to be redrawn (and which is connected to the 5th, highlighting how that district was intentionally skewed), per the ThinkProgress website:
...Though more compact in shape than a purple worm, District 10 has what Judge Lewis describes as “an odd-shaped appendage which wraps under and around District 5, running between District 5 and 9.” As Lewis notes, Districts 5, 7, 9 and 10 are shaped the way they are in part because a Republican political consultant suggested that they be redrawn in a way that transformed them “from being four Democratic performing or leaning seats in early maps . . . to two Democratic and two Republican performing seats in the enacted map.” So Republicans likely picked up two congressional seats because of the odd design of these districts.
Indeed, Lewis discusses significant evidence that Republican lawmakers colluded with Republican operatives regarding the maps. Early in the process, Republican legislative leaders met with a group of GOP political operatives and a top Republican lawyer to discuss redistricting. The deputy chief of staff to Florida’s then-house speaker shared draft maps with a particular Republican consultant at least 24 times. In some cases, he provided this GOP consultant “with draft maps that were never released to the public.”
For all the show-boating the state legislature did with the redistricting efforts in 2012 - I personally attended a mass presentation in east Pasco County, but didn't get a chance to ask a question as I'd hoped due to the huge volume of people who showed up - they never intended for this to be an open or transparent process.  The court hearings revealed a series of secret meetings, destroyed records, reluctant testifiers.  Back to the Tampa Bay Times report:
...Lewis also noted that legislative leaders and the political operatives destroyed almost all of their emails and other documents related to redistricting and concluded that the circumstantial evidence surrounding all of those developments, and the evidence that the consultants attempted to influence the same districts he has found problematic, proved the GOP operatives were trying to influence the process.
"There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't,'' he wrote. "Litigation over their plans was 'a moral certainty' as their lawyers put it earlier in the case, and intent would be a key issue in any challenge."
You don't have to wonder: you have to accept the evidence (or lack of it considering how most of it got lost/destroyed).  The people in power - a Republican-controlled legislature - wanted to create a permanent Republican majority by intentionally carving out gerrymandered "safe" districts that proportionally favored Republicans over Democrats nearly 60-40.  And that was just at the federal Congressional level.  It's horrifying that this court case didn't seem to look at the damage done with the state Senate and state House seats.

I doubt we'll see the necessary fixes to the districts in time for the 2014 midterms.  And the court case is bound to drag up to the appellate system well into 2016, unless the plaintiffs get the courts to expedite the matter to get it fixed by that election cycle.  But this is a huge step: it is on record now.  Florida's districts are gerrymandered.  And those gerrymanders gotta go.

Better yet: the Republican crooks who carved out those illegal gerrymanders gotta go as well.  GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT, DEMOCRATS (AND INDEPENDENTS).

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