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Report: Shadow process plagued Florida Senate redistricting

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Recently filed documents in Leon County Court as part of an ongoing legal challenge to the process unveiled a legislative underworld of lobbyists and consultants colluding with GOP lawmakers to help preserve the GOP’s 26-14 advantage and to protect incumbents.

As recently reported by Mary Ellen Klas in the Miami Herald, and previous to the documents’ release, in Politico before that, the Senate’s redistricting process was mired in staged testimony, inappropriate communications between outside consultants and Senate staff, and supposedly neutral maps submitted by “members of the public” who were actually ringers in the tank for the Republican majority.

Klas wrote that the plan was highly sophisticated and that knowledge of it rose high into the ranks of Senate leadership. President Don Gaetz even knew about the plan to rig the maps, according to her story out Thursday, setting up secret meetings with longtime GOP strategists Rich Heffley and Frank Terraferma and coordinating with senators based on the results of those meetings.

“According to depositions and documents obtained by the Herald/Times, Heffley and Terraferma were working on producing maps and forwarding them to Senate staff more than a month before the Senate released its single proposed map on Nov. 28, Klas writes. “And before the public release of that map, Gaetz was privately conducting secret briefings with individual senators, via video conference, in which they would discuss possible alterations to the proposed Senate map.

“Gaetz would later tout the process as ‘the most transparent’ redistricting in Florida history. But… the former staff director of the Senate Reapportionment Committee who retired in June, said that Gaetz intentionally conducted individual meetings with senators so they could ‘share their reactions’ and avoid the public meeting requirements of the Senate rules.”

Such meetings violate the state’s strict “government in the sunshine” laws, which are especially sensitive when it comes to the decennial process of reapportionment and redisctricting.

The revelations have complicated an already fraught redistricting process that began some four years ago. By the time the revised maps are enacted, officials elected under those boundaries will only have two electoral cycles to serve before maps must be redrawn following the 2020 Census.

The Senate will meet tomorrow upon the call of President Andy Gardiner in order to hash out the last of its differences between its proposals and the “base map” adopted by the House.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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