A Miami Herald reporter advised a Florida state senator on how Democrats should prepare for a potential legal battle over the legislature's redistricting process.
Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas encouraged Democratic state senator Randolph Bracy to request racial demographic information of a proposed state Senate district, according to audio a staffer recorded following a Nov. 17 redistricting hearing. Klas, who is covering the redistricting process, said the information should be in the legislative record should Democrats challenge the map in court.
"That debate should be flushed out and we should hear about it in public forums like this," Klas said in the recording, which was obtained by the Florida-based news site Capitolist. "If nobody asks these questions, they don't get it on the record and if it's not on the record, they aren't gonna be held to it when [unintelligible] go to court."
"That's a good point," Bracy responded.
Florida Senate president Wilton Simpson (R.) slammed Klas's conduct in a letter to the Herald, saying the reporter "crossed the line between reporting and interfering."
Klas "asked a State senator to pose questions before the committee in order to build a record for litigation," Simpson wrote. "Such collusion is not only inappropriate as a reporter, it puts senators in a position to violate the policies and procedures I have set up in order to keep the process free from improper influence."
Klas reported in November that the state Senate redistricting maps, which are drawn up by the Republican-controlled upper chamber, are "widely viewed by redistricting analysts as a fair attempt to redistrict the state." The journalist, however, said the state house, where Republicans also have a majority, has produced maps that give an "advantage" to Republicans.
"Under the Fair Districts provisions of the Florida Constitution, legislators are barred from reapportioning legislative and congressional districts to advantage any incumbent or political party or to diminish minority voting access," Klas wrote. "Fearful of a lawsuit that could lead to a court ruling that invalidates their maps, the GOP leaders in the House and Senate have been unwilling to comment on any criticism of their maps."
The state Senate and House by March must submit their legislative maps for approval to the Florida Supreme Court.