Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Investigate redistricting shenanigans

 

OUR OPINION: State attorney general should be troubled by trial testimony

 
Here’s a 2012 version of the congressional and senate maps carved out by the Florida Legislature.
Here’s a 2012 version of the congressional and senate maps carved out by the Florida Legislature.
FLSENATE.GOV

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

A historic redistricting trial, which some have called the Sunshine State’s version of “Game of Thrones” between Democrats and Republicans, ended this week.

For the first time, sitting Florida legislators took the stand — after the Florida Supreme Court ruled they could not claim legislative privilege in such a case.

Now we wait for Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to decide whether there was any underhanded scheming or deception when the Republican-led state Legislature carved up the state during redistricting in 2012. Did they violate the state’s new Fair Districts Amendment?

Judge Lewis could order lawmakers to bring out their crayons again and redraw the state’s district boundaries. Appeals would likely delay any changes before elections in November.

But let’s put the pending decision aside for now. The troubling testimony by key players was at times jaw-dropping and gave the public a unique front-row seat where they saw what looked for all the world like political shenanigans behind the U.S. Census-driven, once-a-decade process of redrawing political districts — in short, the slicing and serving up of power. In this instance, to ensure the election of Republicans throughout the state.

Why were we naive enough to think that this would be done in a democratic way? Consider these questionable acts revealed at the trial:

• House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, acknowledged they met out of the public eye to reach agreement on a final congressional map. Is this legal? Sounds unethical, at the least.

•  A map identified as coming from a member of the public was touted by legislators as the inspiration for Districts 4 and 5. But at the trial, Jose Posada, 24, testified that his identity was misappropriated. He was identified as the creator of the map, the foundation for as many as seven districts in the final version. If Mr. Posada was telling the truth, who stole his identity?

• A legislative staffer admitted to giving a flash drive of maps to a GOP political operative two weeks before they became public.

• Legislative leaders acknowledged that they met secretly with their staffs and political operatives to discuss strategy.

The trial also gave Floridians insight into how legislators avoided creating a paper trail under the state’s public-records law. Mr. Gaetz, Mr. Weatherford and others testified that after the maps were passed by the Legislature, they destroyed all related emails as part of their routine records housekeeping. How convenient — and suspect.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi has been twisting herself into knots this week, trying hard to justify why a federal court should dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of gay and lesbian couples who want to have their out-of-state marriages recognized by Florida. When she’s done with that bit of folly, perhaps she can find the time to launch probes into the redistricting trickery revealed at the 13-day trial.

Ms. Bondi claimed that recognizing same-sex marriages in Florida would “impose significant public harm.”

If she’s that concerned about public harm, we have no doubt that she will vigorously pursue any legislative misbehaviors that compromised even one Floridian’s right to vote.

Ms. Bondi has all the evidence that she needs to launch a criminal investigation. Then, if necessary, let any charges land where they may.

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