The head of the Senate redistricting committee testified Wednesday that he had no idea the map he submitted to the court gave Republicans a potential three-vote majority in the Senate and paired the fewest incumbents of any other proposal.
“I don’t know how clear I can make it. We did not . . . analyze where members live,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, under oath in the redistricting trial over the Senate map.
The rare testimony of a sitting state senator occurred as the Senate attempts to defend the map it submitted to the court after agreeing in July that the map it produced in 2012 violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution.
The Senate is trying to show that maps proposed by the challengers violate the Constitution because they were drawn with the intention of helping Democrats, while the challengers — a coalition of voter groups led by the League of Women Voters — are trying to show that the Senate maps intentionally favor Republicans.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds will decide who is right and must recommend a map to the Florida Supreme Court for approval. That map will be used to determine the state Senate’s 40 districts for the 2016 elections. He has suggested that he is prepared to pick and choose pieces from the proposed maps and “stitch” pieces together on his own.
Because legislators failed to agree to a map during a three-week special session, Galvano submitted a map he had instructed the staff director of the Senate redistricting committee to prepare. Galvano testified that his draft map merged two “base” maps that had been drawn by staff without input from senators. He said he intended to use it as a possible amendment during the session, but discarded it after the Senate agreed on a different proposal.
But David King, the attorney for the League of Women Voters, suggested that Galvano, who has aspirations to be Senate president in 2018, chose the map because it gave Republicans a 23-17 advantage in the Senate, a three-seat drop from the 26-14 majority today.
“So is it just your suggestion then that this is just an accident of faith. . . . Are you just rolling sevens?” King asked.
Galvano responded that he selected the map because it kept political and geographic boundaries together, something the Florida Supreme Court had previously criticized the Legislature for not doing. He also said it addressed the concerns of Miami lawmakers who did not want to split Little Havana into two districts.
But King tried to show that Galvano had ulterior motives for asking Senate President Andy Gardiner to submit the map to the court.
“Did you tell him how well the map performed for Republicans — it was the best of all?” he asked.
“We had no way of knowing that,” Galvano replied, adding that they did not perform a so-called “functional analysis” that would have determined the political performance of the districts. “Nobody did that analysis . . . and, in fact, we took extraordinary steps to avoid that.”
Galvano acknowledged that he consulted with no other senators when choosing the map and admitted he was also the only one to decide which map he submitted to court.
King asked why he didn’t take a “poll” of the membership to see which map they preferred.
“A straw poll — that’s something you don’t do in the process,” Galvano responded, “… That just doesn’t work.”
King showed a chart indicating how other draft maps paired more senators into the same districts than the one Galvano chose, while other maps split fewer cities and counties.
Galvano said that he learned from his attorneys that some of the maps proposed by the plaintiffs also did not pair Republicans together, suggesting “it happens — that’s just how it worked out.”
He said there was “no instruction whatsoever” that senators “could even find out where people were” living in the map-drawing process.
Although the Florida Constitution requires a senator to live in the district he or she represents, unlike Congress, Galvano told the court that is “not such an important issue” in redistricting.
“The real test is not the pairing of incumbents,” Galvano said. “It’s more where the district winds up in relationship to your base.”
In the afternoon, Jason Zakia, attorney for the Senate, attempted to turn the tables and show that the plaintiff’s map drawer, John O’Neill, deliberately attempted to draw districts to benefit Democrats.
O’Neill was working as an intern in 2011 for Strategic Telemetry, the company hired to draw maps for the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
Zakia suggested that emails between O’Neill and the lawyer for the Democratic voters suggested that O’Neill used the same principles when drawing maps in 2011 as he used when drawing maps for the plaintiffs in the current Senate case.
Zakia played the video deposition of O’Neill from Dec. 3 in which he was asked if he looked at any political data in 2011 when he drew the maps that were proposed that year.
“I don’t recall doing that,” O’Neill responded in the deposition.
Zakia read emails in which O’Neill was asked to “increase Democratic seats and competitive seats” and “would need to look up addresses for all current incumbents so we can measure our maps and on all competitive criteria.”
But Tom Zehnder, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that since the Florida Supreme Court slapped them down in 2012 for attempting to draw a map that showed districts could be evenly divided between the two primary parties, the plaintiffs have refrained from attempting to draw such a map again.
He urged Reynolds to reject the emails and 2011 maps as “a complete sideshow.” But Reynolds allowed the testimony nonetheless “so that any reviewing court will be able to see,” he said.
When O’Neill was called as a witness later Wednesday, he acknowledged he looked at the political data in 2011 but, after the court’s ruling, his approach now is “totally different.”
“In 2011, I was following specific instructions in trying to draw the districts,” he said. But this time, he said, the only instructions he had from the lawyers were to “follow the Constitution” and “not to follow any partisan data — and that’s what I did.”
Zakia asked if O’Neill was aware the maps submitted to the court in this case perform best for Democrats of any previously drawn maps.
“You told me that,’’ O’Neill replied. “… that wasn’t something I was aware of when I was drawing the maps, and I became aware of the fact thanks to you.”
Mary Ellen Klas: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MaryEllenKlas