Groups that sued Legislature criticize new congressional map

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Two organizations that successfully sued the Florida Legislature over the state’s congressional map contended Friday that Republicans were plotting to help a freshman GOP congressman save his seat.

State legislators are in the middle of a 12-day special session to draw up a new map for the state’s 27 congressional districts after the state Supreme Court ruled that the current map was tainted by partisan influence. Voters in 2010 approved standards that prohibit legislators from drawing districts designed to benefit an incumbent or a political party.

Legislative staff and lawyers hired by the Legislature have proposed a new map that would make significant changes to Florida’s political landscape and would likely lead to several incumbents losing their seats.

But the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause sent a letter Friday to legislative leaders that questioned proposed changes to two South Florida districts now held by U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Those districts are being changed because the court questioned why legislators had previously split the city of Homestead when drawing the lines.

The new map keeps Homestead whole. But the letter says it appears legislative map makers made other changes that appear to move black and Democratic voters into Ros-Lehtinen’s district to help Curbelo. Curbelo, who unseated a Democratic incumbent in 2014, is being challenged by Annette Taddeo. Taddeo unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor last year with Charlie Crist.

“By its decisions, the Legislature increased the chances that a Republican could win,” states the letter signed by Pamela Goodman and Peter Butzin. “This appears to have been done to favor the Republican Party and incumbent Carlos Curbelo.”

The letter drew a sharp retort from the Legislature.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for the Florida Senate, pointed out the groups have been invited to testify during the special session but have not done so. She also said that group’s analysis of the South Florida congressional seats echoed those made by a Democratic consultant.

“That invitation would certainly have been an opportunity to offer evidence that would support the accusations they are now making in this letter,” Betta said in an email.

The Florida Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether or not legislators followed the law because the map must eventually go back to them. Justices gave legislators 100 days to draw up new districts in time for the 2016 elections. This is the third time that the Legislature has altered congressional districts since 2012.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.