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Florida Republicans discuss how new non-voting prisoners might sink U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown
Court-ordered redistricting has moved a number of state prisons into Brown’s district, decreasing the minority voting population
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — Florida Republicans are hoping that court-ordered congressional redistricting will pack enough non-voting prisoners in U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown’s district to imperil the 12-term Democratic lawmaker.
Attendees at a meeting of North Florida Republicans held in August discussed the implications of a new configuration for Brown’s district that includes a number of prisons, which will drop the African-American voting population in the district and improve GOP prospects.
A recording of the meeting was originally obtained by Politico Florida.
Prefacing her remarks by making sure there were no reporters in the room, State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernadina Beach, called the redistricting “a perfect storm” for Brown.
Adressing a Republican official from a Baker County, which is being added to Brown’s district and has a large prison population, she said, “You can be the person who can help get rid of Corrine Brown.”
“We do not take into consideration where these people live. It would not be constitutional to take into consideration where they live.”
Adkins later issued an email apologizing if her remarks “offended anyone,” explaining that the conversation was her attempt to explain the ongoing controversy over reapportionment.
Adkins comments were not new. In fact, they echo complaints Brown herself has made about including 18 state prisons in the newly configured 5th District. She has filed suit in U.S. District Court to block the redistricting, which had been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court after it stuck down the current congressional map in July.
A circuit court judge in Tallahassee began a hearing September 24 to choose among seven competing maps. The state Supreme Court will make the final decision.
State lawmakers were unable to agree on a redrawn map during a special session in August. However, both the House and Senate versions of the map change Brown’s district from a north-south configuration to an east-west alignment stretching from central Jacksonville west through counties along the Georgia border to the Tallahassee area.
That change would add rural areas of North Florida, including four counties that are home to a number of state prisons. Adkins alluded to that fact in her remarks at the meeting, asking the other attendees, “What’s the primary industry in North Florida?” The answer was “prisons.”
Because prisoners count toward the population size of a district but cannot vote, including the prisons will reduce the overall size of the voting age population. And to the degree that prison populations are disproportionately made up of minorities, the minority population of the district will drop as a result.
Brown’s current district has a black voting age population of 50 percent. The new district’s black voting age population is 45 percent, including the new felons who cannot vote.
The state Supreme Court ruled in July that Brown’s north-south district—which snaked through northeast and central Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando to pick up black voters and was at one point the width of a highway—violated two anti-gerrymandering amendments Florida voters added to the state constitution in 2010. It also struck down seven other districts, leading to a wholesale redrawing of the congressional map.
The high court ruled that lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature impermissibly drew the lines to improve their party’s electoral prospects, something the anti-gerrymandering amendments forbid.
Listen to a recording of the Republican meeting:
Florida judge upholds new U.S. House map, but it won’t be used until 2016
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling clears the way for the state’s August 26 primary
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Just days before Florida’s primary, a state judge has approved a redrawn map for the state’s 27 congressional districts but delayed its implementation until the 2016 elections.
The August 22 ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis clears the way for the August 26 primary to proceed without the possibility of a special election later in the year under the redrawn map.
The ruling was a victory for the leadership of the GOP-controlled legislature, who maintained that imposing the new map now would have wreaked havoc on the state’s electoral process.
“Thankfully, the court listened to supervisors of elections and the Secretary of State and rejected plaintiffs’ plan, which would have thrown the 2014 elections into chaos and could have resulted in our state being without congressional representation for weeks or even months,” said State Senate President Don Gaetz in a statement.
However, the groups that sued to strike down the map, including the League of Women Voters, say they will appeal the ruling, contending that the changes made by the legislature during a special session earlier in the month didn’t go far enough to fix the unconstitutional gerrymandering that prompted Lewis to strike down the original map.
Lewis ruled that the new map “adequately addresses the constitutional deficiencies” he found in the original map drawn after the 2010 Census.
While conceding that alternatives offered by the plaintiffs might be less gerrymandered, Lewis said the legislature isn’t required “to produce a map that the plaintiffs, or I, or anyone else might prefer.”
“The legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the constitution,” Lewis said. He also said the plaintiffs had failed to prove that using the new map this year was “legally and logistically doable.”
In July, Lewis ruled that two districts in northwestern and central Florida — the majority black 5th District and the Republican-leaning 10th District — violated two constitutional amendments Florida voters approved in 2010 designed to limit political gerrymandering.
Under the new rules, districts cannot be drawn to benefit any political party and must be geographically compact. However, the amendments left redistricting in the hands of legislators, rather than turning it over to an independent outside panel.
In the original map, the 5th District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, was a majority black district that meandered from Jacksonville over to Gainesville and then down to Orlando. At one point, it is the width of a highway. The 10th District, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was anchored in central Florida west of Orlando but had an appendage that wrapped around Orlando to take in GOP voters to the east in Seminole County.
Lewis ruled that the map draw packed black voters into the 5th District to make surrounding districts more Republican and that the appendage was added to the 10th District to help Webster, both of which were unconstitutional.
In the new map, the 5th District still runs from Jacksonville to Orlando, but some black voters in the Orlando area were shifted to adjacent districts and some more rural areas were added south of Jacksonville to make the district geographically wider. The new district is 48 percent black. The new map also removed the appendage from Webster’s district.
Because House districts must have equal population, the changes to those two districts required slight changes in five surrounding districts in central Florida.
The League of Women Voters proposed a different map that would have the 5th District running due west from Jacksonville past Tallahassee — a change that would have required a wholesale revision of the map statewide.
A Democratic alternative rejected by the legislature didn’t as far as the plaintiff’s map, but it would have made the 7th and 10th districts more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Although Florida is evenly divided politically, Republicans enjoy a 17-10 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, largely due to their control of the redistricting process. The new map is not expected to change the delegation’s partisan balance.
Florida’s legislative leaders won’t appeal decision to strike down U.S. House map
Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford ask judge to delay redrawing map until after November’s election
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature won’t appeal a judge’s ruling that the U.S. House map drawn in 2011 was unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
But Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford are urging Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis not to order the map redrawn until the end of the current election cycle, noting that ballots have already gone out to military and overseas voters for the August 26 primary.
“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 a July 15 joint statement.
“It has been the practice in other states and in Florida to remedy maps at a future election so as not to disrupt and disenfranchise voters.”
In his July 10 order striking down the map, Lewis did not indicate when or how it might be redrawn. But attorneys for the plaintiffs who brought the suit, including the League of Women Voters, have said they wank the judge to change the map immediately.
The suit arose over two constitutional amendments Florida voters approved in 2010 designed to limit political gerrymandering. Under the new rules, districts cannot be drawn to benefit any political party and must be geographically compact.
However, the amendments left redistricting in the hands of legislators, rather than turning it over to an independent outside panel.
Lewis found two congressional maps — the 5th District and the 10th District — were drawn to benefit Republicans. While he rejected specific challenges to several other districts, bringing those two districts into compliance would likely trigger revisions across the state’s 27 districts.
Although Democrats are highly competitive in statewide races, Republicans hold a 17-10 majority in Florida’s congressional delegation under the map drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature.
Lewis was also highly critical of the behind-the-scenes role Republican political consultants played in drawing the map, which was supposed to be apolitical.
“They made a mockery of the legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process, utilizing the access it gave them to the decision makers, but going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it,” Lewis said.
The 5th District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, is a majority black district that meanders from Jacksonville over to Gainesville and then down to Orlando. At one point, it is the width of a highway.
The 10th District, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, is anchored in central Florida west of Orlando. But it has an appendage that wraps around Orlando to take in GOP voters to the east in Seminole County.
Legislative leaders have said they drew the districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act: Brown’s to create a majority black district and Webster’s to create a neighboring district in which Latino voters would have influence.
But Lewis ruled that a majority black district could have been drawn that was more compact and that putting those Republican voters in Webster’s district was unlikely to increase Latino influence.
Brown has joined with Republican leaders in defending the map,
“Minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district ‘compactness,’ while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state,” she said in a statement.
To comply with the Voting Rights Act, Republican legislators across the South have created legislative and congressional districts with black majorities, which, in order to capture as many black voters as possible, are often oddly shaped.
Because the black vote is overwhelmingly Democratic, adjacent districts have become more Republican. At the congressional level, this has meant that white Democrats have virtually disappeared, and the GOP dominates House delegations.
Florida’s 2010 constitutional amendments added a new wrinkle by forbidding both use of party considerations in redistricting and requiring geographic compactness, neither of which are required in other Southern states.