Redistricting Hearings Conclude, Judge Aiming For Decision Next Week

Sep 28, 2015

Senate mapmaker Jay Ferrin on the stand.
Credit The Florida Channel

Florida’s congressional map is now in the hands of Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.  Hearings concluded Monday in the long-running court case.

The splintering of preferences for Florida’s congressional borders was on full display Monday morning.  Senate mapmaker Jay Ferrin took the stand in the final day of hearings.  House attorney George Meros grilled Ferrin on the Senate’s Central Florida revisions.  Districts are supposed to be compact, and the Senate version contains two large ones to the House’s one.   

“You can’t count cows,” Meros began, “so in order to count people, you have to have a district that’s—”

“Sure, it has to take up greater area,” Ferrin cut in.

“But with respect to the House map and the Galvano map,” Meros jumped back in, “The House map creates one district that incorporates—that is, that sprawling type district, but the Galvano map includes two such districts, doesn’t it?”

Ferrin argues the Senate map doesn’t split Sarasota County, while the House does.  Also, he says, the House’s single large district lumps together groups that have little in common.

“The two districts there, yes there are two different districts that do contain some of the agricultural communities,” Ferrin said. “One of the objections that was voiced to me with regard to the way that Sarasota County was drawn in the base map was that it was in the same district as the agricultural communities all the way over in Okeechobee County.”

While the House attacked the Senate’s map at a regional level, more pointed questions came from League of Women Voters attorney Tom Zehnder. 

“To correct the tier two violation and the tier one violation that the Florida Supreme Court identified with Districts 26 and 27 in [map version] 9047, your solution was to draw a configuration that further improves Republican performance in District 26—right?” Zehnder asked.

The League argues the Legislature’s line between these two Miami area districts is drawn to favor Republicans.  To hammer this point home, the plaintiffs asked their map drafter—a contractor named John O’Neill who works through a democratically aligned firm—to draw a version even better for Republicans. 

“The legislative proposal is the most Republican performing configuration of [district] 26 that I’ve seen or I’ve been able to create,” O’Neill said.

But the blow didn’t quite land.  House mapmaker Jason Poreda says he drafted a new version pumping up Republican performance while the court was out for lunch.  Speaking after the hearing, King downplayed it—arguing no one got to see Poreda’s map, and he came back to Republican performance in his closing arguments.

“Now I don’t know whether you call it accident, coincidence, serendipity, happenstance—these excuses no longer play,” King argued.

Judge Lewis has an October 17 deadline for his recommendation to the state supreme court, but at the close of the case he said he would try to finish his work by the end of next week.