Gerrymanders Gone Wild

Dem congressmen oversaw Florida gerrymander, emails reveal

• April 5, 2013 3:29 pm


Florida Democrats coordinated with national party organizations and consultants in early 2012 to gerrymander congressional districts despite a state ban on such activities, emails obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show.

The top state and national party leaders, including Florida congressmen Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutsch, and Alecee Hastings, signed off on the gerrymandered maps, according to the emails released during court discovery in Romo v. Scott, a legal challenge to redistricting maps that the GOP-controlled state legislature approved in 2012.

"For several months the Florida Democratic Party has engaged in a legal fight over redistricting in Florida," Florida Democratic chair Rod Smith wrote to a representative of the Teamsters Union in March 2012. "We believe that Florida can be turned from red to blue if we are successful in our efforts."

Democratic consultant Brad Wieneke described the gerrymander in one email chain on Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, which Slate has called the 23rd one of "the most gerrymandered congressional districts" in the country and which Wasserman Schultz represents in Congress.

"They want to scoop as many Jews out of Tamarac and Sunrise as they can," Wieneke wrote.

Redistricting maps produced by Democratic consulting firm NCEC Services were shared with attorneys at Perkins Coie, general counsel for the DNC, the emails show.

Those maps were then vetted by Smith, the DCCC, and Reps. Wasserman Schultz, Hastings, and Deutsch.

"Will speak with DWS tomorrow morning to clear it with her," Charles Kelly, the DCCC’s southern regional political director, wrote in a March 2012 email. "Will make necessary calls tomorrow AM and DWS sign-off and we should be good!"

The maps were drawn up by party strategists to maximize Democratic performance in the state while hewing to recently passed amendments in Florida that prohibit gerrymandering.

"The attached includes statistics for a congressional map that creates twelve 50 percent + Democratic districts while limiting the number of times counties are split between multiple districts," says a January 2012 email from NCEC Services’ Eric Hawkins to Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arcenaux.

"The plan is an attempt to strike a balance between a clean map and one that is far more favorable to Democrats. A more Democratic map is possible but will require more splitting of counties and towns."

Democrats also attempted to fundraise off the maps. Florida Democratic Party chairman Smith solicited six-figure donations from allied groups, asking them to support the party’s lawsuit against the state GOP’s redistricting map.

"At stake is the potential balance of power in the third most populous state," Smith wrote in his email to the Teamsters. "If we remain successful we will pick up 2-5 state Senate seats and 3-6 congressional seats."

"The problem is we need the funds to compete with the Republicans enormous advantage in funding this litigation," Smith continued. "I have asked the Teamsters for $100,000 to help the FDP win a map that creates the fair districts that Floridians favor."

The boundaries of congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years based on census data. Parties have long used redistricting to gain demographic advantages over rivals, a practice known as gerrymandering.

Florida voters passed Amendments 5 and 6 in 2010 banning lawmakers from drawing legislative and congressional districts with "intent" to gerrymander.

Legal battles have embroiled the redistricting process since the amendments passed in 2010. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that lawmakers violated the amendments, sending them back to the drawing board.

Both parties have gotten more than they bargained for in the lawsuits.

Court documents revealed similar emails between Republican strategists. The Miami Herald reported in February that state GOP leaders authorized staff to engage in "brainstorming meetings" with consultants to draw favorable political districts.

Peter Butzin, the state chair of Common Cause Florida, one of several groups that sponsored amendments 5 and 6 and are litigating redistricting proposals, said he was not surprised by either party’s less-than-strict adherence to the new laws.

"What else is new?" Butzin said. "I've been involved in reapportionments in Florida since the 70s. Back when the Democrats had a majority we charged that they improperly drew the lines, and of course now the Republicans have a majority they're doing the same thing."

Butzin said he fears his group will have to go to court every time redistricting rolls around.

"We're trying to be a nonpartisan voice of the average Florida citizen who's saying districts should be drawn in order so the citizens select their representatives," Butzin said.

Florida Democrats have hammered Republicans, who control both chambers of the state legislature, for allegedly defying the will of voters who passed the amendments.

"The Republicans are doing their darndest to try to basically ignore what the voters said and so they haven’t drawn any maps," Schultz said in 2011. "All they’re doing is allowing people to speak at these bogus hearings that they’re having. They’re not answering any questions or making any comments and they’re not showing any voters any maps at all."

The DNC declined to comment.

The DCCC, Nan Rich, as well as Reps. Hastings, Deutsch, and Wasserman Schultz, did not return requests for comment.