In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Tallahassee redistricting trial exposes unseemly coincidences

Trade secrets. Private information. Privileged stuff about the inner workings of a basic democratic function. In other words, not for the likes of you.

Neither the public nor the press can see 538 pages of emails, maps and planning documents generated by one of the high-powered political operatives who actually run this state.

The Florida Supreme Court decided Tuesday that the trove of material from Republican political consultant Pat Bainter in connection with the 2012 congressional redistricting maps must remain top secret. Bainter’s stuff can only be revealed in a closed courtroom. As if this were a matter of homeland security.

The justices, in a 5-2 vote, ruled that the Leon County judge overseeing the court challenge to the new districts must “maintain the confidentiality of the documents by permitting any disclosure or use only under seal of the court and in a courtroom closed to the public.”

Bainter has been paid $6.2 million by the Republic Party of Florida for his redistricting expertise. You are not allowed to see what the Republican party got from its pricey expert.

Actual citizens, still mired in obviously gerrymandered districts shaped like roadkill, can guess.

The redistricting process was all about circumventing the 2010 Fair Districts constitutional amendment that was supposed to ban the finagling of district lines to benefit the ruling party.

Legal experts doubt challengers can prove the crucial but squishy element of intent in the on-going civil trial. But if nothing else, the trial, now in its second week, has exposed a conspiracy of unseemly coincidences.

Wasn’t it odd that the final districts map was so markedly similar to a map submitted by an FSU student? His map, in turn, was identical to another created by Frank Terraferma, director of campaign strategies for the GOP members of the Florida House of Representatives.

Of course, the legislative leadership would never, ever consider a map submitted directly from a political strategist. That would be wrong.

Keeping the public informed about the redistricting process was not a high priority. Not like the very special effort made to keep Republican consultant Marc Reichelderfer in the loop. During testimony last week, Kirk Pepper, deputy chief of staff under former House Speaker Dean Cannon, admitted that he provided Reichelderfer at least 18 drafts weeks before the public was privy to the redrawn maps. “I was trying to do something nice, for a friend of mine,” explained Pepper.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the public also had a secret friend on the speaker’s staff?

The trial also elicited admissions that crucial email about redistricting exchanged among legislative leaders seems to have been erased. Senate President Don Gaetz insisted, not very convincingly, that he wasn’t the culprit. “I'm not sure I know how to delete emails.”

The trial also featured admissions of a secret meeting between Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford to approve the new districts. Gaetz explained that the meeting wasn't really secret. They just didn’t feel a need to alert that extraneous rabble known as the public.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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