Rep. Corrine Brown rips into redistricting trial

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As Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s Congressional district remains effectively on trial, she took the time Monday to rip into the legal challenge brought by a coalition of voting-rights groups against the state’s redistricting effort.

Brown’s expansive district became the heart of the argument against political maps drawn in 2012 by the Legislature. Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida reports that she appeared in the Leon County courtroom as the trial entered its tenth day.

“If they called your names as many times as they’ve called mine, you would show up,” said Brown, responding to a reporter asking why she was attending.

The challenges to the congressional districts ratified two years ago say the maps violate the “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters in 2010, which ban the Legislature from using the redistricting process mandated every ten years to create political boundaries to the advantage of one political party or candidate.

Brown’s 5th Congressional District, which snakes through eight counties from Duval to Orange, incorporates pockets of black to create an area likely to elect candidates favorable to African-Americans.

In 2012, lawmakers increased the African-American voter population to more than 50 percent of the district. Map-drawers testified that it strengthened protections extended be the Voting Rights Act.

Opponents contend that it also results in the surrounding districts becoming responsive to Republicans by segregating Democratic-leaning voters to Brown’s district.

Brown is one of the few African-Americans elected in Florida to Congress since Reconstruction and she rejected the plaintiff argument that districts with a lower concentration of black voters would still choose candidates preferred by African Americans. She also brought up efforts to mark the approaching 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

“And it’s just like, it didn’t happen,” she told the News Service of Florida. “And it’s just very important that African Americans need to know that they are constantly going to have to fight in order to keep representation, because there are people that would take you back.”

On the stand Monday were witnesses called by the local NAACP chapter, who said the district was vital to ensuring black Floridians are represented in Congress. They resisted the suggestion that lowering the percentage of black voters would not hurt African Americans’ ability to elect a preferred candidate.

Former Florida NAACP executive director Beverly Neal alluded to the fact that white Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson represents the district drawn in 2012, where only two years earlier Latinos comprised nearly 41.4 percent of the vote.

“That was supposed to have been a Hispanic district,” Neal said, “and it’s not.”

John Guthrie, staff director for the Senate committee in charge of drawing the maps, also appeared on the sand Monday. He downplayed the role of districts submitted under the name of former Florida State University student Alex Posada, who appeared at one of the public redistricting hearings held by the Legislature before approving the maps.

Posada submitted a deposition on Thursday morning saying he did not draw the maps, or submitted them to the Legislature, adding that he certainly did not authorize anyone else it on his behalf.

Senate President Don Gaetz was the lawmaker tasked in 2012 with handling the redistricting process. He publicly praised the “Posada” map as a blueprint for their congressional plan. Nevertheless, the maps disavowed by Posada included numerous districts identical to those drawn by Frank Terraferma, a staffer for the Republican Party of Florida.

When questioned Monday by a Senate lawyer, Guthrie claimed not to recognize Posada’s name until it was brought up in the trial, even though it would have been part of a database associated with public map submissions.

Lawyers are facing a deadline on Wednesday to conclude testimony and arguments.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.