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Must-read op-ed from Stafford Jones: Who is really doing the gerrymandering?

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With the complexities involved over the redistricting cases winding their way through Florida courts, I shouldn’t be surprised how easily the Democrats are getting away with their misinformation campaign, and I really shouldn’t be surprised how willing the press is to repeat the Democratic talking points.

Let’s review, first, what the constitutional amendments governed.

The Fair Districts Amendments governed the intent and actions of the Legislature. They did not govern the intent or actions of citizens. They did not govern the intent or actions of the political parties or their consultants. They did not prevent citizens, political parties or any other groups from participating in the process by submitting commentary, attending hearings or submitting maps. In fact, the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to participate in such processes.

What the Legislature or its staff could not do was to communicate with outside experts and draw maps with intent to favor or disfavor based on a number of characteristics, including race, political party or incumbency. Nowhere in the trial was it ever demonstrated that had happened.

In his ruling, Judge Terry Lewis commended legislative staff for running a clean process and keeping partisan politics out. In addition, the final maps received pre-clearance from the Florida Supreme Court. Among other things that we learned from the plaintiffs’ own witnesses during the trial is that partisan bias under Republican redistricting plans was less than under previous Democraticplans, and minority access has gone up.

According to the press, the Republican Legislature was caught gerrymandering, with the help of Republican operatives, but what the judge actually ruled was that two congressional districts didn’t meet specification by about 1.5 percent each. The trial judge ordered revisions of those two congressional districts, not seven, as asserted by the Gainesville Sun in recent articles and editorials.

After the trial judge’s ruling and his approval of the Legislature’s remedial maps, the Democratic coalition, led by the League of Women Voters, a main plaintiff, decided that the trial court’s ruling wasn’t good enough. They appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

The liberal majority of the Florida Supreme Court overruled the trial court and called for eight districts to be redrawn. The majority order went several steps beyond, however, and ordered that Congressional District 5 (Corrine Brown’s district) be drawn across the top of the state, instead of North to South, as had been done by a federal court in the 1990s.

In doing this, the Supreme Court was relying on a map, known as the Romo map, submitted by the Democratic coalition to the trial court judge. As Justice Canady noted in his dissenting opinion, the Romo map was drawn by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Surely, the liberal majority of the court could not have knowingly based their order on a partisan Democratic drawn map, right? Indeed they did.

Subpoenaed emails have long since shown that the Romo map was drawn with partisan intent. The liberal majority knew it, and Judge Canady called them on it in his dissent. Not only that, but Congressional Districts 2 and 5 would be much longer and less compact than their current configuration.

One of the things that has come to light in the subpoenaed documents from the Florida Democratic Party and Democratic coalition involved in drawing the maps submitted by Democrats was that they openly communicated about improving Democratic performance, whereas no email subpoenaed by Republicans ever referenced improving Republican performance. The maps submitted by Democrats specifically targeted Republican incumbents, in violation of Fair Districts.

Rod Smith, as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, solicited contributions from the Teamsters to support its partisan efforts.

On Jan 6, 2012, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party arranged for a conference call to review partisan performance data with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, when, at that point, Florida legislators were obligated to not see performance data.  The communications subpoenaed from the Democrats also showed that Fair Districts chair Ellen Freidin was part of the Democratic coalition to draw maps and inject them into the legislative process. This is not in doubt. These emails are part of the court record.

The moral of the story is that the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Coalition are, very craftily, ignoring the constitutional amendments that they championed, and that the liberal majority of the Florida Supreme Court knowingly issued an order based on the Democratic coalition’s partisan work. They have successfully cobbled together disconnected pieces of information that they call “circumstantial evidence” and called it a conspiracy.

They have transferred the input and intent of the public onto the Legislature. If that is the new standard, then Fair Districts is in conflict with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The result of every action that the Democratic coalition and the liberal court have taken will disfavor minorities, favor white, rich Democrats and create less compact districts than we have now.

So, who is really doing the gerrymandering?

Stafford Jones is chair of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee.

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