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Janet Cruz calls on Steve Crisafulli to make new redistricting process ‘totally open’

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There has been nary a word said by any of Florida’s legislative leaders since the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Legislature’s redrawing of eight congressional districts in 2012 was unconstitutional, and ordered them to redraw those districts within the next 100 days.

While the GOP leadership contemplates their next move, Tampa Democratic House member Janet Cruz is giving Speaker of the House Steve Crisafulli some helpful advice.

In a letter sent to Crisafulli this morning and made public to the media, Cruz cites a passage from the court’s ruling on Friday that encourages the Legislature to conduct all meetings regarding the drawing of a new statewide congressional map to be made public.

“Based on notions of openness as well as the court’s specific admonishment, I do not believe that any meetings relating to this process should be conducted in secret, ” Cruz writes. The Tampa-based Democrat also doesn’t think it’s appropriate for lawmakers or their staffs to meet with legal counsel in private. “If such meetings have occurred, I would like to be immediately informed of them as any lawyers working on this matter represent the entire Legislature and not just a few select members or staff.”

Cruz writes that the Legislature has done “an incredible disservice to our state,” by gerrymandering the eight districts as charged by the court.

“It is clear you allowed partisan operatives – at the direction of our own leadership – to violate the imperatives of our state’s Constitution; you failed to keep records and, in fact, destroyed records that would have revealed the misconduct; defended, at enormous cost to taxpayers, the misconduct itself; and, worst of all, forced Floridians to elect their congressional delegation from illegally drawn districts,” she writes. This conduct flies in the face of the Democratic principles this state and country were built on.”

Cruz goes even further in the letter, calling it “deceitful” the way the Legislature drew the districts up, showing an “arrogance of power.”

Here’s the letter in full:

By now I am sure you have had an opportunity to digest the Florida Supreme Court decision invalidating the congressional maps enacted by the Legislature. The Court afforded the Legislature 100 days to draw new congressional districts that are free of the misconduct that infected the previous process. Within its Order, the Court also commented:

“…in order to avoid the problems apparent in this case as a result of many critical decisions on where to draw the lines having been made outside of public view, we encourage the Legislature to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation…”

Based on notions of openness as well as the Court’s specific admonishment, I do not believe that any meetings relating to this process should be conducted in secret. I do not believe the leadership of the Legislature – including staff of leadership, and outside consultants working directly or indirectly with leadership – should be permitted to meet in private to discuss the processes the Legislature intends to implement in compliance with the Court’s directives. Furthermore, I do not believe it appropriate or proper for legislators (or their staff) to meet with “counsel” in secret meetings purportedly cloaked with attorney-client confidentiality. If such meetings have occurred, I would like to be immediately informed of them as any lawyers working on this matter represent the entire Legislature and not just a few select members or staff.

In short, the Legislature has done an incredible disservice to our state. It is clear you allowed partisan operatives – at the direction of our own leadership – to violate the imperatives of our state’s Constitution; you failed to keep records and, in fact, destroyed records that would have revealed the misconduct; defended, at enormous cost to taxpayers, the misconduct itself; and, worst of all, forced Floridians to elect their congressional delegation from illegally drawn districts. This conduct flies in the face of the Democratic principles this state and country were built on.

The deceitful way that this process played out shows nothing but the arrogance of power. In just the last year, the Republican Party’s inability to govern has led to a special session that failed to fix illegal congressional districts, an unconstitutional adjournment of the House during session, a special session triggered by the inability to pass a budget, and now a second special session to again attempt to fix illegally gerrymandered congressional maps.

The Republican leadership will never be able to adequately redress these wrongs, but you at least owe it to the people of Florida to not repeat them. Please agree to make this process totally open and with the will of our people in mind. Floridians deserve better.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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