GOP Leaders Want to Redraw Districts After Fall Elections

By: Jim Turner News Service of Florida | Posted: July 16, 2014 3:55 AM
Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford

Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford

Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday they do not plan to appeal a judge's ruling that struck down Florida's congressional map but want lawmakers to be able to redraw the disputed districts after this fall's elections.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, contend it's too late in the current election cycle to redraw the districts, as ballots have already been sent to overseas voters in advance of the Aug. 26 primaries.

"The election process is in full swing," the state argued in a motion filed Tuesday that seeks a quick decision from Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. "Candidates have collected petitions and qualified for the ballot. Campaigns have been conducted. Ballots have been printed."

Lewis ruled last week that lawmakers failed during the 2012 redistricting process to follow the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments, approved by voters in 2010. He has scheduled a conference Thursday morning to discuss how the case will move forward.

Groups challenging the congressional map, including the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, declined to comment Tuesday, awaiting a decision from their legal team about how to respond to the legislative leaders' request.

In a joint statement, Gaetz and Weatherford noted that more than 63,000 military and overseas voters have been sent ballots, with the first batches of in-state absentee ballots going out next week.

"Any attempt to change the districts at this late stage of the 2014 elections process would cause chaos and confusion and would threaten the rights of our deployed military voters," Gaetz and Weatherford said in the statement.

Lewis' ruling specifically took aim at the districts represented by Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, and Congressman Daniel Webster, a Winter Garden Republican.

Brown's District 5, which winds its way from Jacksonville to Orlando, has been criticized for years as one of the worst examples of gerrymandering in the nation.

But any changes to the two districts could have a domino effect on surrounding seats and ripple through the rest of the map, given that all congressional districts must have virtually equal populations.

Lewis rejected challenges to the lines for eight other districts.

Weatherford and Gaetz took that as a sign that Lewis upheld "25 of 27 congressional districts statewide and (left) intact the vast majority of the actions taken by the Legislature."

However, Lewis' ruling last week wasn't clear on when lawmakers might have to redraw the districts.

Delaying the redrawing until after the fall elections would leave the work to new legislative leaders. Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, is scheduled to become House speaker in November, while Orlando Republican Andy Gardiner is slated to become Senate president.

According to Lewis, lawmakers and staff members charged with the once-a-decade redistricting process tried to shield the map drawers from political influence, even as Republican political consultants tried to find a way to manipulate the process.

Lewis also found fault with explanations offered by the Legislature for some of the damaging evidence at the trial. For example, one key email featured Kirk Pepper, an aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, asking a political consultant whether some unstated issues with Webster's Orlando-area district related to "performance or geography."

The Supreme Court already invalidated the Legislature's first draft of a state Senate plan, which was then redrawn before the 2012 elections.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (3)

1:19PM JUL 16TH 2014
These two politicians, Gaetz and Weatherford, are indeed among the most corrupt, disingenuous people currently in the Florida Legislature. There are many more who are trying their best to stay hidden from the public eye after Judge Lewis rendered his decision. The Republicans in the Legislature did, indeed and with forethought, deliberately plan and execute a scheme to bypass the stated wishes of the voters of this State. Had it not been for the perseverance and dedication of the League of Women Voters and others, they would have succeeded in their partisan plans. It is only now, after 3 days of "no comment" from them following Lewis' devastating ruling, that have they managed to marshal their thoughts to try to arrive at a statement they HOPE will appease the people of Florida. You note, however, that NEITHER of these two ever admitted their guilt in their plan to gerrymander-even further-the voting Districts. Oh, no. They merely stated they "..of course would comply with.. Judge Lewis' orders.." . What galls me, and, I'm sure, many others, is the fact that even after they've been caught red-handed, they continue to try to keep their gerrymandered voting Districts. This, even though those Districts were drawn by means that were expressly forbidden by law. They attempt to justify this by claiming that "chaos" would ensue were the Legislature forced to re-draw the maps prior to the upcoming elections. The only chaos would be the massive outcry from the legislators who approved of and helped with this deceit. We have obvious evidence that Gaetz, Weatherford, et al conspired to illegally structure the voting districts; therefore, as they now stand, the maps should and must be re-drawn PRIOR to any other elections due to the fact that the lines of the current districts are null and void DUE TO THE ILLEGALITY OF THE PROCESS. Furthermore, the process of ANY further redistricting plans should be open, transparent, and subject to public scrutiny at all phases and every piece of correspondence-both digital and non- needs to be catalogued and kept in order for the public to be able to check. I would not put it past these two and their fellows to attempt AGAIN to defraud the voters of Florida. As the Senate President, Don Gaetz had (s) an obligation to adhere to the laws of this State and ascertain his colleagues did likewise; he did not. He and Weatherford should be removed from office and tried in court for malfeasance,(at the very least). What they, and the Republicans attempted should be a criminal matter; the Legislators in this State have, however, conveniently shielded themselves from any such action. With Legislators such as these in office, the State of Florida deserves the designation as "one of, if not the most, CORRUPT and GERRYMANDERED States in the Union". The people in Florida, regardless of Party affiliation, should be furious at the machinations of their "representatives"; they should demand the resignation of any and all connected with this scheme -immediately.
8:35AM JUL 16TH 2014
Yes , two of the most corrupt polititians who in reality are highly paid apecial interest lobbiests and hyper partisans who put party and self interest before the public interest want to slide by.
If the laws were as they should be there should be a criminal investigation underway.
1:31PM JUL 16TH 2014
Gaetz, Weatherford and ANY Republicans in the Florida Legislature who knew of and/or participated in this fraudulent process are indeed criminals who should be forced to resign. We know they will not;the people of Florida who have been duped and lied to by their "representatives" have a duty to demand both the resignation of all involved in this debacle and the issuance of charges of criminal conduct against Gaetz and Weatherford.

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