Wasserman Schultz, Nan Rich, Rod Smith Tried to Gerrymander; Blamed GOP for Doing Same
Around the State
Court documents obtained by Sunshine State News show that top Florida Democrats were involved in just the sort of activity they are accusing Republicans of: gerrymandering districts to increase their candidates' electoral prospects.
“The attached includes statistics for a congressional map that creates twelve 50%+ Democratic districts while limiting the number of times counties are split between multiple districts,” reads one email (dated Jan. 5, 2012) by Eric Hawkins of NCEC Services, general consulting firm to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “The plan is an attempt to strike a balance between a clean map and one that is far more favorable to Democrats. A more Democratic map is possible, but will require more splitting of counties and towns.”
The collection of emails also shows that the maps produced by NCEC were shared with attorneys at Perkins Coie, general counsel for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The emails were obtained by the Florida House of Representatives in the course of the discovery process in the case Romo v. Scott, whose plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of the Florida Legislature's 2012 reapportionment of U.S. House seats based on new data from the 2010 U.S. Census. Their suit has been joined to one filed by a Democrat-leaning coalition of "voter rights" organizations – called “Fair Districts Now” and made up of the League of Women Voters of Florida, the National Council of La Raza, and Common Cause Florida.
Fair Districts Now is also challenging, in a separate suit, the constitutionality of the new Florida Senate maps. The suits, both of which are being heard by Judge Terry Lewis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, allege that the 2012 maps reflect gerrymandering in favor of Republican candidates and incumbents, and unfairly disadvantage racial minorities.
In February, the Miami Herald published emails showing that state House and Senate staff discussed proposed GOP-friendly maps with RPOF officials and GOP consultants from Data Targeting Group. On March 5, the Herald reported that Democrats at the time were doing the exact same thing.
But court documents seem to show that the collusion of Democratic leadership in gerrymandering was a lot more direct and egregious. The Herald declined to publish the Democratic correspondence, which is attached to this article.
“We are going to do a call tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. EST with Sen. Nan Rich [vice chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Reapportionment] regarding this congressional map,” Florida Democratic Party (FDP) executive director Scott Arcenaux wrote in an email (Jan, 5, 2012) to Marc Elias of Perkins Coie, or NCEC's maps. “This ... issue ... will be serious for her.”
Yet another Jan. 5, 2012, email reveals that NCEC's maps – shared with Rich – were drawn using previous years' “performance” data, this despite the fact that the Senate has committed itself to drawing maps without taking such data into account, and Rich herself had criticized Republicans for allegedly doing just that.
"We're not supposed to be talking about political parties and incumbents, but with this map somebody must have been thinking about political parties and incumbents," Rich said of the GOP-dominated Legislature's first proposed Florida Senate map in November 2011.
“Florida Republicans have taken a state -- which experts have long considered one of the most malapportioned states in the country -- and worsened it,'' FDP chairman Rod Smith echoed in his own statement at the time. "In doing so, they have chosen to thwart the will of 63 percent of Florida voters by proposing maps that are aimed at incumbent protection and partisan advantage -- the very things which Florida's Constitution now prohibits,” he continued, referring to two “Fair District” constitutional amendments passed by voters in 2010.
Yet, the emails show that not only did the FDP actively participate in vetting Democrat-friendly gerrymandering, Smith himself admitted as much in a March 15, 2012, email to the Teamsters Union, begging for $100,000 to challenge the Legislature's maps in state court, in order to “pick up 2-5 State Senate seats and 3-6 Congressional seats” for Democrats.
DNC chairman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was also in on the game.
“[W]ill speak with DWS [i.e., Wasserman Schultz] tomorrow morning to clear it with her,” Charles Kelly of the DCCC writes in a March 22, 2012, email, in just one example. “[W]ill make necessary calls tomorrow AM and DWS sign-off [sic] and we should be good!”
The emails also show the collaboration of U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch.
Fair Districts Now and the Romo plaintiffs have only subpoenaed Republicans and their consultants, presumably because the GOP held large supermajorities in both chambers of the Florida Legislature. The Legislature, and political consultants on both sides of the aisle, are appealing their subpoena orders to higher courts: the House and Senate claim their communications enjoy constitutional immunity, while the consultants insist their documents are protected work product, since they are not parties to either lawsuit.
Tim Baker, Republican political consultant and election law attorney at Data Targeting, tells SSN there's nothing particularly scandalous about partisan political gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that “politics and political considerations are inseparable from districting and apportionment,” though the situation is complicated by new provisions in the Florida Constitution that forbid legislators to draw districts “with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”
"This lawsuit is nothing but another political campaign by national Democrats and their special interest allies to thwart the democratic process in Florida,” Baker says. “The fact that, by their own admission, the Democratic Party and their elected officials in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee proactively engaged in widespread and coordinated efforts to draw maps that would favor Democratic candidates, in clear violation of [the Florida Constitution], is the height of hypocrisy and shows that the Democrats never intended, or even attempted, to comply with the Fair Districts amendments."
The documents published by the Herald suggest some sort of collaboration between the RPOF and Data Targeting in the map-making process, but Baker insists the firm did not communicate with legislators or their staffers and did not receive any compensation for its services, performing the work in order to participate in the political process just as any other private citizen or organization was entitled to.
(The emails do refer to an over-the-phone "brainstorm[ing]" meeting in December 2010, in which Data Targeting participated with RPOF officials and legislative staffers, but Baker points out this couldn't have involved map-drafting because census-derived redistricting data was only delivered to the states three months later, in March 2011. The emails also reveal a communication between Data Targeting and Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, but only after the Senate had submitted its final map-draft to the Florida Supreme Court for review.)
“Data Targeting submitted nothing to the Legislature and worked for nobody in regard to redistricting; we were keenly interested in redistricting for obvious professional reasons,” Baker explains. “We don't think members of the public should be singled out for inquisition because, at most, they are alleged to have possibly petitioned their government or possibly commented to others as to their petitions to their government.
“What a chilling effect it would have on free speech if this was allowed to be the case, and this is to say nothing of the millions of dollars the Legislature spent to educate members of the public (building a website, hosting meetings statewide, building a mapping tool for the public) and to encourage their participation in the process.”
Fair Districts Now, Rich, and Wasserman Schultz did not return requests for comment before this article went to press.
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (954) 235-9116.